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‘To Let Go and Fall’ is a love story across ages; ‘Remembering Rondo’ at the Weisman

To Let Go and Fall
Photo by Dan Norman
Jacqueline Ultan, Mark Benninghofen, André Shoals and Michelle Kinney in “To Let Go and Fall.”

Theater Latté Da’s latest world premiere is beautiful on the eyes, the ears and the heart. There were tears on opening night as the audience rose to its feet to applaud.

Harrison David Rivers’ “To Let Go and Fall” is a love story that spans 35 years in the lives of two men. They meet in a summer dance program at 16 and fall in love; part at 25, when both are dancers for the American Ballet Theatre; and reunite at 51. They have lived on opposite sides of the country for 26 years. Although Todd made different choices, it seems they were probably each other’s greatest love.

It was Todd who broke up with Arthur, partly out of fear of staying in New York, where so many gay men were dying of AIDS. Todd has written a letter to Arthur once a year ever since, with no response. Now Arthur has written to Todd, asking him to come. They meet at one of their old haunts: the courtyard of the reflecting pool outside the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.

“To Let Go and Fall” is the second play this spring with a pool, after Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” at the Guthrie. The pool at the Ritz is not as large or deep as the one in “Metamorphoses,” but it still commands the stage. The gentle motion of the water, and the way it handles the light, are part of the beauty of this production.

So is the music. “To Let Go and Fall” isn’t a musical. There’s no singing. But the music plays a defining role. Composed by cellists Jacqueline Ultan and Michelle Kinney, who perform it live from lucite platforms in the pool, it makes everything richer and deeper. The sound of two cellos together goes straight to your core.

Eight actors play the two characters. Arthur and Todd at 16 are played by Jon-Michael Reese and Austen Fisher; at 25, by JuCoby Johnson and Tyler Michaels King; at 51, by André Shoals and Mark Benninghofen. Da’Rius Malone and Conner Horak are shown dancing in projections at the back of the stage.

We meet Shoals and Benninghofen first, in a touching reunion scene. It’s 2017. They’re in mid-conversation when Reese and Fisher enter the courtyard near the pool. It’s 1982. We watch their relationship begin. After an interlude, Shoals and Benninghofen are deep in conversation when Johnson and Michaels King enter. It’s 1991.

Although four and sometimes all six actors share the stage, their conversations weave together, and they even look at each other, there’s no confusion about when in time we are. Director Sherri Eden Barber and lighting designer Mary Shabatura make sure we follow the story, a realistic portrayal of human emotions, fears, failings and regrets. One scene lets us into Arthur’s imagination, and we see how things might have been.

Shoals and Benninghofen are the most compelling versions of the characters, perhaps because we get to know them best. We meet them first and see them last in a scene so poignant and beautiful (that word again!) it’s almost overwhelming. Scenic designer Maruti Evans gives us a surprise at the end that ties everything together. If you go, pack a tissue.

“To Let Go and Fall” continues through June 30. Ages 13 and up; strong language and adult themes. FMI and tickets ($31-51).

P.S. One minor beef we (and others writing about this play) have with the playwright is how he characterizes 51 as old. Shoals and Benninghofen call each other “old man” – affectionately, but still. Todd bemoans that “old habits only get worse in old age” and complains about his receding hairline. Arthur considers 51 the end of his “full career” on the stage and in the classroom. We saw Baryshnikov at the State Theater in 1998. He was 50 at the time, bare-chested, wearing tight red shorts and dancing to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Mr. Rivers, please.

P.P.S. “To Let Go and Fall” was part of Latté Da’s 2018 NEXT Festival of new works in development. Some of us saw a staged reading last July. If you enjoy watching a play (in this case, a musical) take shape, Latté Da will give you another chance this year. “Twelve Angry Men” is part of its 2019-20 season and set to open May 27, 2020. But you can see an earlier version this July 20 and 22. And what a cast. Take a look.

