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Weekend Picks: New work at Open Eye Theatre; Lester Purry plays Thurgood Marshall

The Twin Cities are popping right now.

A pair of punny crows perch on two sides of a luminous snow globe in Michael Sommers’ latest puppetry creation at Open Eye Theatre, “Once Upon A Winter Night.”
A pair of punny crows perch on two sides of a luminous snow globe in Michael Sommers’ latest puppetry creation at Open Eye Theatre, “Once Upon A Winter Night.”
Photo by Bruce Silcox

The Twin Cities are popping right now, with all sorts of fantastic options happening in theater, music, film and more. At the top of the list is the latest offering by Open Eye Theatre co-founder Michael Sommers. The company has had a shift in leadership, but it’s great to see Sommers’ work return to the space — he’s really a Twin Cities treasure. Speaking of treasures, Lester Purry, once a regular force in Minnesota theater, makes a triumphant return in his portrayal of Thurgood Marshall at Penumbra Theatre, which opens this week. Meanwhile, the Walker Art Center, Dreamsong and FD13 are teaming up to bring an exciting new voice in filmmaking, Anocha Suwichakornpong, here to the Twin Cities for screenings, discussions and a sneak peek at her latest project. Finally, some scrumptious music events taking place this week include Chastity Brown hitting the Woman’s Club in Minneapolis and some next-level piano playing at the Parkway Theater.

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Once Upon a Winter Night 

A pair of punny crows perch on two sides of a luminous snow globe in Michael Sommers’ latest puppetry creation at Open Eye Theatre, “Once Upon A Winter Night.” They offer their catty commentary in a story populated with a fox, a red-cloaked girl, an opera singing ice queen, a snowman and other peculiar characters. Accompanied by an ominous score by Eric Jensen, who plays the piano with cellist Alma Engebretson, the piece bears similarities of theme and tone to Kira Obelensky’s “Snow Man,” which Open Eye presented in 2009 and Sommers re-imagined in an intimate performance at his South Minneapolis studio last year. That piece, like “Once Upon a Winter Night,” had a mesmerizing lilt of a narrative that carries through in Sommers’ new investigation into dark-hued fairy tales told in winter. The more recent work adds additional elements of humor, wackiness, and macabre for an evening of weird and morbid fun. Sommers’ masterful scenic design frames the story beautifully, and Lizz Windnagel’s sinister ice queen has a voice that will pierce your heart. The show runs through March 27 at Open Eye Theatre ($26). More information here.

Lester Purry shown playing Thurgood Marshall in “Thurgood” in 2018.
Photo by Ron Heerkens, Jr.
Lester Purry shown playing Thurgood Marshall in “Thurgood” in 2018.


Both James Earl Jones and Laurence Fishburne have played Thurgood Marshall in George Stevens Jr.’s 2006 play, “Thurgood.” Jones did the one man show when it premiered in Connecticut at the Westport Country Playhouse, then Fishburne took on the character in the Broadway production, as well as an HBO filmed version. Now, Lester Purry plays the Supreme Court Justice, in a production directed by Lou Bellamy at Penumbra Theatre. Purry is no stranger to Twin Cities audiences. Before moving to Los Angeles, he worked at many of the major theaters here, was a company member at Penumbra, performed lead roles at The Illusion Theatre, Minnesota Opera, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Mixed Blood, and the Children’s Theatre Company, and played the title role in the Guthrie Theatre’s national tour of Othello. Now, Penumbra audiences have a chance to see Purry’s intensity and physicality as he portrays the American judicial icon. The show opens Thursday, March 10 and runs through March 27 at Penumbra ($15-40). More information here.

Anocha Suwichakornpong 

Thailand-based filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong visits the Twin Cities this week, with screenings of her work at the Walker Art Center and Dreamsong Gallery, and Q&A discussions happening after each screening. It’s part of a residency program presented by the Walker, Dreamsong and FD13. First up is “By the Time it Gets Dark,” a non-linear, experimental film about student protests and a massacre in Bangkok in 1976, screening at 7 p.m. Friday, March 11 at the Walker ($12). Catch Suwichakornpong’s most recent film, “Come Here,” at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 12 at the Walker Art Center ($12). It follows a group of theater actors visiting a memorial site for the “Death Railway” made by the forced labor of Southeast Asian civilians and prisoners of war by the Japanese during World War II. When they find the site closed for renovation, they embark on an unplanned journey of discovery.  Then at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15, Dreamsong gallery will screen 6 short films by Suwichakornpong that shift between fantasy and reality as they mine historical trauma and experiment with form (Free). More information here. On Saturday, March 19, the Walker screen’s Suwichakornpong’s “FREETIME,” a live staged performance for a film in progress about Thailand’s past kingdoms.

Happy Birthday Jack Kerouac: Live from Saint Paul Brewing

Master Bread Baker turned poet Dan McGleno, aka Klecko, (whom Pamela Espeland profiled last September) reads his writing in a celebration for Jack Kerouac on his 100th birthday. He’ll be joined by J.D. Fratzke, whose background also spans both the culinary and literary arts, Mary Ann Grossman, book critic for the Pioneer Press for more than 40 years, and Thomas R Smith, a poet whose day job was to be secretary to Robert Bly for 30 years. Smith has a book coming out this spring called “Medicine Year.” Obviously there will be cake, so get on the road and come down. The fun starts at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 12 at Saint Paul Brewing. More information here.

Chastity Brown
Chastity Brown

Chastity Brown with special guest Annie Mack

Treat yourself to the rich timbres of Chastity Brown’s bluesy voice when the singer-songwriter visits the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis. It’s part of a new series at the Woman’s Club presented with Sue McLean & Associates and the Current, called The Music & Storyteller Sessions. Brown will not only be sharing her music, but weave in tales as part of the performance. Blues and roots songwriter and producer Annie Mack will also perform. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12 at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis ($35-75). More information here.

Erika Dohi
Erika Dohi fuses an electronic, pizzicato yet muted sound that also happens to have a melody that draws you into it.

Erika Dohi:  I, CASTORPOLLUX and David Friend & Jerome Begin: Post—

The Liquid Music Series is kind of like an experimental performance matchmaker, bringing together artists whose synergies align in intriguing ways. The series re-started post-pandemic back in November, and now is back again with a double bill. In one part of the evening, pianist Erika Dohi plays piano like you’ve never seen before. Opening up the instrument to reveal its insides, Dohi fuses an electronic, pizzicato yet muted sound that also happens to have a melody that draws you into it. Next, David Friend and Jerome Begin similarly deconstructs piano playing, making it an evening that will have you question what a piano even is. It takes place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 12 at The Parkway Theater ($25-50). More information here.