Thursday, July 26, 2012

SPARK Theater + Dance

Last weekend we attended an open house for our friends at SPARK Theater + Dance.  In the comfort of their living room they presented a preview of their theatre production The Evolution of Sam which will be performed at this year's Fringe Festival.

Corey Mills
Betsy and Corey Mills are the husband and wife team and artistic directors for SPARK, a non-profit organization that explores the connections between theatre and dance, art and community, and creator and performer.  SPARK has been their dream for many years.

Written and performed by Corey as a one-man show, and directed by Betsy, Sam was first performed in 2001.  Sam is about the evolution of a typical guy from monkey to man and back again.  It's about his search for love and his inevitable rejections.  It's billed as "a very physical solo show that asks, 'Is it really all about survival of the fittest?'"
Betsy Mills

We were very privileged to see two short scenes from the 45-minute production.  The first showed Sam as a monkey, doing what he does best - climbing, looking for food, and pursuing a potential mate (a stuffed monkey in the center of the floor).  He "evolves" with smooth movements from his bent-knuckled, all-fours position to present-day male, standing upright, trying to make conversation with a woman at a bar.  (6 million years in about 20 seconds!)

I'm not sure anyone can watch this show, at least the beginning of it, with a straight face. Being an actor and a dancer, Corey pulls off the physical comedy easily with the posture, movement and facial expressions of a true chimp.

In the actual show, the set will be composed of a series of metal bars in the shape of a triangle that he'll climb on.  The humor is also in how the script is written and the timing - how he delivers his line, waits for a response from other invisible characters, and then repeats it more loudly.  You can just sense the whole atmosphere at the bar with the loud music and the crowd. 

The second scene we saw was also humorous, but in a different way - the way that most artists can easily relate to.  Sam goes to an audition for a play.  He recites Shakespeare and does rather badly - forgetting his lines, starting over, mixing up words.  (It reminds me of the idea that in order to purposely sing off key, you have to be a pretty good singer.  By the same token, in order to recite purposely convoluted lines of Shakespeare, you've got to know it pretty well to begin with!)  Of course he doesn't make the cut, but you really feel for him as he experiences another embarrassing rejection.
model of Sam set
deigned by Samuel N. Cook

I have not gone to a Fringe show, but I will be going to this one.  I could be biased because these are friends of mine, but I don't think so.  I've seen other works done by these two - several dance performances, Masterminds from 2007 Fridgefest, and The Cubicle done in conjunction with Theater for the Thirsty.  As a writer, I can appreciate a good script, and as a dancer I enjoy the timing and movement of physical comedy.  This is one show that I highly recommend.

The Evolution of Sam
Performing at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul, 2400 University Ave. W.
          • Thurs., Aug. 2    10:00 p.m.
          • Fri., Aug. 3         5:30 p.m.
          • Sat., Aug. 4         5:30 p.m.
          • Fri., Aug. 10       7:00 p.m.
          • Sat., Aug. 11       4:00 p.m.
Show is rated for 16 or older.
For tickets call:  866-811-4111   
For more information:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Outdoor Theatre

There's something enchanting going to an outdoor theatre production.  I'm not sure if it's the lack of formal seating (just bring your own lawn chair), the elements of nature (even though it's 90+ degrees), or that you can bring your own picnic dinner and munch while you watch (a major plus).

Last weekend we went to Century College to see Shakespeare & Company's production of Cymbeline.  The theatre area is set in an alcove on grounds of the college.  The two-story stage is the same each year, but the costumes are very ornate.  The actors and actresses enter from across the field and make their way to the stage.  During the performance it's common for them to walk among the audience and once in a while interact with them by pointing them out or rummaging into their coolers for a bottle of water.  (Although I'm sure they only do this if they happen to be well acquainted with the owner of the water.) 