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, June 6) at the Weisman: Exhibition preview party for Rose and Melvin Smith: “Remembering Rondo.” Artists Rose and Melvin Smith lived in Rondo for many years, documenting the neighborhood’s everyday life in paintings, collaged portraits and three-dimensional models of buildings. The Smiths are committed to sharing the role of the Twin Cities in the history of the civil rights movement. They insist that Rondo – a neighborhood lost when the I-94 freeway tore through it – is more than a local story, and all America needs to remember it. The preview will include small bites, music by PaviElle (who hails from Rondo) and conversation with the artists. 7-9 p.m. Free with registration. A Remembering Rondo Community Day will take place July 17, with storytelling by Beverly Cottman and a screening of the documentary “Rondo: Beyond the Pavement.” FMI.

Melvin Smith, "Combs Family," 2003 paper collage
Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum
Melvin Smith, "Combs Family," 2003 paper collage
Friday at the Show Gallery Lowertown: Opening event for Whitney Bradshaw’s “Outcry.” Women and girls have long been silenced. Chicago-based photographer Bradshaw invites them to scream their heads off. She brings them to her studio or another safe space for a social gathering and guides them through scream sessions that are empowering, therapeutic – and fun. Bradshaw began this project on the night of the Women’s March in 2018. Since then, she has photographed more than 300 women. She came to St. Paul in early April, and 45 of the portraits she took then will be incorporated into a collection of 160 to be shown at the gallery. The images are powerful, thought-provoking and liberating. Closes June 30.

Adia, Mimi and Cydi from the series "Outcry."
Photos by Whitney Bradshaw
Adia, Mimi and Cydi from the series "Outcry."
Friday through Sunday at the Ordway Concert Hall: The SPCO’s season finale: Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” overture and “Prague” Symphony. Also the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. SPCO concertmaster Steven Copes and associate principal violist Hyobi Sim will be featured in the Sinfonia. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($12-50; kids and students free). Artistic partner Martin Fröst was originally scheduled to perform in these concerts but had to drop out because of a shoulder injury,

Friday through Sunday on the Minneapolis riverfront: 25th Annual Stone Arch Bridge Festival. The great downtown art, music and community festival has hit the quarter-century mark. A Father’s Day tradition, it brings more than 200 artists, 30 bands, food, family activities, a Culinary Arts Market, a Vintage and Vinyl Market, a beer sampler, an Art of the Car Show and more to the banks of the river, SE Main Street and nearby parks. It’s a beautiful part of the city, and if the weather is good, a perfect place to spend a day or two. Friday is the kick-off concert in Father Hennepin Park. The festival runs Saturday from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. FMI.

Friday and Saturday at Vieux Carré: Acoustic Deathwish. We mentioned this earlier in the week, when we wrote about Vieux Carré’s closing, but here’s the official thumbs-up preview. Anthony Cox (upright bass), Brandon Wozniak (tenor saxophone) and Dave King (drums) together? Power trio. King is best known internationally as a member of the Bad Plus; he’s also part of Happy Apple, Halloween Alaska and several more bands and projects. Wozniak has been literally blowing us away since he returned to the cities in 2006 after six years in New York and six months in Shanghai. Anthony Cox is a legend. 9 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($15).

Tuesday at the Walker: “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.” In 1975, America was divided and Dylan went on tour. Piecing together footage that was abandoned for decades, then restored, including Dylan’s first on-camera interview in more than a decade, this film – part documentary, part concert film – will screen in theaters across the United States on Tuesday, a one-night-only “road show,” before it starts streaming on Netflix on June 12. On June 7 (that’s tomorrow), Dylan will release a 14-disc box set of rehearsals and six full shows from the tour. With Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Sam Shepard, Allen Ginsberg and Sharon Stone. The Walker event is sold out. An in-person wait list will start an hour before the screening. FMI. Tickets (if available) will be $12/10.

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