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Mixed Blood’s new season ‘connects the disconnected’; Mill City Summer Opera tangos into town

Raúl Ramos, Zach Myers and Ansa Akyea in “How to Use a Knife.”
Photo by Rich Ryan
Raúl Ramos, Zach Myers and Ansa Akyea in “How to Use a Knife.”

Mixed Blood Theatre’s 2017-18 season – its 42nd under the leadership of founder and artistic director Jack Reuler – is four plays long, but each packs its own kind of punch, and together they paint a right-now picture of the world we live in. The season is themed “Connecting the Disconnected,” and Reuler put it this way in a statement: “Disability meets Immigrants meets Trans Youth meets Refugees meets ICE meets Class meets the Gender Continuum.” You’ll laugh plenty, but you’ll also think and feel.

Sept. 29-Oct. 15: Will Snider’s “How to Use a Knife” is an expletive-laced comedy set in the cultural collision of a restaurant kitchen. Characters include Chef George, trash-talking Guatemalan line cooks, an inexperienced American busboy, a quiet East African dishwasher and an ICE agent. Jesca Prudencio directs.

Nov. 10-Dec. 3: Simon Stephens’ “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” follows a young man on the autism spectrum as he investigates the death of a neighbor’s dog. You’ll see the world through new eyes. Reuler directs the Tony-winning play based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel.

Feb. 16-March 4, 2018: After a holiday break, Mixed Blood returns with a world premiere and a co-production with Mu Performing Arts, directed by Randy Reyes. Leah Nanako Winkler’s “Two Mile Hollow” explores a dysfunctional Caucasian family, gathered for a weekend in the country to hash out the belongings from their recently sold estate.

April 6-29: Another world premiere, this one a musical. Directed by Leah Anderson, with book and lyrics by David Valdes Greenwood and music by Eric Mayson, “Mermaid Hour: ReMixed” follows a pre-pubescent transgender biracial girl as she navigates puberty, and her parents as they negotiate her gender transition.

All performances take place in the Alan Page Auditorium in Mixed Blood’s historic firehouse theater on the West Bank. During the season, the space will be reconfigured in three unique orientations.

Memberships are on sale now ($35-140). Admission to individual shows is free through Mixed Blood’s Radical Hospitality program (first-come, first-served, starting two hours before every show) or $25 for an advance reservation. Go online or call 612-338-6131.

Three MacArthur fellows in free series at the U

Now in its 16th year, the UMN English Writers Series, which comes in both Spring and Fall versions, is always a smart, interesting mix. The Fall 2017 series is seeded with MacArthur “Genius” grant winners (one of whom also won the Man Booker Prize) and writers trailing other accolades including an O. Henry Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, a PEN/Hemingway and more. It’s also the longest lineup in the series’ history: eight writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, short stories and essays.

Leslie Nneka Arimah
Leslie Nneka Arimah

Sept. 14: Lesley Nneka Arimah, author of “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky” winner of a 2017 O. Henry Prize.

Sept. 26: Alan Shapiro, whose books include 13 volumes of poetry (one a Pulitzer Prize finalist), two memoirs and a novel. His latest is “Life Pig.”

Oct. 6: Lydia Davis, a 2003 MacArthur Fellow and winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize for her very short stories. Her latest is “Can’t and Won’t: Stories.”

Oct. 25: Edwidge Danticat, a 2009 MacArthur Fellow and 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award winner. She’ll focus on her new book from Graywolf, “The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story.”

Nov. 2: Yiyun Li, a 2010 MacArthur Fellow and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award. Out this year: the memoir “Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life.”

Nov. 9: Afaa Michael Weaver and Marcus Wicker. Two award-winning poets read from their work. Weaver is a winner of the Phillis Wheatley Book Award for Poetry; Wicker has a Pushcart Prize.

Nov. 14: Mary Ruefle, winner of the 1998 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, has published several poetry collections, a compendium of lectures and the genre-crossing “My Private Property.”

All events take place in the evening, and they’re scattered around the campus, from the Weisman to the Humphrey School, Coffman Union, the Walter Library and the McNamara Alumni Center. All are free and open to the public. FMI.

