Powerful ‘Gin Game’ in Bloomington; ‘Once’ to open at the Ritz

Candance Barrett and Raye Birk in a scene from "The Gin Game."
Courtesy of Sidekick Theatre
Candance Barrett and Raye Birk in a scene from "The Gin Game."

There are plenty of reasons to see “The Gin Game” at the Ives Auditorium in Bloomington. An American classic, D.L. Coburn’s play won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It’s being staged at the elegantly appointed, $20 million theater in the new Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. It’s presented by Sidekick Theatre, a 5-year-old company that now calls the Ives its permanent home. It’s directed by Tim Stolz, son of Don Stolz, both of Old Log Theatre renown.

And it stars Twin Cities theater legends and real-life couple Candance Barrett and Raye Birk. The chance to see those two on stage in roles made famous by Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn (and later played by Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones) is too good to let pass.

It’s a powerful play, and darker than you might expect going in. Barrett and Birk are Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Martin, two sharp-witted elderly people who meet in a nursing home and get to know each other over hands of gin rummy. Casual conversation becomes light flirtation becomes a battle of wills, furiously fought with words and Weller’s cane. The more Fonsia and Weller learn about each other, the more vulnerable and vindictive they become.

Maybe things would have been different if they had met outside the nursing home. But they’re stuck where they are, both living on the edge of poverty, with nowhere else to go and no one willing to take them in. They’ll live out their lives in a place with thin walls and a leaky roof, visiting fire-and-brimstone preachers and dance music that never ends.

It’s fascinating to watch Barrett change from an uncertain new arrival to a formidable foe. And rather terrifying to watch the real Weller emerge: short-tempered, controlling and violent.

We loved seeing these two great actors play off each other and show us their craft. But not everyone in the relatively small Sunday-matinee house felt that way. The Heritage Center is located on the 80-acre campus of the Minnesota Masonic Home, a nursing home. Some of the elderly people in the audience were audibly distressed by the language used in the play. Others who expected an afternoon of light entertainment were surprised.

Because of where they’re located and the audience they’re likely to draw, should Sidekick avoid complex, disturbing, challenging plays? Certainly not. But it might want to beef up its content advisories.

“The Gin Game” runs Fridays through Sundays, with evening and matinee performances. FMI and tickets ($19-26). Ends Sept. 22.

On the road

The Liquid Music-commissioned “Come Through” by TU Dance & Bon Iver sold out four performances at the Palace Theater in St. Paul. Then it sold out the Hollywood Bowl in its West Coast premiere. Eighteen thousand people came. On March 25, it will open the Direct Currents festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Tickets are on sale now (and going very fast), if you’re planning a trip. And/or you can watch the new 10-minute documentary from MN Original.

The Park Square Theatre-commissioned “Nina Simone: Four Women” will open Sept. 25 at the True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta. Written by Playwrights’ Center core writer and Pillsbury House playwright-in-residence Christina Ham, it had its world premiere in March 2016 on Park Square’s Andy Boss Stage (where it broke box office records), then returned in February 2017. It went on to a second production at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., later that year. More productions are scheduled at Northlight Theatre outside Chicago; Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, North Carolina; and the Black Rep in St. Louis. Regina Marie Williams will perform what is becoming her signature role in Atlanta.

And the Minnesota Opera-commissioned “Silent Night,” which had its world premiere in St. Paul in 2011 and won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music, will be performed with nine different companies around the world this season, including the Minnesota Opera, which will present a restaging at the Ordway in November.

More Minnesota bragging

The National Book Awards longlists are being announced.

Three out of 10 poetry finalists were published by Minnesota literary presses: “Feeld” by Jos Charles (Milkweed), “Indecency” by Justin Phillip Reed (Coffee House) and “Eye Level” by Jenny Xie (Graywolf).

One of the 10 finalists for young people’s literature is Bryan Bliss, author of “We’ll Fly Away” (Greenwillow Books), who lives in St. Paul.

Update: On the fiction longlist, released this morning: “A Lucky Man” by Jamel Brinkley (Graywolf).

The picks

Artscape is taking a break and will return Wednesday, Sept. 26. We’ll leave you with a longer-than-usual list of recommendations for things to do, see and hear. Bookmark it or something.

Saturday, Sept. 15, on Nicollet Ave. between 25th and 27th streets: Eat Street Food, Music & Arts Festival. The inaugural and we hope first annual celebration of Whittier will feature performances by Haley Bonar, Malamaya, McNasty Brass Band and Madison McFerrin, the Somali Museum Dance Troupe, Chinese Dance Theatre and more, a fashion show, a family fun zone and F-O-O-D. 1-9 p.m. FMI. Free.

Once
Photo by Dan Norman
Theater Lattê Da presents its own take on the eight-time Tony-winning “Once.”
Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Ritz: “Once” opens. Theater Lattê Da presents its own take on the eight-time Tony-winning tale about “falling slowly” and the power of music. With Ben Bakken (“Five Points”) as Irish singer-songwriter Guy, Britt Ollmann (“Ragtime”) as Czech immigrant and Guy’s muse, Girl. Peter Rothstein directs. FMI and tickets ($31-51). Ends Oct. 21.

