Park Square Theatre had planned to present Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Holmes and Watson” as its summer play on the proscenium stage. Instead, it’s presenting Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Riddle Puzzle Plot” as its summer play on Zoom. A serial of four parts, each 45 minutes long, it premiered last weekend and will continue on Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 15, with live post-show talks. Ticketholders can also stream the episodes on demand through Aug. 21. Tickets are $30 for the series, however you choose to watch it.
Episode 1, which premiered over the weekend, is a promising beginning to a twister of a tale. Credit Park Square’s Mystery Writers Producers Club (MWPC), a community of fans, donors and fundraisers who help support Park Square’s annual mystery show. And Park Square itself, which like every theater has put on its let’s-try-that hat as it struggles to survive. And the prolific, elastic Hatcher, who could write a play about anything to be performed anywhere – at least, he has us convinced of that.
“Riddle Puzzle Plot” (mocked by one of the characters as “Rizzle Piddle Plot”) is a play set on an island reachable by ferry. Directed by Warren C. Bowles, with music composed by Chan Poling (a catchy opening theme, played on solo piano), it’s about a summer theater troupe that has gathered for its 20th anniversary season at the Old Dark House Theater.
Except there won’t be a 20th anniversary season. As artistic director Arno Kilgallen (E.J. Subkoviak) explains, “We’ve been pushed off the boards by pandemic and panic, as those players of old were by pestilence and plague.” (Earlier, Arno comments to another character, “Thank you for the downshift into morose solipsism.” Hatcher delights in language.)
The characters are drawn with quick, broad strokes, but each is distinct. They are vain, resentful, a bit dim. One is cleverer than she seems … or maybe she just seems that way. One has myriad issues. They’ve known each other for decades, and they squabble. Looking glumly at his Zoom screen, Arno describes them as “this merry band of players you see here heaped atop each other like a game of ‘Hollywood Squares’ played in an animal shelter.”
Though they won’t put on a play this summer, they will, at Arno’s insistence, go on with their annual scavenger hunt, a tradition whose last iteration ended in a mystery. Each week will lead us closer to a solution. Midway through the episode, an Audience Riddle is posed. A random selection of viewers who solve it will be invited to participate in next week’s episode, and so on.
Catch “Riddle Puzzle Plot” if you can. It’s clever, it’s fun, and it will give you something to look forward to for the next three weeks. These days, that matters. FMI and tickets.
Catching up with Sheila Smith
The plight of the arts is increasingly dire. Most venues remain dark. More events are being canceled into 2021. Crowds can’t gather anywhere. The American Alliance of Museums recently surveyed its members. One out of every three may close permanently without further assistance from the government and funders.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans are running out and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program will end on July 31. Both were originally meant to help people and organizations get through the worst of the pandemic, which assumed we would have a handle on it by now. We don’t.
Sheila Smith has led Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA), an arts advocacy group, since 1996. She has a big-picture view of the arts in our state and beyond. On Monday, we had two questions for her.
MinnPost: What is your greatest concern at this moment?
Sheila Smith: Now that the PPP loans are ending, support for artists and creative workers is dropping off. You’re probably going to see more organizations laying people off, perhaps permanently. They’re looking at a horizon where they can’t get back to normal business until at least next summer, a whole year away. That’s one thing.
The other thing is the unemployment supports are dropping, unless this new bill [currently in Congress] gets passed. People are no longer going to be supported by unemployment payments. That’s going to affect a lot of people, not just arts and creative workers. But it’s unrealistic to expect that people will be able to keep going without some support until this whole crisis is over, which is a long ways away.
All of these people who were artists and creative workers are going to find a different way to make a living. Stagehands, props people, all the associated creative workers. Some of those talents translate to other occupations. If people look ahead and see that their theater is not going to reopen for a whole year, they may start thinking about what else they should be doing. That’s a loss to the whole community, because we’re going to lose all these extremely talented and experienced workers who make the arts community in Minnesota such high quality.
MP: What is one thing any of us could do right now to make a difference?
