When ‘frosty wind makes moan’

“La Natividad” at Heart of the BeastBY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE

In the deep midwinter, we like to keep our eyes on the light. Light entertainment, that is. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many cultures have—as well as a solemn observance about the birth of a prophet or a god or the struggle against darkness—a festival where humor, music, food and gifts make a brave stand against the dark days. From the ancient Saturnalia, where slaves became masters, to the tradition of “panto”—silly fairy tale plays with clowning and cross-dressing, which still has not died out in Great Britain—to the present-day child-centered Christmases and silly movies, it all obviously satisfies a deep need. Here are a huge number of suggestions for fun in the Twin Cities (a few are a little farther afield) to comprise your light entertainment, not all holiday-related, this winter. For space reasons, we only give the start-end dates and, if necessary, venue for these. In almost all cases, specific information is available on the web.
First, here are three plays at different times and venues that explore elements of “difference” in the human condition. The first is Mixed Blood’s “Orange,” the seventh world premiere of a work by playwright in residence Aditi Brennan Kapil. Directed by Mixed Blood’s artistic director, Jack Reuler, “Orange” concerns a one-night adventure of Leela, a young woman on the autism spectrum, who sneaks off with her cousin on a joyride through Orange County. It runs Nov.11 to Dec. 4. The other two are based on books, books which I have read and loved, as it happens. Both are presented by the Orpheum Theater. First, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4, is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,” based on a book by Mark Haddon and adapted by Simon Stephens. Second, from Dec. 13 through 18, is “Fun Home,” adapted from Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name by Lisa Kron, and with a musical score by Jeanine Tesori. Each of these two plays have won five Tony Awards.
The bizarre family dynamics in “Fun Home” (domineering father, closeted homosexuals) might remind you of a very different classic of stage and screen, “The Lion in Winter.” The Guthrie’s production of this surefire midwinter hit is playing from Nov. 19 to Dec. 31. Playing on their other stage is “A Christmas Carol,” of course, which runs from Nov. 18 to Dec. 30. Another standard holiday offering is the St. Paul Ordway Theatre’s mostly musical Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” This runs Dec. 8 through 31, and features big dance numbers and beloved songs like “Blue Skies,”  “How Deep Is the Ocean” and of course, the title song.  For a more affordable, and closer to home, winter season fix, look to In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. After a one-night extravaganza, “Puppet Cabaret,” on Nov. 19, In the Heart of the Beast features a recurrence of “La Natividad,” Dec. 15 through 22, presented in conjunction with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and Las Mojarras restaurant. If you’re a family with children, you might also like Stepping Stones Theatre’s offering this year: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” running Dec. 2 through 23 at the theater in St. Paul. It’s based on a popular young-adult book by Barbara Robinson and is directed by Dane Stauffer.
If all these give you a feeling of too much Christmas, there are two ways to counteract that. One way is subversion: Make a trip to Osseo, to the Yellow Tree Theatre, to see the slyly humorous “A Gone Fishin’ Christmas.” Written by local playwright Jessica Lind Peterson, this concerns two sisters’ trip back home to Duluth for an ice-fishing contest that is nearly scuppered by unseasonable warmth, an ex-boyfriend, and unruly sled dogs. This little-known theater is supported financially by the MN State Arts Board and the McKnight Foundation, so that bodes well for the quality of the production. If subversion is not your thing, try pure diversion. The ever-reliable Theater in the Round Players presents the equally reliable Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Nile,” Nov. 18 through Dec. 18. It’s light and sparkly and engaging and doesn’t have a thing to do with any seasonal holiday.
From plays to ballets, as last year, it’s all Nutcracker, but still a lot of variety. Here are two mainstream offerings: “Nutcracker Fantasy” at the State Theater, Dec.16 through 23, created by famed choreographer Loyce Houlton, is the longest-running holiday show in Minnesota, and is one of the New York Times’ top 10 USA Nutcrackers. And the one-night (and day) only presentation of the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” with shows at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Nov. 26 at the Orpheum Theater. For variety, there are two more. The Ordway Theater presents “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” which looks amazing. And the James Sewell Ballet presents the “Nutcracker (not so) Suite” at the Cowles Center, Dec. 2 through 23, with special “naughtier” performances on specific nights.
christmas-spectacular-logo2Another option might be a concert. Overlooking the obvious (Handel’s “Messiah,” etc.), there are a number of interesting choices. Chronologically, starting Nov.27, Pepito’s Parkway Theatre presents “A Christmas Music Spectacular,” featuring local favorites like Lamont Cranston and Patti Peterson. The State Theatre has a Mannheim Steamroller concert on Dec. 4, and at the Ted Mann Concert Hall you can hear the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus perform a “Gay Holiday Spectacular,” Dec. 9 through 11. The newly opened Hook and Ladder Theatre and Lounge will feature “Hard Candy Christmas” on Dec. 15, which is composed of four women singer-songwriters. And at the Northrup on Dec. 21 you can hear Home Free’s “A Country Christmas.”
And last but not least—shopping! Forget Black Friday. Go for the small, the local, the quirky. Starting with art fairs, Walker Community UMC’s Holiday Art Fair gets bigger every year, and includes a café where you can get hot soup and bread, coffee and sweet treats. This year’s fair is Nov. 19 and 20. Including some of the same artists, but smaller and focusing mainly on Powderhorn artists, is Gayla Ellis’s hosted art sale in her home, 3212 10th Ave. S., on Dec. 10 and 11. It includes canned goods and fabric art, fabulous switchplates, jewelry and pottery, framed photos and paintings, as well as a Roy McBride poetry collection and a CD of music for the growing child by Barb Tilsen. A neighborhood institution in another southside neighborhood is the Northern Clay Center, which hosts a sale from Nov. 20 to Jan. 1 at its studio on Franklin Avenue in Seward. On Dec. 5, Ramsey Middle School in Saint Paul hosts its annual Art at Ramsey, which is a really big deal. On Dec. 10, there is the Women’s Art Festival at the Colin Powell Center on 4th Avenue South. This event is 24 years old, includes over 130 women artists, and music, dancing and food. Finally, if you need to shop for a variety of arty gifts almost right up to Christmas, over 60 local artists participate in Bloomington’s Gifts in the Gallery, located at the Bloomington Arts Center in the Inez Greenberg Gallery, from Dec. 7 to 21.
For craft and miscellaneous type fairs, there are a couple of good ones happening on Nov. 19: the nationally famous Craft ‘Za at the Grain Belt Bottling House, which includes food trucks to help you get through the scores of vendors, and also with scores of vendors, at Midtown Global Market, Do It Green hosts the Green Gifts Fair. There’s another very large market at the Midtown Global, on Dec. 2 and 3: the NoCoast Craftorama. We visited that last year, and it was mighty impressive. On the in-between weekend, you might venture out to Excelsior for the Christkindlmarkt, modeled on German holiday markets, running Nov. 25 to 27. And finally, back at near-downtown Loring Park this year, Holidazzle includes another European-style market of crafts and foods, accompanied by fireworks, outdoor movies, a skating rink, and sporadic choral concerts (not all at the same time).  Holidazzle runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23.

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