Saturday, Sept. 15 at the Jungle: “Little Women” opens. Sarah Rasmussen directs the world premiere of the Jungle-commissioned adaptation by Kate Hamill (“Sense and Sensibility”) of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel. The cast couldn’t be better: Christina Baldwin, Wendy Lehr and Jim Lichtscheidl, for starters. Plus new music by Robert Elhai. FMI and tickets ($40-45). Ends Oct. 21.

Somali musician Aar Maanta to perform Saturday at the Cedar.
Courtesy of the Cedar
Somali musician Aar Maanta to perform Saturday at the Cedar.
Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Cedar: Swedish band Hoven Droven and Somali musician Aar Maanta launch the 10th Annual Global Roots Festival. This is also the start of the Cedar’s 30th anniversary, so Saturday’s performance will be a birthday party. Global Roots is five days and nights of music, workshops, discussions, film screenings, a night market and art activities. Only tonight is ticketed ($30). Everything else is free. Reserve tickets online.

Saturday, Sept. 15, at Modist Brewing: 113 Composers Collective Season Kickoff. Free performances by 113 members Alyssa Anderson, Joey Crane, Benjamin Mansavage Klein and Adam Zahller. The newest of new music plus the Curious Goat food truck will be there. Free. RSVP here.

Sunday and Monday, Sept. 16 and 17, at Crooners: Ethan Iverson and Mark Turner. For his first album release since leaving The Bad Plus, pianist Iverson teamed up with saxophonist Turner for “Temporary Kings,” just out on ECM. The Wall Street Journal called it “austere and elegant.” This week it was Amazon’s No. 2 best-selling jazz album, after Tony Bennett and Diana Krall. 6:30 Sunday, 7:30 Monday in the Dunsmore Room. FMI and tickets ($25-30).

Monday, Sept. 17, at Augsburg’s Foss Lobeck Miles Center: Club Book: Abdi Nor Iftin. In “Call Me American,” the Somali expat and debut author details his long and harrowing journey to America, beginning in Mogadishu, where he risked his life reporting on Islamic extremism for NPR. 623 22nd Ave. S., Minneapolis. 7 p.m. FMI. Free.

Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Shoreview Library: Shannon Gibney’s “Dream Country” book launch. Gibney’s new novel is a story of refugees, America and a determined young dreamer. Her first novel, “See No Color,” won the Minnesota Book Award. Co-sponsored by the East Side Freedom Library and the Ramsey County Library, this event will include a discussion with Dr. Taiyon Coleman and an audience Q&A. 7 p.m. Free.

Wednesday-Friday, Sept. 20-22, at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam: 2nd Annual “Illuminate the Lock.” The 49-foot-tall chamber of the lock and dam will host a performance art world premiere. Created by Mike Hoyt, Dameun Strange and Molly van Avery, it will include visual projections on the water, a newly composed soundscape and a story. This one-of-a-kind event is a partnership between Northern Lights.mn, Mississippi Park Connection and the National Park Service. 8:30-9:15 each night. FMI. Free.

Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21 and 22, at Orchestra Hall: Minnesota Orchestra’s season opens: Osmo Vänskä and Emanuel Ax. The orchestra is back from what we’ve heard was a life-changing, eye-opening, ear-opening tour of South Africa. Will it be different? The season will open with music by Tower (“Fanfare for the Common Woman”), Copland and Brahms. 8 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($39-97).

Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Machine Shop: Liquid Music: Hanna Benn & Deantoni Parks: Procession. The increasingly important, restlessly inventive Liquid Music series, part of the SPCO, begins its seventh season with a world premiere collaboration between Atlanta-based vocalist/composer Benn and percussionist/composer/producer Parks. Their new song cycle will incorporate a string quartet of SPCO musicians. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25/20; free for children and students).

Monday, Sept. 24, at Icehouse: Dan Weiss Starebaby. Minds will be blown. Jazz meets heavy metal and electronic new music in drummer Weiss’s new supergroup. With Golden Valley native Craig Taborn on piano and Fender Rhodes; Matt Mitchell on piano, Prophet 6 and modular synthesizers; Ben Monder on guitar; Trevor Dunn on electric bass; Weiss on drums. 9:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20).

Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Westminster Presbyterian Church: Westminster Town Hall Forum: Clint Watts: Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News. The venerable speaker series launches its Fall 2018 season with the former FBI agent and current senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University. Noon. FMI. Free.

Tuesday, Sept. 25, at the Hilde Performance Center in Plymouth: “Love Letters.” There’s still time for a night of theater outdoors in a park. The newly-formed Harbor Repertory Theater had a successful showing last year of A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters,” so they’re bringing it back for just one night. A Pulitzer Prize finalist and international hit, the touching story of a 50-year correspondence has been performed by actors including Elaine Stritch and Jason Robards, Christopher Reeve, Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Baldwin and James Earl Jones. On the secondary stage. Pre-show live music by Steve Noonan and Friends at 6 p.m., play at 7. Free. Best for ages 13 and up; mature themes and language.

Wednesday, Sept. 26, at the Weisman: Patricia Smith reading. Four-time National Poetry Slam champion, author of eight collections of poetry. A major event and sure to be a thrilling reading. 7 p.m. FMI.

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