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Weekend’s what’s what: hothouse theater, beer by the river, zines in the park

Barbara Kingsley and Stephen D'Ambrose in "August: Osage County" at Park Square Theater.
Photo courtesy of Park Square Theatr
Barbara Kingsley and Stephen D’Ambrose in “August: Osage County” at Park Square Theater.

It’s Friday, and that can mean only one thing: My Facebook feed will fill up with complaints about changes Facebook has made to their service. This is a seasonal event, like the running of the bulls and the return of the swallows, and I always look forward to it.

That may eventually become tiresome. If so, I’ll take a break for a bit and then return, refreshed. For instance, I might go see Tracy Letts’ play “August: Osage County” at Park Square Theater. There’s a lot to recommend it: Letts is sort-of the resident playwright of Chicago’s Steppenwolf theater, and has a history of writing intensely disquieting plays that are nonetheless critical darlings, including “Killer Joe” and “Bug.” He managed to nab the 2008 Pulitzer with this one, a Southern hothouse drama that reads like Tennessee Williams at his bleakest. 

But I tend to see plays most of all for the cast, and director Leah Cooper has managed to assemble one of the best I have ever seen on a Twin Cities stage. The performers include Karen Landry and Chris Mulkey, who both starred in “Patti Rocks,” a 1988 film that I write about whenever I have the urge to mention good Twin Cities cinema that’s sadly neglected. (Mulkey was also in “Twin Peaks,” which I also have had occasion to write about.) Also on hand are Stephen D’Ambrose and Barbara Kingsley, neither of whom I have ever seen give a bad performance, and Carolyn Pool, an actress whose stage presence can move between the sardonic and the fragile in an instant, which seems just right for this show.

I’m also a chronic museumgoer, as my readers may already have discovered. I live just a few blocks from the Mill City Museum, which offers a history of Minnesota that probably inspired one of the best retorts I have ever seen online. I can’t remember what site it was, but there was an online troll who used to pop up with great frequency whenever Minneapolis was mentioned, make a few derisive comments about the city, and call it a “cow town.” Exasperated, somebody finally took the troll to task. “For the last time,” they wrote, “Minneapolis is not now nor has it ever been a cow town. We are a MILL TOWN.”

We’re also a beer town, and the Mill City Museum, along with the nearby Farmers’ Market, has decided to look back on that history with their Oktoberfest, starting Saturday. There will be what all Oktoberfest’s offer: a great sampling of the oat sodas. But there will also be instructions on craft brewing and a lecture on the Twin Cities’ great brewing traditions from Doug Hoverson, author of “Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota.”

As an aside, the title seems to be a play on the famous Hamm’s Beer commercial that began with the lyrics “From the land of sky-blue waters,” which is, itself, a loose translation of the Dakota word that is our state’s name. I’ve always liked that theme song, in part because it’s so darn weird. The whole of it is something of a pastiche of “The Song of Hiawatha” by Longfellow, based around an insistent drum beat that is, one expects, supposed to sound Native American. It isn’t. The drumming is actually based on a field recording of Haitian Voodoo drumming, and it was pounded out on an empty StarKist Tuna box. Now you know.

Speaking of Twin Cities history, back in the early ’90s, there used to be what is called an anarchist infoshop in Powderhorn Park called The Emma Center. The place served all sorts of purposes, including being a sort of a clubhouse for young local lefties. The center hosted musical acts in the basement, offered free child care, and sold huge amounts of Manic Panic hair dye. Because the center was co-founded by the folks behind the Profane Existence publication (a nationally distributed anarcho-punk zine), there was a massive zine library on hand. I remember it well — I volunteered at the center for over a year, and often had occasion to browse the library.

Zines were the great self-publishing explosion before the blog came about, and were as much a technological development as the blogging platform. In this instance, the technology was the copying machine. For $20 or so and several hours in a Kinko’s, anybody could become a publisher, and a network of zine sharing and distribution developed through the U.S. mail. Creating a zine was quite a bit more time-consuming that creating a blog, and its format encouraged people to use that time to hand-craft their zine — many were carefully hand-written or typed and featured illustrations by the authors, or modified photographs, or other hand-tooled details that made zines seem a bit like a mail art project.

They haven’t gone away, either. As new technology supplants old, the old technology tends to turn into a niche taste, but those in that niche tend to be awfully dedicated. And so we have had a Zinefest for the past half-decade or thereabouts, and will again on Saturday. Appropriately, it’s happening in Powderhorn Park, and, in a further nod to history, will include an anarchist book fair. One of the greatest pleasures of zines were their enormous variety, and that’s still with us, and will be on display at the event. Content-wise, they range from startling autobiographical tales to political jeremiads to citizen journalism, and they sometimes are carefully laid out on computer, sometimes created with a letterpress, and sometimes just assembled, ransom note-style, from letters clipped from newspapers. 

They’re not always wonderful, but, in my experience, zines tend to be a counterpoint to Sturgeon’s law that 90 percent of everything is crud. They instead offer a surprisingly consistent collection of marvelous things, perhaps because they are necessarily published in small batches in a process that is notorious for its all-nighters. When you’re not publishing for mass communication, and when it takes a lot of work, people tend to be pretty thoughtful about what they put in their zines, and that thoughtfulness shows.

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