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare's later plays and not as well-known as Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet or MacBeth.  The main story is about Cymbeline, the King of Britain who has a daughter named Princess Imogen.  Imogen is in love with one man, but the evil Queen, Imogen's step mother, wants Imogen to marry her son, Cloten.  In the style of Shakespeare, there are other subplots - love challenges, changed identities, and thwarted plans that complicate the story in a delightful way.  Unlike Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies, Cymbeline has more black and white characters, and yet they remain three-dimensional.

This is Shakespeare & Company's 37th season, and the longest running outdoor theaters in Minnesota.  Other years we've seen Hamlet, Merry Wives of Windsor, King Lear, and Comedy of Errors.  The mission of the company:  "Our goal is to provide an environment where families can come and enjoy an informal picnic atmosphere and see performances of Shakespeare and other classical plays."

Besides Cymbaline, the other plays for this year are Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare) and Tartuffe (Moliere).  There are only two weekends left.  If you're interested, check out the website for more info or call 651-779-5818.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Flavors of Duluth

Besides being a great place for nature and art, Duluth has a lot of great places to eat, especially if you're gluten free.

The Duluth Grill

One of our favorite places is the Duluth Grill.  Located on the east side of the city in the less "touristy" area, Duluth Grill was once an Embers and seems to be very popular among the locals.  Moderately prices, the menu options range from standard Embers fare such as burgers and sandwiches, to more contemporary dishes such as wraps, gourmet omelets and a Curried Polenta and Fire Roasted Tomato Stew.

Smoked Salmon Wrap
This time around I had the Smoked Salmon Wrap - a gluten free Ethiopian teff wrap with Northern Waters Smokehouse Salmon, avocados, scallions with a side of lime-cilantro tartar sauce and a small side of fruit.  It was a great mingling of different flavors.  And of course, you have to try the Strawberry Lemonade.  Other times I've eaten here, I've had a BLT in a teff wrap and a GF Thai chicken pizza.


 Va Bene Berarducci's Caffé

Another one of our favorite places is an Italian Restaurant called Va Bene Berarducci.  Since there aren't that many GF restaurants in the Twin Cities that have GF pasta options, it's always a treat for me to go here.  It's located along Superior Street past Fitger's and the ice cream shop.  If you go before sunset, try to get outside seating because you have a great view of the lake.  But beware of the gulls (Minnesota vultures) who like to scavenge for food and are not shy.  The deck does get cold after the sun goes down, but they also have a covered porch which also has a view of the lake.

Even though it's customary to have a coffee drink after dinner and/or with dessert, I sometimes opt to have one right away before dinner.  (We also sometimes stop in for a morning espresso when they open around 9:00, but that's another story).  My spouse and I like to split a salad and then order separate entrees.  This time around we shared a Spinaci Salad - spinach leaves, pine nuts, honey and goat cheese with a honey peppercorn vinaigrette.

Spinaci Salad

Being gluten free, it's easiest for me to order the pasta bar - a sauce, a pasta and three items of your choice.  I had the gluten free noodles with San Marzano Tomato Sauce along with sausage, asparagus, and roasted red peppers.  Very satisfying!

pasta bar option
New Scenic Café

One more great place, a bit nicer, and higher prices, is the New Scenic Café.  It's a nice drive up the shore, and when you think you've gone too far, go a little farther and it'll be right there on the lake surrounded by its colorful garden.  

pecan crusted goat cheese on mixed greens

seared sea scallops
One of my favorite salads has delightful medallions of pistachio crusted goat cheese nestled in mixed greens.  (Being also dairy free, goat cheese can sometimes be an option, as long as I don't overdo it.)  

Their menu options change often, but I had an amazing dish of seared sea scallops on top of butternut squash and corn masa.  Among this decorative little "tower" was cilantro, grape tomatoes and sweet corn.

