Theater of All Sorts in the Twin Ports

Sure, all the theater illuminati were at the opening of the NorShor for Mamma Mia. But across the street and down the road, on Friday and on Saturday, other kinds of theater and performance were opening up at Teatro Zuccone and the Underground, and I want to give them a nod.

Duluth avant-musician Tim Kaiser alerted me to “Grounded,” a one-person play by the Frank theater company in the Twin Cities, traveling on Minnesota State Arts Board money to Duluth. The play starred Audrey Park, and she was great as a former pilot reassigned, after pregnancy, from the AIRforce to the CHAIRforce, to being a drone pilot over Afghanistan.

In the first moments of the play, she tells us she loves the blue and she loves her role returning the minarets in Iraq to the sand. It’s a beautiful image until you realize she doesn’t conceptualize the people inside those minarets, the human damage. After her reassignment to drone piloting, she no longer sees the blue — she sees the computer-targeted victims of her work in digital, muddy grey. And the play begins to walk us through what it’s like to fight a war on a nine-to-five schedule. It’s hard to be a warrior on your shift and a loving mom at home.

We have known this for a long time; we just deny it. One of the arguments for increased PTSD after Vietnam was the speed at which soldiers re-entered the United States. After WWII, they boarded boats and it could be weeks from the front to home. In Vietnam, it could be hours or days on a jet. Soldiers had no time to come to grips with their experience alongside the others who shared it with them; they were hurled back into their families with their emotional wounds fresh.

And now, in the drone wars, they never leave their homes, the identity isn’t shifted from soldier to civilians over weeks or days but over a commute.

What we ask of soldiers is too much, I think. There are moments when she complains that if she were in Afghanistan with her “boys,” she would not be leading this schizoid life. But maybe we should not want that.

The only advice I have for this performance was: the audience was small, as it often is when Minneapolis theater and arts groups come to Duluth without community partners. More partners means a bigger audience.

Kudos for the vet who helped with the Q and A after, though — good conversation, more on that later.

Tallulah from the Duluth Dolls website

On Saturday, I attended the Duluth Dolls show, with special guests from St. Cloud area troupe The Vendetta Vixens.

Burlesque is not only what it was when I was sixteen, a fancy word for a teenager wanting to watch Bettie Page videos. It’s both “body positive” [featuring a diversity of body types and body modifications, following the lead, I think, of the Suicide Girls from twenty years ago] and feminist, as it leads to a feeling of empowerment.

A number of the dance numbers, in fact, were narratives of women ditching men who dominated them — explicitly empowerment narratives. And the dancing, whether on the pole or a light swing dance number, was cool. A few numbers seemed to be closer to erotic posing than dancing or performing, less my style. The costumes, whether [a] classic costumes with intricate fan-dancing spectacle or whether [b] Catwoman or Ace Ventura, could be excellent.

I’m writing like I know something about this genre of performance. I am a consumer of shows in Minneapolis, mostly, is that the same? And I’m enthusiast of what these shows do for the performers and the audience, in terms of pluralizing our sense of beauty.

The MC was loud and proud, a personality from the drag shows I attended in the nineties. If I could offer advice, a little more rehearsal would be welcome — we should not be able to tell when the MC shifts from vamping to reading script. A vibrant personality, which the MC offered in spades, doesn’t erase the rough spots rehearsal would smooth. this MC brought an energy to the role that sparked the crowd, though — a plus.

Our dancers gave a playful, fun, and talented show. More of that, please, in all our arts and theater in Duluth.

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