Posted at 10:17 AM on October 16, 2009
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Theater
Celeste Jones, Regina Marie Williams, and Bruce Young in "Ruined" at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. Photo by Ann Marsden.
Recently I had the opportunity to fill in for Kerri Miller as host of Midmorning. The two-hour talk show is always a challenge, particularly because it involves reading up on topics I don't usually cover. One of those hours concerned the use of rape as a weapon in wartime, prompted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Certainly, I thought, this is as far from my arts beat as it gets.
Well, my arts reporting may not have prepared me to talk about the Congo, but that hour on Midmorning did help me to better understand the urgency behind Mixed Blood Theatre's latest production "Ruined."
"Ruined" tells the story of women in a brothel in the Congo, and the amazing strength it takes to simply survive in a world where rape and murder is commonplace. The play, by Lynn Nottage (the playwright behind "Intimate Apparel" and "Fabulation or, the Re-Education of Undine"), premiered a year ago in Chicago, and opened to rave reviews off-Broadway this past February.
The play accomplishes something that the news can't. Let me explain.
We talked for an hour on Midmorning with experts in the field about the challenges surrounding preventing rape during war. Now it's likely many people turned off their radios at the mention of the word "rape." It's a difficult topic that's hard to talk about. Those brave souls who did tune in for the full hour learned a lot of facts, and were exposed to some new ideas.
What they did not learn was the name of a single woman affected by this crisis, or her particular story.
"Ruined" uses theater to take you to the Congo, introduce you to the women there, and teach you what if feels like to endure day in, day out, life under civil war. Through words, images, music and dance, the play lures people in with entertainment, and then convinces them to care. Sneaky, no?
Ben Brantley writes in his review of the Manhattan Theater Club's production for the New York Times:
...precisely because of its artistic caution, "Ruined" is likely to reach audiences averse to more adventurous, confrontational theater. And people who might ordinarily look away from horror stories of distant wars may well find themselves bound in empathy to the unthinkably abused women that Ms. Nottage and the excellent actresses here have shaped with such care and warmth.
If you make it to Mixed Blood Theatre's production of "Ruined" (which opens tonight and runs through November 22) be prepared to be compelled by some great storytelling. And be prepared to care.
Max in his wolfsuit (All images courtesy Warner Brothers)
Max, the young man at the center of Maurice Sendaks classic tale, gets into a snowball fight with a group of older kids. Everyone is having fun, and Max's excitement mounts to the point of mania. Then it all ends, and the shrieks of laughter turn onto howls of anger and frustration.
In seconds Max experiences the switch between the joy and powerlessness of being a kid We've all been there and it's an agony which remains with many through adulthood. In that moment Jonze captures us all.
Max is a lonely young fellow. His older sister is paying him less attention as she enters teenhood. His stressed mother is trying to keep earning a living, and even find a replacement for Max's father who is painfully absent. When Max wears his wolfsuit and throws a tantrum with the new boyfriend in the next room, something has to give. He runs away, and after a stormy sailboat ride ends up with the Wild Things.
Jonze took on a huge challenge when he signed up to do "Wild Things." He's working with what amounts to being a sacred text to many people young and old. He also faced the task of taking Maurice Sendak's handful of pages and creating a cohesive motion picture lasting an hour and a half.
Mercifully he has not only succeeded, he has added new layers to the storyline which elevate the Sendak original. The Wild Things who barely speak in the picture book emerge as fully formed characters with their own strengths and foibles. Most of the time they are low-key doofusses, who take just a little too much pleasure in petty bickering.
Many adult viewers will no doubt be reminded of some recent moment where people were behaving in much the same way.
The Wild Things are naive enough to believe Max when he tells them of his magical abilities and experience as a king, so they quickly decide to set aside their original plan to eat him, and instead give him a crown. Max sees he can use their formidable strength to fulfill some of his own dreams, including building the ultimate fort. It's only later that it dawns on him that a beast which can tear a tree out by its roots could pose quite a threat to him if he's not careful.
Spike Jonze knows it's a lesson everyone needs to learn at some point.
The film is gorgeous in the way it echoes Sendak's drawings. Max Records who plays his namesake is brilliantly believable in the wolfsuit, as are the voices behind the Wild Things including James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Catherine O'Hara, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano and Forest Whitaker.
This is a film people will be watching in years to come.(1 Comments)
Posted at 9:16 PM on October 16, 2009
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Museums
Henri Loyrette, Director and President of the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Louvre Director Henri Loyrette is in town this weekend for the opening festivities of the "The Louvre and the Masterpiece" exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk with him.
When asked about bringing masterpieces from the Louvre museum to Minneapolis, Loyrette demurred:
You cannot say only it's the Louvre coming to Minneapolis because so often Minneapolis came to the Louvre you were so generous in lending your works and we were so proud to have it in our exhibitions. It's a kind of exchange which is important.
Loyrette singled out a few different works at the MIA which he wouldn't mind having in his own collection, notably a portrait by Degas. He said the MIA has a collection with not just the "standards" but also some really nice surprises. It's a collection the community should be proud of, he said.
As the head of arguably the most famous museum in the world, Loyrette holds a powerful place in the global arts and culture scene, and it's a position he handles with enthusiasm. Just last Sunday Loyrette was the subject of a lengthy profile in the New York Times. In his 8 years at the Louvre (he previously served at the Musee D'Orsay for 18 years), Loyrette has gained a reputation for shaking things up a bit.
One of his major projects was to take on a three year collaboration with the High Museum in Atlanta. Here's Loyrette's explanation of the project, and what each of the museums got out of it:
It was that collaboration with the High Museum that paved the way for "The Masterpiece and the Louvre" exhibition coming to Minneapolis. While Loyrette is seeking out partnership with American museums, it should be noted the Louvre holds hardly any American art, a fact Loyrette deplores:
Some people might not know that the Louvre has a very particular place in France's national museum structure, alongside the Musee D'Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and others. That's why it's collection will never include anything more recent than the mid-19th century:
Finally, I asked Loyrette about the challenges facing his, and all museums - that is, to get people to linger longer over the artwork.
Director Loyrette is in town through Sunday, during which time he'll get to know the MIA's collection, and pay a visit to the Guthrie Theater. The Guthrie was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the same man behind the design for the new Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi.