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‘Twelfth Night’ at the Guthrie is pure joy; Russian Renaissance at Aria

ALSO: VocalEssence Witness: Deep Roots at Orchestra Hall; “The White Card” extended at Penumbra; and more.

Emily Gunyou Halaas, Sun Mee Chomet and Michael Hanna in "Twelfth Night."
Emily Gunyou Halaas, Sun Mee Chomet and Michael Hanna in "Twelfth Night."
Photo by Dan Norman

The Guthrie’s new production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night” is pure joy. Filled with live music, movement and color, it’s a tale of loss, tomfoolery, disguise, mistaken identity, misdirected love and happy endings. And it’s told on a multilevel stage with a shallow, water-filled moat, balloons, and a swing big enough for three.

The all-local cast of 10 is a Who’s Who of Twin Cities theater: Sarah Jane Agnew, Nate Cheeseman, Sun Mee Chomet, Joy Dolo, Tyson Forbes, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Michael Hanna, Jim Lichtscheidl, Luverne Seifert and Sally Wingert.

And oh, what the home crew can do. It’s almost like we’ve traveled back in time to when the Guthrie had a resident acting company. And the actors aren’t the only ones with connections. Director Tom Quaintance – whose name would suit a Shakespeare character – grew up in Minneapolis. He and Carl Flink, the movement director, were soccer pals and Guthrie ushers during their high school days in the 1980s.

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In true Shakespeare form, the plot is complicated. But you won’t have any trouble keeping the threads and characters straight.

Orsino, Duke of Illyria (Cheeseman) is in love with Olivia, a countess (Chomet). But she’s in mourning for her brother and won’t see him. Twins Viola (Gunyou Halaas) and Sebastian (Hanna) are separated in a shipwreck, and Sebastian is presumed dead. Viola washes ashore in Illyria, disguises herself as a man, “Cesario,” and goes to work for Orsino, who gives her the task of wooing Olivia on his behalf. But Olivia falls in love with Cesario, who has fallen in love with Orsino.

Then Sebastian shows up with Antonio (Forbes), who saved him from drowning. Everyone mistakes Cesario for Sebastian and Sebastian for Cesario.

At least two more stories are happening with five other characters. Sir Toby Belch (a hilarious Wingert in a pants role) is Olivia’s dissolute uncle. Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Dolo in a sequined pants role) is wealthy but gullible. Toby persuades Andrew to court Olivia. Andrew is a minor character, but Dolo makes him memorable.

Malvolio (Lichtscheidl) is Olivia’s pompous, party-pooper steward. Maria (Agnew in a violently red wig) is her lady-in-waiting. Maria plots with Toby to humiliate Malvolio. Should we despise him or pity him? Lichtscheidl embraces the complexities of this strange character.

Feste (Seifert) is the play’s official fool, a jester who’s been with Olivia’s family since her father’s time. His job is to speak the truth. Seifert steals every scene he’s in, whether singing, playing with words, making a keen observation or providing counsel. “I wear not motley in my brain,” he reminds Olivia.

There’s never a dull moment.

Quaintance has added a dramatic and moving scene to Act One, with lines borrowed from “Pericles” and “The Tempest.” The stage becomes a shipwreck, with flashing lights, churning water, big, billowing fabric waves and extreme physical movement – Flink’s work – in which characters cling to ropes and seem tossed from one side of the stage to the other. When Viola is separated from her brother, we feel her grief. “Twelfth Night” is not all romance and laughs.

Flink is founder and artistic director of Black Label Movement (BLM), a dance company famed for its physicality, athleticism and daring. He has given the play an explosive energy. Forbes climbs a ladder in leaps. Hanna swings high and wide over the audience. Agnew skips to the top of a platform. Dolo rolls and splashes across the moat.

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There’s nothing timid about this “Twelfth Night.” Not Yi Zhao’s sensitive lighting, or Sartje Pickett’s appealing music, performed by members of the acting ensemble. Or Ann Closs-Farley’s outrageous costumes. Or Naomi Dawson’s imaginative set, made of boards, rusted metal, ropes, water … and a profusion of red and white balloons. It’s an outstanding production, one in which everything seems to go right.

