Beggars Strike is treat for both young and old
- by Dwight Hobbes
Carlyle Browns The Beggars Strike at Childrens Theatre
Company is the sort of show you pretty much have to go and see, if only to avoid sitting
around listening to your friends yammering about what a great time they and their kids
had. A fine story is smartly told with state of the art bells and whistles: doesnt
Brown, a stark dramatist, is not the first author one would expect to write a show for
CTC. He himself laughed the idea off at first. But artistic director Peter Brosius clearly
knew what he was doing in bringing him Aminata Sow Falls novel as the basis for a
book and lyrics to a musical. With Tazewell Thompson capably directing a solid cast and
Kysia Bostic composing infectious, highly original tunes, Browns well written,
warmhearted tale is excellently showcased.
There isnt so much as a false step as Falls political satire is transformed
into a farcical field day. The president of an Islamic West African country goes too far
in seeking re-election. Believing he will curry public favor by ridding the city streets
of ragged beggars and thereby increase the tourist trade, he delegates this chore to one
haplessly social-climbing prime minister, the plays laughably misguided protagonist
Mour. With his eye on the vice-presidency, Mour follows his orders but does not reckon
with the fact that the beggars serve an invaluable function: they deliver prayers to Allah
on behalf of citizens who leave their offerings in the beggars bowls. When the
beggars retaliate by going on strike, the presidents plan backfires because his
constituents are more concerned with their spiritual well-being than they are with filling
the nations coffers. In a delightful turn of events, Mours devoted teenage
daughter Rabbi is the catalyst whose selfless courage moves daddy to get his head on
straight, put his priorities in order and finally grow a backbonewhich proves
unexpectedly rewarding for not only their family but the country at large, including the
feisty beggars. Along the way, we are treated to a world of characters so faithfully drawn
in their foibles and vested machinations that humanity itself is held up to wonderfully
benign ridicule. We also see the powerful saving grace of the human heart. Laced with
tongue-in-cheek insight and a profound appreciation for the simple act of doing the right
thing, The Beggars Strike is a joy. The singing ranges from good to
great, Julie Arenals choreography works well and Thompson cleanly orchestrates a
19-member cast. For good measure, the show holds to CTCs trademark as an uplifting
spectacle that entertains young eyes and ears, engaging their minds in the process. It
shouldnt surprise anyone, after reviews and word of mouth get out, to find grown-ups
filing in for their own enjoyment, grabbing a kid to bring along as an excuse for going to
see little kids theatre.
While adult actors carry most of the show, the young performers certainly hold their own
and are smoothly integrated into the action, led by the precocious Joetta Patrice Wright.
As Mours daughter, Rabbi, Joetta Patrice Wright is a true find. A born songbird,
shes gifted with ringing clarity and executes such fluid vocal phrasing as,
regardless of age, marks a quality performer. The other phrasing whizzes are adult actors
Gavin Lawrence in a featured role and ensemble member David Barrow. Lawrence, ever a
noteworthy triple-threat, can sing, dance and generally act with the best of them. Here,
he exudes a fine store of polished skill, styling and profiling as a cantankerous blind
beggar who, clad in a sharp suit and wearing slick shades, cant be doing too badly
for himself. Gregory Stewart Smith commendably acquits himself, the comical chief of
police who must do the dirty work handed down to Mour. Smith conveys the laughingstock
character with winning understatement. Shawn Hamilton deftly renders a sympathetic
portrayal of Mour, the doting dad and dutiful hubby who, hung in the fast track, manages
to do all he can for his little girl except spend enough time with her. Also on hand are
accomplished area veterans Monica Scott and Marvette Knight as well as talented Twin Cites
newcomer Greta Oglesby. Scenic designer Donald Eastman ingeniously couches the production
in a set that is at once both grand and elemental, ensuring sufficient razzle-dazzle
without overwhelming the storys down-to-earth aesthetic.
The Beggars Strike runs at Childrens Theatre Company through Feb.
16 with a pay-what-you-can performance on the 12th. It is not a show you or any of the
little people in your life want to miss.
HOBT brings Andersons tale alive
- by R.J. Wilson
Minneapolis very own world-famous In The Heart of the Beast Theater is giving us a
treat to tide us over until the spring. Artistic Director Sandy Spieler (who oversees the
annual May Day parade), Director Martha Boesing, and a veteran HOBT crew will once again
turn an old porn theater into a magical land on Lake Street, and, as usual, invite us
along for the ride. Running until Feb. 24, HOBT brings to life Hans Christian
Andersens tale of a simple bird, a beautiful song, and an emperors search for
A modern day parable for adults, The Nightingale is a tale of haunting beauty that
utilizes dance and puppetry to bring this story alive in the HOBT tradition of whimsical
masks, haunting puppets, and magical imagery. Breaking from HOBT norms, the troupe uses
puppets minimally, instead presenting the story using human actors, and in doing so,
follows through with Spielers desire to strip the story to its bare essentials.
