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'The Arsonists' is squirmingly contemporary; Nakamori is Mia's new photography curator

Photo by Tony Nelson
Jefferson Slinkard, Jay Albright and Mark Rhein in “The Arsonists”

Even a company of firefighters, hoses at the ready, can’t stop houses from burning down in “The Arsonists.” Because in Max Frisch’s darkly surreal parable, now at the Ritz in a seductive production by Frank Theatre, it’s not the heat. It’s the stupidity, the complacency and the cowardice of those who turn a blind eye toward evil.

Frisch wrote “The Arsonists” – also called “Biedermann and the Firebugs” – in the years following World War II. Born in Switzerland, he was professionally untouched but personally dismayed by events outside the borders of his blandly neutral nation: the rise of the Nazis, the persecution of the Jews, the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia.

Wealthy businessman Gottlieb Biedermann (Jay Albright, alternately blustering and eager to please) is aware that arsonists are at work in his town, but believes he has nothing to fear. He has his well-appointed life, his adoring wife (Charlotte Calvert), his long-suffering maid (Nastacia Nicole, the only character who sees things clearly) and his wine. He’s heard that other people have actually let the arsonists into their homes. Of course, he would never do that!

But he does. Joe Schmitz, former circus wrestler (a menacing Jefferson Slinkard) and Billy Eisenring, former waiter (a chilling Mark Rhein), are wily, sociopathic smooth-talkers. They flatter Biedermann, tell him what he wants to hear, stroke his ego and manipulate his emotions. Before long, they’re living in the Biedermanns’ attic, dining lavishly at their table and hauling cans of gasoline upstairs.

“The Arsonists” is kind of a one-note play; we get it, and get it, and get it as we watch events unfold. We wish it were an artifact or a curiosity, but six decades after it was written, it’s squirmingly contemporary. At one point, Biedermann asks, “If you were in my shoes, what would you have done, and when?” It’s already too late for him to wonder about that.

At the Ritz: Frank Theatre’s “The Arsonists.” Directed by Wendy Knox. FMI and tickets ($25/$22). Ends March 6.

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Yasufumi Nakamori

The Minneapolis Institute of Art has a new curator. Yasufumi Nakamori, currently associate curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has been named department head and Curator of Photography and New Media. His first day will be May 31.

Nakamori previously held curatorial positions at the Singapore International Photography Festival in 2010, Singapore Biennale 2006, MIT List Visual Arts Center in Boston, and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. He has taught at Rice University, Hunter College and the Museum of Modern Art and has lectured widely.

While at Houston, where he’s been since 2008, Nakamori organized several groundbreaking exhibitions, including “I Still Believe in Tomorrow: Contemporary Video from Asia,” the museum’s first exhibition exclusively dedicated to video, and “For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1978,” which Artforum listed among the best exhibitions of 2015. He brought more than 700 photographs to the museum.

Nakamori leaves a larger photography collection for what is now, at least, a smaller one. Houston’s includes more than 30,000 items representing more than 4,000 photographers; Mia’s, begun in 1973, features 11,500 works representing more than 800 photographers. Since 2008, Mia has focused on expanding its holdings of contemporary photography and new media from all countries.

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VocalEssence’s 48th season, announced this week, has something for everyone. It begins Oct. 15 with a community sing led by Alice Parker and Ysaye Barnwell, which should be an altogether joyous experience, and ends May 2, 2017, with the annual Cantaré! community concerts.

The season concerts start Oct. 16 with “The Voyage,” a program of two premieres. British choral composer Bob Chilcott’s “The Voyager” unites voices from three generations. With music by five women composers, “Quilt Songs” stitches together the seasons of life.

December brings a series of “Welcome Christmas” concerts, this year featuring Conrad Susa’s “Carols & Lullabies.” The theme of February’s “WITNESS” concert is the Underground Railroad; Melanie DeMore returns to Minnesota with songs of liberation and freedom. On April 22, British-born virtuoso pianist (and MacArthur “genius” award winner) Stephen Hough performs a “Miracle Mass” in the Basilica.

Two more family and community events include December’s “Star of Wonder,” a 45-minute family holiday concert, and a community sing with DeMore in January.

