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Weekend picks: Art with a conscience; an older musical is relevant again

Plus: Kim Benson paintings; Books in the Barn; New Order and Pet Shop Boys; and more.

Yashica Dutt
Leading anti-caste journalist and author Yashica Dutt will be talking about the fight for the rights of Dalit people, the most marginalized caste in India and in the Indian diaspora.

Fans of art with a political consciousness, you’ve got a number of options this week. The Twin Cities Arab Film Festival features movies that center social justice. A conversation with author Yashica Dutt at Macalester (plus a new performance by Ananya Dance Theatre) will give you insight into the struggles of Dalit people here in the U.S. and globally. Also this week, Michael Kleber-Diggs reads his work in “The Barn” at the Anderson Center at Tower View, in Red Wing, and Kim Benson opens a new exhibition hosted by The Orange Advisory and Hair + Nails Gallery. For your dose of arty electro-pop, New Order and Pet Shop Boys hit the Armory. Finally, “Merrily We Roll  ” ponders holding onto your dreams in Theatre Latte Da’s new production.

Coming Out as Dalit: A Conversation with Dalit

Leading anti-caste journalist and author Yashica Dutt will be talking about the fight for the rights of Dalit people, the most marginalized caste in India and in the Indian diaspora. It’s an event put together by the East Side Freedom Library, the Twin Cities South Asian Solidarity Collective, and the Twin Cities South Asian Solidarity Collective. In her book, “Coming Out as Dalit,” she has written about her own experiences of discrimination because of her identity, and how it continues to affect her today. In the U.S., non-Indians have little understanding of the persistence of caste in society, but in recent years, a growing movement has lifted the veil. Dutt will be in conversation with Arjun Guneratne, a professor of anthropology at Macalester College, and Vishal Jamkar, a Public Affairs PhD at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Thursday, Sept. 29 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m at the Weyerhaeuser Board Room at Macalester College (free). More information here. You can further your exploration of the conversation around caste with Ananya Dance Theatre’s production of “Nün Gherāo,” about a massacre of Dalit people in the 1970s in West Bengal, Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University ($5-$45). More information here.

Ronnie Allen, Vie Boheme and Ryan London Levin in a scene from “Merrily We Roll Along.”
Photo by Dan Norman
Ronnie Allen, Vie Boheme and Ryan London Levin in a scene from “Merrily We Roll Along.”

Merrily We Roll Along

A chilling moment happens in “Merrily We Roll Along,” a musical written in 1981. The musical progresses backward in time, beginning in 1976 and ending in 1957. The series of scenes that take place in 1973 includes two TV anchors discussing the news items of the day.

“And now our evening’s top news story,” one of the anchors says. “Today the Supreme Court made its final ruling legalizing abortion. The court stated, ‘Abortion should be a decision between a woman and her physician.’ A longtime controversy now ended.”

 Well, maybe not quite ended. Perhaps songwriter and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and book writer George Furth understood the irony of calling abortion settled law way back in 1981, or maybe they really did think it was a done deal. In any case, it’s one of those moments where an older play suddenly has relevance to current events.

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Based on a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart produced in 1934, the original Broadway production of the musical “Merrily We Roll Along,” directed by Hal Prince, featured teenage actors playing different stages of their lives into middle age. It was a flop. In the intervening years, the musical has been revived to better success, and now gets a new production by Theater Latte Da.

What works in this production is the cast. Vie Boheme demonstrates she’s got star power potential. As the diva Gussie, Boheme delivers a glorious belting showstopper at the beginning of the second act. Reese Britts offers nuance in his characterization of the central character Frank, and Becca Hart is delightfully surly as Mary.

As a whole, the Latte Da production, directed by Peter Rothstein keeps things moving. As for the script, the second act is better than the first. You find out why the main characters are the unpleasant people they become later in life.

At its heart, the show is about staying true to idealistic ideals. It’s a musical about an artist who starts out wanting to make daring, provocative, and what happens when he settles for commercial success. “Merrily We Roll Along” is not itself provocative or daring, but it does make for an entertaining evening of good Sondheim music.

Books in the Barn: Michael Kleber-Diggs

Poet Michael Kleber-Diggs, who won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize last year for his poetry collection, “Worldly Things,” which is also up for the 2022 Minnesota Book Award, heads to Red Wing on Friday for a presentation at the Anderson Center. It’s a chance to take in Kleber-Diggs’ harrowing expressions of loss, and his sensitive observations of the world around him. It’s also an opportunity to visit the Anderson Center’s beautiful lofted barn space. Friday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Anderson Center ($10). More information here.

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 Kim Benson: Long Sweet Gone

Artwork by Kim Benson
Courtesy of HAIR+NAILS
Artwork by Kim Benson
Hair + Nails and The Orange Advisory are teaming up for an exhibition of paintings featuring Kim Benson called “Long Sweet Gone.” Bringing together abstract and narrative elements, Benson’s work is richly textured through a process she calls “doing and undoing.” The opening reception takes place. Saturday, Oct 1 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m, and is on view through Nov. 20 at TOA Presents, 655 19th Avenue NE , Suite 104, Minneapolis (free). More information here.

Twin Cities Arab Film Festival

Foraging for plants and vegetables becomes a dangerous game in a new film called “Foragers,” by Berlin-based Palestinian filmmaker Jumana Manna. Through archival footage, fictional narrative, and documentary, Manna explores the lives of mostly elderly Palestinians living in Golan Heights, Galilee, and Jerusalem, where the practice of foraging the cuisine staples za’atar and ‘akkoub are criminalized. It’s an endearing portrait of a community, with a sharp political statement about the marginalization of Arab people in Israel and Israel-occupied lands. The film is showing as part of the Twin Cities Arab American Film Festival, presented by Mizna, which is now underway. Foragers screens on Sunday, Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. at the Trylon along with the narrative short “Then Came Dark,” by Marie-Rose Osta, and the documentary short “When Light is Displaced,” by Zaina Bseiso. The festival continues through Sunday at the Trylon, with a closing party and outdoor screening of “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” by Khadar Ayderus Sunday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Moon Palace Books. More information here.

New Order
New Order

New Order/ Pet Shop Boys

Live out your synth pop dreams as two giants of avant garde rock hit the Twin Cities as part of their Unity Tour. Danceable, heart pounding, and seedily joyful, these bands have been dazzling audiences across the U.S. with a mix of their classic hits, innovative covers, and spectacle. They play Sunday, Oct. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Armory ($97-$500). More information here.