In puppetry, you transfer your energy through the instrument. This show is closer to
actors theater, says Masanari Kawahara, who plays the Emperor. Many assume
HOBT is a childs theater. While HOBT plays are for every age, The
Nightingale, because of its theme, lends itself to an older audience. Catch
The Nightingale before it flies away.
Feb. 1-24. $17 adults/ $12 students, seniors, groups. In The Heart of the Beast Puppet
& Mask Theater, 1500 E. Lake St., Mpls. 612-721-2535.
- Monte Cristo tempts viewers with true drama
- by Brian Orndorf
What a strange experience it is to watch The Count Of Monte Cristo, an
adventure story of the highest caliber, and not have the cast running about performing
flips or fighting on wires. Ive become so accustomed to this foolishness lately,
that now I expect it from any film that features hand-to-hand combat. What a lovely
surprise it is to see that director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince Of
Thieves, Waterworld) has chosen not to fill his picture with such
nonsense, but to let the story lead the way this time. It might feel old-fashioned, maybe
even squaresville, but the new Monte Cristo is an invigorating adventure that
doesnt assault the audience with visuals, but rather tempts them with true drama and
perfectly staged action sequences.
Based on the oft-filmed novel by Alexandre Dumas, Monte Cristo stars James
Caviezel (Frequency) as Edmund Dantes, a slow-witted but accomplished seafarer
who shares his adventures with Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk, Rock Star), the
woman that he loves, and with Fernand Mondego (Guy Pierce), his cherished friend. When
falsely accused of treason by a corrupt military officer (James Frain, Reindeer
Games), and betrayed by Mondego, Edmund is sent to prison for the rest of his life.
Watching his life slowly drain away in front of his eyes, Edmund finds solace in a much
older fellow prisoner named Faria (Richard Harris), who needs Edmunds help to
escape. Over the course of 13 years, Faria trains Edmund in the ways of royalty and
swordfighting, in exchange for the younger mans digging prowess. Upon escaping,
Edmund assumes the identity of the regal Count Of Monte Cristo, and sets an elaborate
revenge plot in motion on his enemies and society.
Ive enjoyed Kevin Reynolds work for some time now, save for the lone Samuel L.
Jackson turkey 187. Reynolds has a masters degree in staging stunts and
action set pieces, and his long history with this type of filmmaking is welcomed back in
Monte Cristo. While the story flows with a time-tested, predictable fluidity,
the action scenes are what people have come to see, and Reynolds doesnt disappoint.
The violence in the film is clean, without self-referential visual gunk to cloud it up.
Its simple swashbuckling, and its staged and executed from the heart, not the
hard drive. While there are films out there that use technology and Asian influence to
better themselves (Charlies Angels), Monte Cristo plants its
roots squarely in the Basil Rathbone realm of action, and it doesnt rely much on
tinkering to finish the job. Its a long film (135 minutes), but it accomplishes what
so many adventure films cannot: it earns its thrills organically.
Credit that to Reynolds and Disney for taking the high road. Dont believe me? Check
out another Dumas adaptation from last fall called The Musketeer. Its a
clear example of how modern cinematic devices, even those that are terribly bandwagonesque
(Asian fight choreographers), can shoot holes through what many believe to be bulletproof
If there was anything that I didnt truly enjoy about Monte Cristo, it
was the one element that this story does not need: comedy. Luis Guzman
(Traffic) was cast to provide some laughs amongst the rage, and his very
appearance deflates the film. While Guzman has been used rather effectively in the past
(Boogie Nights), in Monte Cristo he sticks out like a sore thumb.
The picture doesnt need the sort of goofball confusion Guzman brings to the table.
Its much better off just wallowing in brood. Its more than a little depressing
to see Reynolds and Disney slightly second guess their film like this.
As the Count, James Caviezel does a masterful job as the seething dagger of vengeance.
Though this fine actor lays the innocence on a little thick in the films first act,
the naiveté erodes away to a satisfying boil of pure rage for the rest of the picture.
Caviezel balances these more violent emotions by allowing the pain of a life thrown away
to be easily read on his face. This allows the audience to not be turned off by the
contemptuous agenda that Edmund has for his enemies.
And nobody deserves more contempt than Guy Pierces Mondego. A character founded on
betrayal, lust and deception, Pierce plays up every last intolerable character trait with
more sniveling rage than Ive seen an actor dare to reveal before. Maybe Pierce just
simply understands the type of spirited film hes in, but the actor hits all the
right notes with his performance without crossing the line into cartoon. He invites the
audience to hiss and boo at his nefarious deeds, and cheer during his comeuppance. You
gotta love that.
Thats another example of the beauty in which this film has been created. There is no
winking at the audience, nor are unreasonable dramatic expectations placed on the
narrative. Its high adventure with no cynicism allowed. In a current cinematic world
which cannot seem to indulge itself fully without being painfully aware of itself,
The Count Of Monte Cristo only asks that the audience join in the fun.