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Regina Marie Williams opens Theater Latté Da’s virtual cabaret; Club Book announces biggest season ever

ALSO: A virtual service to honor Debbie Duncan; a French animation film festival; and more.

The first Theater Latté Da show, “Twelve Blocks From Where I Live,” was written by and stars Regina Marie Williams.
The first Theater Latté Da show, “Twelve Blocks From Where I Live,” was written by and stars Regina Marie Williams.
Courtesy of Theater Latté Da

In March 2020, Theater Latté Da closed before “La Bohème” could open. Michael Hoover’s set is still on the stage at the Ritz. We hope to see “Bohème” there someday, after we’ve all been vaccinated and can go to the theater again. At the moment, Latté Da is using the stage for something they call “The Ghostlight Series: Songs and Stories in the Meantime.”

A virtual cabaret that began last Thursday and continues through the summer, “The Ghostlight Series” is five different shows that together will feature more than 40 Minnesota artists telling stories, singing and working in a time when acting jobs are few. The first show, “Twelve Blocks From Where I Live,” was written by and stars Regina Marie Williams, most recently seen at the Ritz in “Bernarda Alba.”

Williams is a powerful presence on any stage, fully inhabiting characters including Alba, Mama in “Chicago,” Nina Simone in Christina Ham’s play “Nina Simone: Four Women,” Dinah Washington in “Dinah Was” and Shug Avery in “The Color Purple,” to name a few. In “Twelve Blocks,” she’s herself, telling her own stories and showing her own photographs.

When COVID closed everything, Williams began a regular routine of biking around the city with her camera, photographing nature and posting her images on social media. On May 25, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. Williams turned her lens on the George Floyd memorial at 38th and Chicago, just 12 blocks from her home.

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She continued to photograph nature and birds (earlier this week, she took an enviable photo of an eagle) because “sometimes you just need a break. A rest from the turmoil and trauma of the world” and “the violence against Black bodies.” She saw the art – so much art! – created in response to Floyd’s death, and the humanity of people helping others after the uprising.

“I witnessed the complex Minneapolis,” she said, including destruction, violence and homelessness, “but what I found more often were people building up and not tearing down. I saw good. I saw beauty.”

There’s more hope than despair in “Twelve Blocks.” That’s a message we can all use right now, a shot in the arm, if you will, against the fear, uncertainty, trauma and grief of this terrible moment in time.

Among Williams’ stories and images are songs: “Make Them Hear You” from “Ragtime,” “Easy to Be Hard” from “Hair,” “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” “What a Wonderful World,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “Taking It to the Streets.” With Music Director Sanford Moore on keys, Jay Young on bass and Steve Jennings on drums, Williams shares the singing spotlight with Aimee K. Bryant and Thomasina Petrus. All have solos, and they meet at the end for “Taking It to the Streets.” The chance to hear Williams, Bryant and Petrus together is the icing on the cake of this well-done and meaningful half-hour show.

Thomasina Petrus, Regina Marie Williams, and Aimee K. Bryant in “Twelve Blocks.”
Screen shot
Thomasina Petrus, Regina Marie Williams, and Aimee K. Bryant in “Twelve Blocks.”
A series pass to all five “Ghostlight” shows is $75. Each has a premiere date but all will remain online for the duration, and you can revisit them as often as you wish (as long as you keep your passwords). Passes are on sale now.

Club Book’s spring season is biggest to date

Will authors ever go on book tours again? Of all the arts and culture events forced online by the pandemic, book launches, readings and talks seem the easiest to move from the real world to the virtual, and maybe leave there.

No one has to travel. Everyone can stay home. There’s no fancy camera work required. It’s not as if the authors are acting, singing, playing instruments or moving around. They’re not part of a cast, a chorus or a corps de ballet. They mostly sit or stand in one place.

On the other hand, it’s good to see a favorite author in person, share the experience with others and get that book signed. So what do we know?

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While the plague is on, virtual author events are what we have. Club Book, a program of the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA) coordinated by Library Strategies, usually holds in-person readings at libraries throughout the metro area. Now they’re all on Facebook Live (and recorded so you can also watch them later). More than 100 videos and podcasts of past events are available on the website right now.

Here’s the rather astonishing line-up for spring, a record 12 renowned authors including big prize winners and regulars on bestseller lists. All events are partnerships with county libraries and all are free, with no registration required. FMI.

Eduardo Porter
Eduardo Porter
Feb. 24, 6:30 p.m.: Eduardo Porter, economics reporter for the New York Times, cohost of “The Pie,” a podcast on pandemic economics, and author of “The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do.” His latest is “American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise.”

