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Minneapolis Scene
by Steven LaVigne
April 2007
“Love, Janis”

In the Ordway’s McKnight Theatre, the off-Broadway show, “Love, Janis,” had its area premiere. Conceived and adapted by Randal Myler, from Laura Joplin’s memoir of her sister, this is a loving portrait of the 60s icon. “Love, Janis” is faultlessly staged by Jamie Rocco, and Monica Heuser is sensational as the Singing Janis.

The first act follows Joplin from her arrival in San Francisco, her development with Big Brother and the Holding Company, her conflicts with her family — told through a series of letters performed by Speaking Janis, Kate Eifrig — and her first triumph at the Monterey Pop Festival. Peppered with such tunes as “Piece of My Heart,” “Turtle Blues,” “I Need a Man to Love Me,” and the classic “Summertime,” Myler’s script makes Joplin seem squeaky clean, never mentioning her experimentation with drugs, or her affection for Southern Comfort.

After having the audience sing along to “Mercedes Benz,” the second act explores the last two years of her life. Her relationship with Peggy Caserta, her female lover as well as her appearance at Woodstock, and Joplin’s rivalry with Caserta over Kris Kristofferson are missed. Indeed, except for acknowledging that he wrote “Me and Bobby McGee,” Kristofferson is barely mentioned.

What “Love, Janis” lacks in substance is made up for by Heuser’s remarkable performance. Overall, its an enjoyable remembrance of a great star. The Ordway is working toward creating their own productions, rather than relying on touring companies, and “Love, Janis” is the first in this venture, which will, next season, include new versions of “The Rocky Horror Show” and “Blues in the Night.”

The Love Project

Sometimes you find theater in the strangest places and the experience is equally strange. Such is the case for Upright Egg Theatre’s company-created ensemble work, “The Love Project,” playing at The Cave Theatre, the dusty basement of an empty building on South Bloomington Avenue. No writer or director was given credit, because tickets or programs didn’t exist. Only part of the eleven in the ensemble can be acknowledged, because their photos and bios decorated the lobby space.

“The Love Project” is definitely an exercise in Guerilla Theatre, but because of the chilly conditions on opening night, it could also be classified as Theatre of Dust, or Endurance Theatre, because the doors had to be kept open, and the show played through a constant haze of dust. Done on a shoestring budget, the laundry bill must be the biggest expense.

The premise of this show is something like “A Doll’s Life,” that woebegone musical about what happens after Nora Helmer slams the door on Torvald. Here, a nameless woman wakes up in bed with her boyfriend, upset because their relationship is going nowhere.

She sets out on an absurd journey, where she encounters, among others, a two-timing bisexual man on the beach, a gathering of potluck lunch ladies who are married to a bigamist, a gathering of feminist Amazons separatist who tell her to “trust in the sisterhood,” and treat men as slaves.

One of the Amazons and the bigamist have monologues about their love for men, and how its taught them to appreciate women. The trouble with this scene is that its tough to concentrate on the words, because the men on stage are freezing, dressed only in shoes, socks, tighty whities, and the dust on their knees.

Later on, the woman upsets a futuristic encounter group, and get involved in a lesbian relationship with a woman who resembles Drew Barrymore.

“The Love Project” isn’t terrible, and has its share of fun moments, but its often un-focused and like most things that grow out of improvisation, its over long, and often seems aimless. This is the sort of thing that young audiences might like if it were an undergrad project, or in a fringe festival. Still, the Upright Egg Theatre is to be commended for attempting something different.

Iron Kisses

The Illusion Theatre has been collaborating with artists on new works for three decades. Their most recent offering was “Iron Kisses” by James Still, the author of “The Velocity of Gary (Not His Real Name).” Directed by artistic director Michael Robins, this new play explores the relationship of a gay man and his sister with their parents.

Set in both a small Minnesota town and San Francisco, Billy has married his boyfriend, while Barbara, his sister, sees her marriage disintegrate.

“Iron Kisses” has a tight script, which is filled with fine writing, and is beautifully staged. Beth Gilleland and Dane Stauffer deliver magnificent performances not only as brother and sister, but they also play their parents. “Iron Kisses” is a fine addition to any GLBT Theatre’s playbill.

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