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Minneapolis Scene
by Steven LaVigne
July 2008
The sounds of music by gay composers filled Twin Cities theatres during this past Gay Pride month.

Orpheus and Euridice

Gay composer and lyricist Ricky Ian Gordon, whose opera “The Grapes of Wrath” premiered here last season, excited audiences of Minnesota Dance Theatre and Nautilus Music Theatre with the premiere of his dance-theatre piece “Orpheus and Euridice.” Based on the classic myth, the evening was told entirely by Norah Long, serving both as narrative voice and character, as eight dancers performed the work. The title characters were costumed in white, but were still members of the ensemble. Choreographer Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, who co-directed with Ben Krywosz, brought the material to vivid life, especially in the second act as Orpheus crossed the river Styx into Hades to rescue his beloved. Kept simple — it often reminded me of “The Fantasticks” — this was a beautiful production indeed.

Our Town

For many, the quintessential American play is gay playwright Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” This simplistic examination of life in a New England Village, circa 1900 is a beautiful work of expressionistic theatre. Gay composer Ned Rorem and gay poet J. D. McClatchy transformed the play into what could become, years from now, the quintessential American opera. Directed by Will Graham, it was given its area premiere by Skylark Opera on 13 June.

The opera follows Wilder’s play, but McClatchy’s libretto rearranges things to accommodate the score and move things along at a stronger pace. It begins in the Grover’s Corners Cemetery, with Emily’s funeral. Both the actions of the Stage Manager (Gary Briggle) and projections help fill in the gaps for those unfamiliar with the story. Rorem’s score beautifully accentuates the libretto, and if it’s a bit somber, it’s still lovely. Both the choir scene and George and Emily’s window scene (performed on ladders) are combined, and, not only does this move things along, but they are in gorgeous counterpoint to one another.

In the Act Two wedding of George and Emily, the music is far more melodic. The highlight is their duet, “What am I Doing Here?” The Stage Manager has an aria that’s a tribute to Aaron Copland, who once approached Wilder with the idea of writing this opera, but had to settle for writing the 1940 film’s score. Emily’s final aria is perfect.

Marvelous performances are delivered by Doug Freeman as Dr. Gibbs, James Howes as George, Sarah Asmar as Emily, Norah Long as Mrs. Webb, and Kathleen Humphrey as Mrs. Gibbs.

The concept of transforming “Our Town” into an opera was debated by another local gay reviewer, but there are at least two musicals based on the material. In the 1950s, Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, and Frank Sinatra were featured in a television production, from which Sinatra had a big hit with the song “Love and Marriage.” Prior to her death, Mary Martin was announced for the role of the Stage Manager in Tom Jones and Harvey L. Schmidt musical, “Grover’s Corners.” The reviewer’s comments were for naught, considering that all of Wilder’s plays have been transformed musically, the most successful of which is “Hello, Dolly!” This operatic treatment of “Our Town” is an outstanding piece of work!

Constance Wilde

While the trials of Oscar Wilde have provided the theatre with plenty of material, little is known about the fates of his wife, Constance. Rather than rehash common information, Canadian playwright Thomas Kilroy’s “The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde,” produced as the Guthrie Theatre’s Gay Pride offering, mines this part of the story, and uses it to tell things from her point of view.

Kilroy’s play begins with Wilde’s courting Constance Lloyd in Dublin, and follows their marital bliss in London, Wilde’s relationship with his “Bosie” (Lord Alfred Douglas), his trial, imprisonment, and exile to Paris.

We learn about a serious fall down the stairs which resulted in Constance’s paralysis and eventual passing in an Italian spa.

There is provocative directing by Marcela Lorca, who employs four puppeteers to theatrically manipulate the characters, some of them played by hat racks or dolls. Throughout this play, inventive method is evident, but it never distracts from the powerful drama as it unfolds before us.

The Guthrie production features three superlative performances. Sarah Agnew sharply embodies the title character, bringing a great intensity to the character, especially in her final scenes. She’s matched by Matthew Greer’s Wilde. However, it is Brandon Weinbrenner’s superb performance as Douglas which ultimately shines brightest in this handsome production.

The Guthrie will be offering the world premiere of a new play by Pulitzer Prize-winning gay playwright Tony Kushner this season, as well as a revival of Albee’s “A Delicate Balance.” The Guthrie continues to be the premiere driving force for theatre in the Twin Cities.

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