“Twelfth Night” continues through March 22 on the Guthrie’s Wurtele Thrust Stage. FMI and tickets ($25-79).

“The White Card” extended, “Parasite” at the Film Society

Claudia Rankine’s “The White Card,” directed by Talvin Wilks, was set to close on March 1. Penumbra has added another week to the run of the regional premiere, which now ends March 8. Rankine is an important and provocative voice in today’s conversations on whiteness and race. Here’s our review of the play. FMI and tickets ($20/$35 seniors/$15 students).

Following Bong Joon Ho’s Oscars rout, MSP Film is still screening “Parasite” at the St. Anthony Main Theatre through Thursday, Feb. 20. Yes, you can stream it (on iTunes, Amazon, and other services, not yet on Netflix), but isn’t it more fun when someone else makes the popcorn? FMI including trailer, times and tickets.

The picks

Russian Renaissance
Courtesy of the artists
Russian Renaissance was the 2017 Grand Prize winner of the M-Prize Competition, the world’s largest chamber music prize.
Wednesday at Aria: Schubert Club Mix: Russian Renaissance. It seems there’s nothing this ensemble can’t play – from tango to classical, folk to jazz – on their traditional Russian folk instruments, including the ginormous triangle-shaped balalaika contrabasso. The young, hip and exciting quartet – Alexander Tarasov on button accordion, Anastasia Zakharovaa on domra, Ivan Kuznetsov on balalaika and Ivan Vinogradov on big balalaika – was the 2017 Grand Prize winner of the M-Prize Competition, the world’s largest chamber music prize. They’re on their first US tour, celebrating their first album, which was released last Friday (Feb. 14). 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30).

Thursday at The Museum of Russian Art: Jeff Alessandrelli and Paula Cisewski. Co-presented by Rain Taxi and TMORA, this looks to be a perfect pairing of poetry and art. TMORA recently opened its latest exhibition, “Vladimir Dikarev: Poetic Surrealism.” Rain Taxi has selected two poets they feel are a good fit. Alessandrelli is the author of two poetry collections, including “Fur Not Light,” which takes its inspiration from the work of Russian Absurdist authors. Paula Cisewski is the author of “The Threatened Everything,” described as “a look at the lies we tell ourselves in order to be functioning grown-ups.” All of TMORA’s current exhibits will be open during the event. A reception will follow. 7 p.m. Free, but registration is requested.

Thursday through Saturday at Pillsbury House Theatre: Week 2 of “Renegade-ism: Artists on the Edge.” Pillsbury House is midway through a three-week commitment to presenting new works by local independent artists. For “Call to Remember,” four nationally renowned dancers will gather for the first time to create a work that prioritizes blackness and explores remembrance as a way to cultivate community. Leslie Parker is a Bessie Award winner; Vie Boheme is a singer, dancer, actress, poet, choreographer and Motown native; Mayfield Brooks is artist-in-residence at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn; Amara Tabor-Smith is artistic director of Deep Waters Dance Theater and a Dance/USA Fellow. Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets (pick-your-price; regular price $25).

Jovonta Patton
Photo by Jabari Holloman
Two-time Billboard gospel chart-topper Jovonta Patton will perform at this year's Witness.
Sunday at Orchestra Hall: VocalEssence Witness: Deep Roots. For 30 years, VocalEssence has celebrated the contributions of African-Americans to our shared culture in an annual Witness concert. Curator and associate conductor G. Phillip Shoultz III promises this year’s Witness “will blow your mind.” A program of spirituals and gospel arrangements, Deep Roots will bring a powerful local lineup to the stage: two-time Billboard gospel chart-topper Jovonta Patton, who grew up in north Minneapolis; One Voice Mixed Chorus; a 30th-anniversary community choir; the Witness teaching artists (including T. Mychael Rambo and Ginger Commodore), the VocalEssence Chorus and Ensemble, and Singers of This Age. All making a mighty noise. 4:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10-40).