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Jungle’s ‘Stinkers’ is funny and poignant; Sting is coming to the Ordway

ALSO: ‘Talking Volumes’ lineup to feature Tim O’Brien, Tracy K. Smith and four other authors.

The cast of "Stinkers" from left to right: Sally Wingert, Reed Sigmund, John Catron and Megan Burns. In the background: George Keller and Nate Cheeseman.
Photo by Dan Norman

If you go to “Stinkers,” the new play at the Jungle, take a moment or two during the first act to close your eyes and just listen. Hear what the actors on stage are saying, but pay special attention to the laughter from the audience. There’s a lot of laughter, especially in the first scene. Josh Tobiessen has written a very funny play.

Conceived as a vehicle for Sally Wingert, who has not performed at the Jungle for 15 years, “Stinkers” takes place at a home on a lake in northern Minnesota. Wingert is Joyce, mother of Brad (John Catron). He’s a loving and attentive stay-at-home dad to two kids, 3-year-old Oscar and almost-2 Evie. Calvin (Nate Cheeseman) is Brad’s unemployed neighbor and friend. Joyce has a friend named Lilith (George Keller). The kids have a mom – her name is Allison – but she’s away at a conference.

Oscar and Evie are life-size puppets, manipulated by Reed Sigmund, a longtime member of the Children’s Theatre acting company, and Megan Burns, who’s becoming a Jungle regular. In the script, Tobiessen notes that “the actors operating the puppets … should make no attempt to hide or blend into the background.” Handled skillfully, as they are here, puppets are their own kind of magic. They and their people become one. In “Stinkers,” they even look alike. Oscar and Sigmund wear the same color shirt. Evie and Burns have the same hair, complete with bows.

All the action takes place on Chelsea M. Warren’s amazing set, the home’s interior, with tall windows that make you believe you’re in northern Minnesota. It’s loaded with details: toys spilling out of a bookcase onto the floor, a paper towel roll and a knife block on the kitchen counter, kids’ drawings stuck to the fridge with magnets. A sliding glass door leads to a patio with a grill. A wasps’ nest hangs just outside; you won’t notice it right away, but it figures later in the play, and what’s fun is whenever the door opens, you hear a buzz, thanks to Sean Healey’s sound design.

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As the play opens, Brad has put the kids down for a nap when Calvin comes in through the sliding glass door without knocking, something you know he’s done before. We quickly learn that Calvin is well-meaning but shallow, on the hustle and a little too invested in Instagram, vision boards and self-help books (not the actual books, just descriptions he’s read online).

Calvin’s noise wakes the kids and soon they’re on stage, bringing the energy, demands, unpredictability and outbursts of toddlers. Not to mention the almost constant pottying needs. Much of the play is a kind of mayhem, with conversations crossing and the kids being kids.

Brad is in the middle of a diaper change when there’s a knock at the main door. It’s his mom, Joyce (Wingert), fresh out of jail for white-collar crimes. (“It was taxes,” she tells nosy Calvin. “A little more than taxes,” says Brad.) Waiting in the car, but not for long, is tattooed and menacing Lilith (Keller). Later, she’ll show the kids how to turn a toothbrush into a shiv.

With Joyce and Lilith in the mix, “Stinkers” picks up speed. We hate to spoil surprises, so we’ll just say that Brad is trying to start a small business and bring in extra cash. He’s written a children’s story about a pickup truck that gets the hiccups. He’s making small wooden “hiccup trucks” to sell on Etsy. Joyce jumps in and offers to help by selling them at a local farmers’ market. She’ll need his bank card and number to deposit his earnings.

You won’t need a self-help book to realize Joyce is up to no good. (At mention of Brad’s bank card, the audience made little uh-oh sounds.) Joyce also talks Calvin into buying a new truck he can’t afford. That it, too, becomes a sort of hiccup truck is one of the many delights of the play.

“Stinkers” is silly, but it’s not all silly. There are moments when old hurts surface between Brad and Joyce. Poignant family stuff. It’s not as deep or as layered as “Lone Star Spirits,” the Tobiessen play the Jungle produced in 2017. (Which, btw, also featured Catron and Cheeseman.) But it doesn’t have to be. It’s great to see Wingert on the Jungle’s stage, commanding in a role written especially for her. At 90 minutes with no intermission, “Stinkers” is right-sized for a summer entertainment.