March 1, 7 p.m.: Lauren Fox, master of the family novel (“Still Life with Husband,” “Friends Like Us,” “Days of Awe”). Her latest is “Send for Me.”

John Moe
John Moe
March 10, 6:30 p.m.: John Moe, Minnesota radio and podcast personality (“Weekend America,” “Marketplace Tech Report,” “Wits”). He’ll read from “The Hilarious World of Depression,” his book based on the podcast that fell victim (along with his job) to last summer’s MPR budget cuts.

March 16, 7 p.m.: Imbolo Mbue, Camaroonian American novelist whose debut, “Behold the Dreamers,” was an Oprah’s Book Club pick. “How Beautiful We Were” is the follow-up.

March 17, 6:30 p.m.: Claire Lombardo, a first-time author whose debut novel, “The Most Fun We Ever Had,” jumped immediately to the New York Times’ bestseller list. The paperback is out in March.

March 23, 7 p.m.: H.W. Brands, two-time Pulitzer finalist, chart-topping historian, American studies scholar and author of nearly 40 books. His latest: “The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom.”

March 25, 7 p.m.: Robert Kolker, esteemed investigative reporter and author of “Lost Girls” (which became a feature film) and the No. 1 New York Times bestseller “Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family.”

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April 1, 7 p.m.: Therese Anne Fowler, author of historical fiction (“Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald,” “A Well-Behaved Woman”). Her latest, “A Good Neighborhood,” is set in modern times and asks whether families with diametrically opposed worldviews can be authentically neighborly.

April 13, 6:30 p.m.: Abby Jimez, self-taught baker, award-winning pastry chef, Food Network favorite, owner of Nadia Cakes – and USA Today bestselling romance writer. She’ll read from her latest, “Life’s Too Short.”

April 19, 7 p.m.: Lawrence Wright, journalist, screenwriter, novelist and author of 10 nonfiction books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.” His latest, “The End of October,” about a virus that originates in Asia and ravages the globe, comes out in paperback in April.

Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner
April 27, 6:30 p.m.: Michelle Zauner, aka Japanese Breakfast. A darling of the modern indie music scene, she fronted a rock band in Philadelphia before her mother’s cancer diagnosis brought her home to Oregon. “Crying in H Mart” is her book-length memoir.

May 6, 7 p.m.: Ian Manuel spent 26 years in prison (including 18 in solitary confinement) for a crime committed when he was 13. His story is told in Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” and Nicholas Kristof’s “Tightrope.” In “My Time Will Come: A Memoir of Crime, Punishment, Hope, and Redemption,” Manuel speaks for himself.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

V Tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 3), 6 p.m.: Magers & Quinn Booksellers: Charles M. Blow presents “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto” in conversation with Bakari Sellers. Blow is a best selling author (“Fire Shut Up in My Bones”), journalist and op-ed columnist for the New York Times and a frequent CNN commentator. Sellers is a CNN political analyst who served in the South Carolina state legislature. Registration required ($5 gets you access and a $5 M&Q discount code).

V Tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 3), 7:30 p.m.: The Great Northern: CARM Record Release. C.J. Camerieri, aka Carm, is a horn player and co-founder of the chamber ensemble yMusic. His debut album, recorded in Minneapolis, features Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. The record release will be livestreamed from the First Avenue stage, with Jake Luppen (Lupin/Hippo Campus), Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond) and Trever Hagen. Here’s a video of “Land,” from the album. FMI and tickets ($15).

V Starts Friday (Feb. 5): Animation First 2021. The fourth edition of the FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française) film festival celebrating the artistry of French animation. With 75 U.S. and New York premieres (including the U.S. premiere of “Calamity Jane,” a feminist western directed by Rémi Chayé), 9 feature films, 10 shorts programs (including Best of Annecy International), 7 live talks and workshops and special guest Wes Anderson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Isle of Dogs”). Films will have English subtitles and all talks will be in English. A $20 festival pass gets you into everything. FMI. Through Monday, Feb. 15.

Photo by John Whiting
Debbie Duncan
V Saturday (Feb. 6), 2:45 p.m.: Unity Minneapolis: Celebrating the Life of Debbie Duncan. A virtual service in loving memory of Minnesota’s “First Lady of Song,” who died in December. Among the many artists and others scheduled to appear are Ginger Commodore, Lori Dokken, William E. Duncan, Bruce Henry, Mary Louise Knutson, Willard Peterson, Patty Peterson, Lowell Pickett, Robert Robinson, Dennis Spears, Andrew Walesch and Adi Yeshaya. FMI. Prelude at 2:45, service at 3 p.m. Stream here or here. FMI.