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'Disgraced' might be the year’s most essential play

Photo by Dan Norman
Kevin Isola (Isaac), Bhavesh Patel (Amir), Caroline Kaplan (Emily) and Austene Van (Jory) in the Guthrie Theater's production of "Disgraced," directed by Marcela Lorca and written by Ayad Akhtar.

Is the Guthrie becoming a force for social change and a forum for conversations on important topics? It clearly wants to be, and it’s certainly trying.

In a 2015-16 season programmed in part by his predecessor Joe Dowling, Artistic Director Joe Haj brought us “Trouble in Mind,” a play about race and gender written by a black woman and (a first for a Guthrie main stage) directed by a black woman. He jumped into directing “South Pacific,” a 1949 Broadway musical with a focus on racism considered progressive at the time.

The upcoming 2016-17 season, Haj’s first in full, will include plays about the civil-rights era, racism, privilege, a Japanese internment camp survivor, displacement, genocide, and refugees and immigrants resettling in the Twin Cities (that one is a Guthrie commission). Announced last week, on Aug. 4-5 the Dowling will host two free public performances of Carlyle Brown’s “Acting Black.”

Haj doesn’t want us to watch and then immediately bolt to our cars. He wants us to stick around and talk about what we’ve seen, what it means and how we feel about it. Both of Brown’s performances will be followed by public conversations. On Monday, Aug. 8 at 7:30 p.m., Haj and Marcela Lorca will hold a free public conversation with audience Q&A about “South Pacific” and “Disgraced,” a play directed by Lorca that opened Friday.

Written by Pakistani-American playwright Ayad Akhtar, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama, “Disgraced” is a scorcher, an uncompromising look at racism, Islamophobia and American identity. We’ve never heard a Guthrie audience gasp as often as they did on opening night. This might be the year’s most essential play, one everyone should see, especially everyone who’s white.

We don’t want to say too much about it, beyond a few basics. (Several reviews are available, and you can read them if you want, but we think it’s better to let this play surprise you.) Amir Kapoor (Bhavesh Patel) is a high-powered corporate attorney who shares posh Manhattan digs with his beautiful white wife, Emily (Caroline Kaplan), an artist who’s more interested in Islam than he is. Abe Jensen (Adit Dileep) is Amir’s nephew; born Hussein Malik, he changed his name to make his life in the States easier. Jory (Austene Van) is Amir’s African-American colleague; her Jewish husband, Isaac (Kevin Isola), is also Emily’s art dealer.

When Amir, urged by Abe and Emily, speaks with an imam who has been arrested under the Patriot Act, his life takes a turn. At a dinner party Amir and Emily host for Jory and Isaac, booze flows and the amiable veneers of civility fall away. “Disgraced” is often compared to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It’s that kind of dinner party, but one that’s taking place on a national scale.

Every performance of “Disgraced” is being followed by a post-show discussion. (The only exception: opening night. That was a disappointment.) Early in the play, Emily says to Amir, “We never talk about this, not really.” If you go, stay for the talk if you possibly can. The play is 90 minutes with no intermission.

“Disgraced” continues through Aug. 28 on the proscenium stage. FMI and tickets ($34-$64).

Bell Museum + Planetarium names new executive director

Add another name to the list of women running Twin Cities museums: Kaywin Feldman at Mia, Olga Viso at the Walker, Lyndel King at the Weisman, Kristin Makholm at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, Alison Rempel Brown at the Science Museum, Dianne Krizan at the Children’s Museum, Cedar Imboden Phillips at the Hennepin History Museum, and have we forgotten anyone?

Denise Young has been named executive director of the Bell Museum + Planetarium at the University of Minnesota and will start her new job Sept. 12. She comes to the Bell from a position as director of education and planning for the Morehead Planetarium and Science center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While there, she developed award-winning science education and community outreach programs. Museum visits doubled and philanthropic support increased exponentially.

Courtesy of the Bell Museum
Denise Young

Young can look forward to running a brand new, state-of-the-art Bell, under construction now on the university’s St. Paul campus. Along with exhibits and the museum’s famous dioramas, the Bell will include a 120-seat planetarium/digital theater and expanded educational areas. It will open sometime in 2018. Young said in a statement, “I am honored to have been selected to lead the Bell Museum + Planetarium at this transformative time in its history.” 

Open house at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s former home in St. Paul

In 1919, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “This Side of Paradise,” his first novel, in an attic room of his parents’ home in St. Paul. The brownstone at 599 Summit Ave., a National Historic Landmark since 1972, is a private residence, and its current owners are about to move after 20 years of living there.

But not before we get to take a peek.

On Sunday, Aug. 7, Fitzgerald fans and the curious can attend an open house from 2-5 p.m. that doubles as a benefit for Fitzgerald in Saint Paul, a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the author’s life and literature. You can opt for just the tour, preorder a copy of “Fitzgerald and His Friends at Home” (a new book about Minnesota sites associated with Fitzgerald and his colleagues, forthcoming from Fitzgerald in Saint Paul in 2017), or choose other levels of support. Admission includes drinks and desserts.

Edina Realty has the listing, and there’s a website with 75 photos you can visit. But those are just photos. It’ll be much more fun to tromp through the actual house with fellow Fitzgerald buffs. FMI and tickets (tour only: $10).

Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota

That’s the name of a truly tempting short course at the U this fall, part of the College of Continuing Education’s LearningLife program.

Author and former Pi Press architecture critic Larry Millett, who divides his brain between history and mystery – specifically, Minnesota’s architectural history and Sherlock Holmes – has found a way to combine the two: by writing Sherlock Holmes mysteries set in Minnesota. (BTW Holmes – and Watson, and most of the other characters in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original short stories – are public property, meaning anyone who wants to can write a Sherlock Holmes novel, story or play.)

Millett will lead the course like a book club, and you’ll read and discuss three of his books: “Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon,” set during the Hinckley Forest Fire of 1894; “Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders,” set during the 1896 St. Paul Winter Carnival; and “Strongwood: A Crime Dossier,” the case of a young woman accused of murdering her lover in Minneapolis in 1903.

The course will be offered in three evening sessions (Oct. 18, Nov. 1 and 15), each two hours, at the Continuing Education and Conference Center in St. Paul. FMI and registration ($130).

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