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Alec Soth show draws a crowd; ‘Roe’ explores the messy history of Roe v. Wade

Here’s one small part of the scene at the Weinstein Hammons Gallery when a crowd squeezed into the opening reception for “I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating.”

Alec Soth opening
Sixteen Alec Soth photographs are making their debut on the walls of the Weinstein Hammons, which has a long relationship with the artist.
MinnPost photo by John Whiting

Here’s one small part of the scene at the Weinstein Hammons Gallery on Friday, when a crowd squeezed into the opening reception for “I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating.” This was photographer Alec Soth’s first major exhibition after a hiatus during which he thought about giving up photography altogether. We had to park two blocks away, which is saying a lot for a southwest Minneapolis neighborhood that doesn’t have Colita on the corner. Inside the storefront gallery, the windows steamed up. Outside, people came and went and greeted each other on the sidewalk. The door kept opening and closing. At least it wasn’t 20 below.

Sixteen Soth photographs are making their debut on the walls of the Weinstein Hammons, which has a long relationship with the artist. This is his fifth solo show at the gallery.

Soth was there, surrounded by people. We couldn’t get near him and didn’t try. We don’t know if he enjoyed being the center of the swirling, jostling mass. But we were very glad to see his new photographs.

Alec Soth, "Keni, New Orleans," 2018
Courtesy of the Weinstein Hammons Gallery
Alec Soth, "Keni, New Orleans," 2018
Taken over a year in cities around the world – New Orleans, New York, Berlin, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Odessa, Dusseldorf, Warsaw – they are large, quiet and deeply personal, showing people in their spaces and sometimes just their spaces. The exhibition details on the gallery’s website note recurring motifs such as birds and windows, but there are also books in many of these large-format, detail-rich, almost physically tactile images. Books on a windowsill near a little bird; books crammed onto purple shelves high on a crumbling purple wall; books on a dressing table; books in a bookcase in an elegant living room; what looks like a life-size Audubon folio, open and glowing beside a lamp, the pink of the flowers matching the pink of a sheet draped over a window. And two huge images of “Irineu’s Library” in Giurgiu, Romania, because one couldn’t hold them all. Several of the books heaped on the floor – there’s no more room on the shelves – look like they have been nibbled by mice. Now that’s a library.

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Opening receptions are fun, for the most part, but you’ll want to see this show when you can actually see it. The Weinstein Hammons is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. “I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating” will be there through May 5. If you want to know more before you go, here’s a lovely interview by the Star Tribune’s Alicia Eler.

‘Roe’ probably won’t change minds, but it will fill in blanks

At the end of the first act of Lisa Loomer’s history play “Roe,” which opened at Mixed Blood Theatre last weekend, a man seated behind us said, “That was the fastest hour I ever spent in my whole life. I didn’t know anything about the case.” The case being Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. The decision whose edges have been nibbled away at ever since, until we find ourselves where we are today, wondering if one final conservative-Supremes-led chomp will finish it off.

Forty-five years after women in the United States won the constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion, Loomer’s play explores the messy history of Roe v. Wade and some of the people involved. At the center are Norma McCorvey, aka “Jane Roe,” a young woman who was looking to terminate her pregnancy, and Sarah Weddington, the young lawyer who argued the case. We meet dozens of others, from Supreme Court justices to the head of Operation Rescue, feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, doctors, more lawyers, reporters, McCorvey’s longtime partner, Connie Gonzalez, and an adorable little girl. All are portrayed by a hardy cast of 11.

Looking back to what happened then and forward to what happened later (several characters reference their own obituaries), ending in our present moment, “Roe” crams a lot of lives, stories, events and agendas into two hours. Even Dallas DA Henry Wade gets a few lines. Through lighting, projections, bits of music and simple changes, the scene shifts from the Supreme Court to a bar, a consciousness-raising group (and a nod to “Our Bodies, Ourselves”), a doctor’s office, a lawyer’s office, a pizza parlor, a Dallas park, a grocery store and more. There’s one scene where we hear the actual voices of five Supreme Court justices.

McCorvey – played by Tracey Maloney, both steely and vulnerable – was a terrible poster child for abortion rights. She was a hard-drinking, drug-using lesbian, and poor besides, pregnant for the third time. McCorvey agreed to be the test case in Roe, thinking it would lead to the abortion she wanted. It did not. She lived under the radar for years, was an outspoken pro-abortion advocate in the 1980s and did an about-face in the 1990s, when she became a born-again Christian and an abortion opponent. (The real McCorvey wrote two wildly different books.) Weddington, a woman of unshakable convictions and big Texan hair, is convincingly played by Laura Zabel, whose day job is executive director for Springboard for the Arts. Both McCorvey and Weddington were still in their 20s during Roe v. Wade.

Laura Zabel and Tracey Maloney in a scene from "Roe."
Photo by Dan Norman
Laura Zabel and Tracey Maloney in a scene from "Roe."
The play purports not to take sides, but to present history and lay out the truth, whatever those words mean these days. It probably won’t change any minds. Some people believe in a woman’s right to choose and others don’t. Those who hold the majority in our statehouses and federal government will do what they can to enforce their beliefs, until time ends or seismic shifts take place in birth control, sex education and attitudes about sex – whichever comes first. In “Roe,” both sides are flawed and manipulative. The pro-choicers are presented more sympathetically, the anti-choicers as regressive. But whichever side you’re on, you’ll come away knowing more about the case than you did going in.

“Roe” is an important play, and well crafted, and it’s not all seriousness and issues. Some parts, surprisingly, are laugh-out-loud funny. Others may make you want to cry – from sadness, frustration or fury. It runs only through March 30, and several performances are close to selling out. See it if you can. “Roe” has been optioned for Broadway, and Mixed Blood is the only regional theater in the country allowed to produce it this season. Mixed Blood has a history with Loomer, having produced three of her previous plays. Mark Valdez is the director. FMI and tickets ($35 advance reservations, free through Mixed Blood’s Radical Hospitality).