Friday, May 01, 2009

Shameless Plug(s) of the Day - 2 Female Pulitzer Prize-Winners

Woke up this morning with my unconscious zipping around like a pinball machine. Sat there for a minute trying to get a handle on it and figure out what the heck I did, or ate, or was thinking about, that had my brain working overtime while I was asleep. Then I remembered.

I'd been trying to wrap my head around all the theater going on right now, seeing as I'd been out of the loop for a couple of weeks due to my play down in Iowa, and an unexpected jaunt out to Los Angeles in the middle of the run.

I know this isn't news but damn there's a lot of theater going on right now. Everyone and their sister has a production running, opening this weekend, or just about to open. The mind quite literally boggles.

Example for the day - a cage match between Paula Vogel and Beth Henley, two winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Vogel's play How I Learned To Drive is hitting the stage at Workhouse Theatre

Henley's play The Miss Firecracker Contest is bowing over at Starting Gate

Both open tonight

I remember seeing the production of How I Learned To Drive done by Eye of the Storm over at the Loring Playhouse a number of years ago. Wow. I miss Eye of the Storm. And the Loring Playhouse. And if you don't know what either of those things are, I'm obviously way too old to be on the internet. ...Drive just had a production over in St. Paul courtesy of Theatre Unbound. Now, thanks to Workhouse, northeast Minneapolis gets a shot. More royalties for Paula. All to the good.

The thing I remember most vividly about ...Drive is how full-on theatrical it is, playing with space and time, and the audience's preconceived notions, with abandon. And humor. And forgiveness. All of which seems pretty peculiar considering the play is about the inappropriate sexual relationship between an uncle and his teenage niece. But that, in a nutshell, is Paula Vogel - taking subject matter most people wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole (ew, pardon the expression), and making even the most unforgivable people seem human, and someone we recognize. If you haven't seen the play, you should. It's funny, and heartwarming, and unsettling, sometimes all at once. It's the kind of thing I point to as the reason I still do theater.

I've read The Miss Firecracker Contest, but never seen a production. Beth Henley's work is sort of Tennessee Williams without all the tragedy. Quirky (sometimes sleazy) Southerners, most of them losers and misfits of one stripe or another, often related, just trying one more time for that brass ring. Actually reaching the dream isn't nearly as important as giving it your best shot. Characters you can't help rooting for, and feeling a bit close to.

I'm still kicking myself for being so caught up in rewrites on the Iowa production that I completely missed Starting Gate's Hot L Baltimore, because I love me some Lanford Wilson. And you just don't see large ensemble productions like that all that often anymore. Plus the cast of Firecracker has a lot of my favorites in it - Jean Salo (who came close to walking off with Starting Gate's production of The Sign In Sidney Brustein's Window), Bethany Ford (so great in Starting Gate's Anton In Show Business), Dale Pfeilsticker (good in pretty much anything he does), and Grant Henderson (who, in the interests of full disclosure, has acted in productions of two of my plays, and I would happily write roles for as long as he'll do them). And that's just the people I know going in. David Coral, the director, always does good work, too, so I'm looking forward to this one. Curious to see how the script holds up over time. And that's something Starting Gate does best, theatrical excavation. Even when the production or the script doesn't work, it's not for lack of trying.

Either way you go here, you can't go wrong. Just depends on what you're in the mood for.

How I Learned To Drive runs through May 16th at Workhouse's home in The Warren, 4400 Osseo Road in Minneapolis (no, it's not *in* Osseo) - for more information, visit

The Miss Firecracker Contest runs through May 24th at Starting Gate's home on the Mounds Theatre stage, 1029 Hudson Road in St. Paul - for more information, visit

I'm sure they'd love to see you. And perhaps you'll see me there as well.

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