The picks

Opens tonight (Friday, July 14) at the Machine Shop: Mill City Summer Opera: “Maria de Buenos Aires.” The Ruin Courtyard at Mill City Museum, the summer opera’s usual venue, is closed for restoration, so the company has crossed the river to the Machine Shop, formerly part of the Pillsbury Mill. Which might be a good thing, since summer nights outdoors can be hot, and this year’s production is extra-steamy. Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla’s tango operetta, with a libretto by Uruguayan-Argentinian poet Horacio Ferrer, stars two beautiful people, Colombian soprano Catalina Cuervo and Mexican American baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco. Come early for tango lessons and cocktails; stay late for the after-party and dance with the cast. FMI and tickets ($50-125). Closes July 20. As of Thursday, there were still tickets for all performances except opening night. Rush tickets ($35; $10 for students with ID, standing only) will be available; arrive at least an hour before doors open.

Opens tonight at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.” What was the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges after the 2008 financial crisis? Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York, owned by a Chinese immigrant family and the 2,531st largest bank in the nation. A legal and political thriller, this new documentary by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) is a David and Goliath tale of their five-year battle to defend themselves and their bank’s legacy. FMI including trailer, times and tickets. (Tip: $5 Tuesdays.)

Saturday at the Phalen Park Picnic Pavilion: Spotlight on Lei Yixin’s “Meditation” sculpture. Public Art Saint Paul is celebrating its 30th birthday with a series of parties in every ward of the city. Stop by 1600 Phalen Drive to hear Public Art Saint Paul founder Christine Podas-Larson talk about the creation of this beautiful sculpture as part of the “MN Rocks!” project. 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Free.

Sunday at the George Latimer Central Library: Sight Unseen: Fitzgerald Book and Gallery Talk. An F. Scott Fitzgerald twofer. Stu Wilson, executive director of Fitzgerald in St. Paul, will give a gallery talk on the exhibit “Sight Unseen: Rare Photographs of F. Scott Fitzgerald with His Family and Friends,” which closes Monday. Author and Fitzgerald scholar Dave Page will talk about his splendid new book “F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: The Writer & His Friends at Home,” which explores the places, architecture and people Fitzgerald knew as a young writer, all inspiration for his characters and tales. Page’s writing is paired with gorgeous photographs by Jeff Krueger. Books will be available for purchase and signing. 2-3:30 p.m., free. Can’t make it on Sunday? On Wednesday, July 19, Page will present his book at Common Good Books. 7 p.m., free.

Monday and Wednesday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “National Theater Live: Twelfth Night.” OK, another reason to visit the movie house on the banks of the Mississippi. Simon Godwin’s new production of Shakespeare’s classic comedy is gender-fluid and fun-filled. With Tamsin Grieg as Malvolia and no, that’s not a typo. FMI including trailer, times and tickets ($20-10).

Erin Schwab as King Herod and Jesse Nager as Jesus of Nazareth in "Jesus Christ
Photo by Rich Ryan
Erin Schwab as King Herod and Jesse Nager as Jesus of Nazareth in "Jesus Christ Superstar" at the Ordway.

Opens Tuesday at the Ordway: “Jesus Christ Superstar.” James Rocco has directed the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera many times and has personally played the role of Judas in productions around the country. In his final year as the Ordway’s artistic director (he’ll leave in December to pursue a freelance career), Rocco was not about to give this production the same-old. So he cast cabaret singer Erin Schwab, a woman, as King Herod and Jesse Nager, a black actor, as Jesus. If you want to learn more about the nontraditional casting, come to the July 19 or July 26 performance; each has a pre-show Ordway Extra discussion at 6:30, and July 26 also has a post-show talk-back with company members. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($37-120.50). Ends July 30.

On sale today

The really, truly final addition to the State Fair’s Grandstand concert lineup: The Current’s Music-on-a-Stick featuring Phantogram (electro rock and contemporary) with special guests Lucius and Now, Now. Saturday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m. $25. Online, by phone (800-514-3849), and in person at the State Fairgrounds Ticket Office starting at 10 a.m. Here’s the whole schedule.

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