SS: Donate to arts organizations, or hire artists to do something. I commissioned a composer to write a song for a birthday. I commissioned a painting. If there’s an artist whose work you admire, find a way to hire them. I hired a singer I like to sing at a Zoom baby shower.
Smith also shared some good news: “The House Interior Subcommittee led by Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) has passed an increase in regular NEA funding, because they’re doing the annual budget. It’s up to $170 million. We’re lucky to have her in charge of that committee. She’s one of the two most important people in the country, in terms of her ability to support funding for the arts. And the environment.”
Tonight (Tuesday, July 28) at 7 p.m.: Rimon Artist Salon: “Listen to the Voices: Immigrant Stories.” The respected Rimon Artist Salon continues its 13th season with its first-ever virtual event. Sergio Barer, a Mexican Jewish composer and McKnight Fellow in music composition, has created a suite of choral pieces inspired by conversations he’s had with dozens of local immigrants. They were scheduled for premieres in Minnesota in 2020; those events can’t yet take place. Meanwhile, Barer and composer Adam Wernick will talk about the power of music to lift up marginalized voices and build bridges of understanding. Free. Register here.
Tonight at 7 p.m.: John Rosengren presents “A Clean Heart.” Based in Minneapolis, Rosengren is an award-winning writer, Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and author of several books. “A Clean Heart” is his first novel, and its topic – addiction, alcoholism, recovery and redemption – is one he knows well. Rosengren went through treatment at 17 and has been clean and sober since 1981. Hosted by Next Chapter Booksellers, this event will take place on Zoom. Register here.
Wednesday (July 29) at 10 a.m.: “Sharing the Process: Re-Opening the Performing Arts in Ireland.” On Aug. 10, less than two weeks from now, Ireland plans to re-open its live theaters. What will they do to ensure safety for the back of the house, the front of the house, the actors and the audience? The Minnesota Theater Alliance, Springboard for the Arts, Lake Region Arts Council, the Forum of Regional Arts Councils and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts have partnered to host a free Zoom webinar on the “Irish Model” with Dr. James Gambone, professor of public health at Capella University, and Peter Jordan from the Irish safety consultancy group SLUA. Anyone involved with theater might want to sit in on this. Free. FMI and registration.
Now at Groveland Gallery: Summer Invitational. The gallery in the restored 1890s mansion behind the Walker represents many fine artists. Its summer invitational show will include more than 60 new works by 37 artists, from Richard Abraham to Andrew Wykes. The last show we saw at the Groveland featured prints and clay sculptures by North Short artists Dan and Lee Ross. They’re part of this show, too. Visit online or in person, by appointment only: Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Call 612-377-7800 or email email@example.com.
New at the MSP Film Society Virtual Cinema: Now available: Actress Romola Garai’s spooky directorial debut, “Amulet” has surprised a number of critics. One called Garai “a smart new horror voice.” Available today (Tuesday, July 28) through Sunday (Aug. 2) as part of the “Burning Bright: New French Filmmakers 2020” series: “Alice and the Mayor (Alice et le Maire),” for which young actress Anaïs Demoustier won the César for Best Actress. Starts Friday (July 31): “The Cuban,” starring 84-year-old Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. as a once-great musician with Alzheimer’s, neglected in a nursing home until a young Afghan immigrant aid brings a record player to his room. The soundtrack is by Cuban jazz pianist Hilario Duran. Also starts Friday: “The Fight,” a new documentary that follows four teams of ACLU lawyers as they fight for abortion rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights and voting rights in Trump’s America. Earlier this year, this film won a special jury award at Sundance. Trailers, times and tickets at the links.
Thursday (July 30): Aria Institute Showcase. Co-hosted by Really Spicy Opera and Anne E. Wieben, this will be an hour of unusual opera. For example, an operative version of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” And “Sharknado the Opera: COVID Spring Break.” This livestreamed concert showcase of The Aria Institute: Soprano Edition will feature brand-new works by eight composers including Really Spicy Opera founder and artistic director Basil Considine, performed by soprano Suzanne Karpov and pianist Steven Seigart. 5-6 p.m. Free.