Subscriptions are available now online or by phone at 612-371-5642. 

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At the National Conference for Education on Ceramic Art (NCECA) in 2014, artist Theaster Gates called on the ceramics community to do more to find, recognize and support artists of color.

Earlier this month, Northern Clay Center announced the Jerome Ceramic Artist of Color Residency. Open to Minnesota-based, emerging artists of color currently working in ceramics, the new yearlong residency provides a fully-funded studio space (with 24/7 access), a $1,000 stipend, and a materials and firing credit for creating work. It also includes continuing education through NCC’s classes or private tutoring sessions and studio visits, and a trip to the 2017 NCECA in Portland, Oregon.

Applications are due March 31. FMI.

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, Feb. 25) at the Bakken Museum: An Evening at the Bakken with Eric William Carroll. Photographer Carroll spent last summer in residence at the Bakken as part of Coffee House Press’s “CHP in the Stacks” program, which pairs readers, writers and artists with interesting libraries. Carroll’s work has a scientific bent, so the Bakken, a museum of electricity and magnetism, was a good fit. This “Evening at the Bakken” event – the first in a series – will feature Carroll’s latest exhibition, “G.U.T. Feeling Vol. 4: Radionics,” a presentation by the artist and a panel conversation. Plus you can make your hair stand up using static electricity. 6:30 p.m. Tickets here ($14 advance, $15 door).

Photo by Dwayne Williams
Contempo Physical Dance performs “Sen Zalma”

Friday and Saturday at the O’Shaughnessy: Contempo Physical Dance. Three reasons to go: for the debut of Contempo’s first new work by Senegalese-French choreographer Patrick Acogny (part of its first international choreography residency and commissioning program); to revisit company director Marciano Silva dos Santos’ “Batuque,” an exploration of samba; and to see dos Santos dance again, in a rare appearance as a company member – in both works. Loosely based on the environment and traditional dance gatherings in Senegal, Acogny’s “Cool Play” examines identity and ideas of place. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15-$25).

Saturday and Sunday at Hamline’s Sundin Music Hall: “Loss, Healing and Acceptance.” Even when his texts and topics are downers, Bach’s music has a way of lifting us heart and soul above the clouds. Take, for example, the three works on this program: cantatas 8 (“Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?” which translates as “Dearest God, when will I die?”), 78 (“Jesu, der du meine Seele,” whose lyrics include “the leprosy of sin,” and sobbing), and 72 (“Alles nur nach Gottes Willen,” or “Everything according to God’s will alone” – in joy as in sorrow, in good times as in bad). For the final chorale of each cantata, the Bach Society chorus and orchestra will be joined by the the top choir of St. Paul’s Central High School. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($5-$22).

Saturday at Studio Z in Lowertown: 3rd Annual Jazz at Studio Z Winter Jazz Fest. A stellar late-afternoon-into-evening lineup of area jazz heavies in a room made for listening. You can probably expect slight variations in the schedule – this is jazz, after all – but here’s what we know: 3 p.m. Doors open. 4 p.m. Dean Granros’ Tall Tales. 5 p.m. Bryan Nichols solo. 6 p.m. Adam Meckler Quintet. 7 p.m. Dean Magraw’s Red Planet. 8 p.m. JT Bates solo. All good stuff. Tickets ($15) online or at the door.

Monday at the Republic: The 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival Lottery. The Fringe received a record-smashing 524 applications for the 170 slots in the 2016 festival, up 10 percent over last year. As always, the shows are chosen by random lottery, ping-pong balls in a bingo cage. Join an audience of hopefuls and the curious to learn who’s in. Doors at 6 p.m., lottery at 7. Free.

Hot tix

We love Louie Anderson as Zach Galifianakis’ mom, Christine, in the new FX show “Baskets.” (Which, as of Tuesday, has been renewed for a second season, go Louie!) But we’ve always loved the St. Paul native and Brave New Workshop alum, and we’re glad he’s coming home in March for two nights at – where else? – the Brave New Workshop ETC Theater. Tickets are on sale now ($40-$99).

Louie Anderson

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