Directed by the Jungle’s Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen – she and Tobiessen are wife and husband – “Stinkers” continues through Aug. 18. FMI and tickets ($35-50).

Sting and ‘The Last Ship’ coming to the Ordway

Yes, that Sting. Born Gordon Sumner, famous for his years with the Police and his subsequent solo career. Sting the star, winner of multiple Grammy Awards and Kennedy Center Honors, Commander of the British Empire, et cetera. Usually, to see Sting in person, you buy a ticket to a show in some huge arena somewhere in the world.

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On Monday, the Ordway announced that Sting will be here April 8-19, 2020, with “The Last Ship,” his Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Set in a shipyard, it’s a tale of British industrial decline that has drawn comparisons to “Billy Elliott” and “The Full Monty.” Themes include homecoming and the importance of family and community. All the music is by Sting, and Sting will perform the role of shipyard foreman Jackie White in all the shows.

For his first musical, Sting drew inspiration from an earlier album, “The Soul Cages,” and his own childhood experiences: He grew up near the shipyards of Wallsend.

Rod Kaats, the Ordway’s producing artistic director, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to host Sting and ‘The Last Ship’ on our stage as part of 2019-2020 Broadway at the Ordway. Seeing Sting perform in a semi-autobiographical musical at the intimate Ordway theater will be a once in a lifetime experience.”

Sting and the cast of the 2019 Toronto production of "The Last Ship."
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Sting and the cast of the 2019 Toronto production of "The Last Ship."
Snagging tickets will be a bit like getting them for “Hamilton” at the Orpheum. You can become a 2019-20 Broadway at the Ordway series subscriber. It’s a strong season with six new shows including “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “The Color Purple.” Or you can get tickets for the Ordway’s production of “42nd Street,” starring Tamara Tunie and Jarrod Emick, featuring a powerhouse local cast including Jamecia Bennett, Tyler Michaels King and T. Mychael Rambo. It opens July 23.

Either will give you access to presale tickets for “The Last Ship.” Remaining single tickets will go on sale this fall. Prices start at $75, including fees.

‘Talking Volumes’ to feature Tim O’Brien, Tracy K. Smith

Of the six books covered in this year’s Talking Volumes – the 20th season of a partnership between the Star Tribune and MPR – only one is a novel. Four are nonfiction titles and one is a poetry collection.

For the first time, two Talking Volumes events will take place at the renovated Parkway Theater in Minneapolis. The others will be at the series’ old stomping grounds, the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. (Earlier this year, MPR sold the Fitz to First Avenue.) MPR’s Kerri Miller will host, and the Star Tribune will feature interviews with the authors as lead-ups.

Poet Tracy K. Smith will be at the Fitzgerald on Nov. 21.
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Poet Tracy K. Smith will be at the Fitzgerald on Nov. 21.
Here’s the schedule:

Sept. 25 at the Fitzgerald: Novelist Alice Hoffman will discuss her latest, “The World That We Knew.” Her earlier novels include “The Dovekeepers” and “The Marriage of Opposites.”

Oct. 9 at the Parkway: Poet Saeed Jones will present his memoir, “How We Fight for Our Lives.”

Oct. 16 at the Parkway: Writer Tim O’Brien, author of “The Things They Carried” and “Going After Cacciato,” winner of the National Book Award, will be here with his memoir, “Dad’s Maybe Book.”

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Nov. 7 at the Fitzgerald: Author and commentator Karen Armstrong will present “The Lost Art of Scripture: Rescuing the Sacred Texts.” Armstrong appeared in Talking Volumes 2014 with “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence.”

Nov. 14 at the Fitzgerald: New York Times columnist Lindy West will discuss “The Witches Are Coming,” her new collection of essays. West is also the author of “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman,” which she adapted for a comedy series on Hulu starring SNL’s Aidy Bryant.

Nov. 21 at the Fitzgerald: Poet Tracy K. Smith will be here with her 2018 collection, “Wade in the Water,” published by Graywolf. The Minneapolis press also published her “Life on Mars,” winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Smith is the former U.S. poet laureate.

Tickets are now on sale (as of 10 a.m. today, Tuesday, July 23).