While these three restaurants vary in style of cuisine and price, they have one thing in common:  The staff were always willing to work with you if you had food allergies.  Restaurants like that always deserve five-star ratings.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Foray to Duluth

Even with all the flooding this year, we really didn't want to miss our trip to Duluth.  It was only one week after we had seen the pictures in the paper and the news clips - the city streets of our favorite getaway spot looked like Gooseberry Falls.  There were pictures of the adorable seal swimming among the cars on the freeway and cars tumbling down the sinkholes in the asphalt. The parking lot of the Whole Foods Co-op had collapsed. (Although fortunately, the building had remained intact.)  I thought we were going to cancel our reservations, but we called up all of our favorite spots, and they said, "Yes, we're open for business; come on in!"  So, we went, and I'm glad we did.

Gooseberry Falls 2011
Gooseberry Falls 2012
Even though Duluth had been declared a disaster area, when we went, we didn't really see much of the flood damage.  Sure, there were some closed off streets and resurfacing on the roads, but we didn't have any other problems.  In fact, when we went to Gooseberry Falls, the water level was down quite a bit compared to how it was last year.

In one of my eloquent moments on Facebook, I posted this:  "Sometimes I take for granted that there's an amazing body of water only 2 1/2 hours away.  It makes you wonder what other things go unnoticed that are near or within reach of us that we can call 'Superior.'"

Duluth and Lake Superior are great places for food, nature, art and just hanging out - all the things that I love.  Along the Lakewalk, which is several miles of a shoreline walking/biking path, you can see metal sculptures, war memorials, and a huge mosaic tile mural. 

 The weather for that week was a bit warmer than usual.  We took a glorious bike ride - seven miles one way - which, like the former train tracks, passed through the flatter parts of the city, the back yards of the Lester River, and the green spaces between the freeway and the lake.  Lots of places to rest along the way.  It was sunny and warm, but the wind coming off of the lake made it perfect for biking.  (Yes, my bike is the one with the puffy seat cover!)  

More to come!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mom's Nature Paintings - Part II

lone cypress in California
 Here are more paintings from Mom's limited collection.

Many visual artists these days have artist statements for their work, and in collecting these pictures, I've wondered what Mom might have said about her own work.  I can only speculate - something about acrylics, nature, seasons, bodies of water, trees, flowers, butterflies, and light blue - her favorite color.  Hmm...  Sounds like the titles for some of my blogs.  I guess the (Minne) apple doesn't fall too far from the tree!
Lake Superior North Shore
rushing water

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mom's Nature Paintings

snowy branches
(contributed by J&M)
Speaking of Mom, I had forgotten that she was a painter.  She worked with acrylics and created several dozen pictures that she painted from nature photos that she clipped from old magazines or adapted from old greeting cards.

butterfly and daisies
(contributed by T&S)
Mom was an artist, but she went about it in a way that was different from other artists.  Most people who have an artistic bend, have a passion that drives them to create their work.  If my mom had a passion for painting, we certainly weren't aware of it because she was too busy taking care of all of us to think about doing something creative.  One day she signed up for a painting course at the community center, and suddenly she was standing in front of an easel in the basement wearing an old blue shirt and mixing shades of blue on a piece of white cardboard.

I remember her first painting was a picture of a simple winter scene - a gray background and a white house with a black roof.  (I think someone commented that the house must not have had insulation.)  She worked on her winter picture during Jan. or Feb., and it seemed to take a long time.  My dad would tease her, "The more you paint, the more it snows! Will you PLEASE finish that painting so spring can come?"

Eventually she did finish, and then went on to paint several more.  My dad sometimes made frames for her out of plywood that she stained or dabbed with paint and then coated with a clear sealant.  Other times the frames were store-bought.  Dad also helped her stretch more canvasses after her class had ended.  She never named her pictures, so we came up with our own references for them.

bird picture
(contributed by E&B)
Another painting I remember was her spring picture with the birds.  (I think she took the picture from a National Geographic Magazine.) Using a different technique, she marked off a grid on the photo with a pencil and then measured and drew in the corresponding lines on the canvass.  The birds became a source of frustration for her, though.  "I just can't seem to draw these birds in correctly," she lamented.  So then my dad dusted off the old projector, put it on top of the magazine picture, turned it on, and aimed it at the canvass. "Ok, where do you want the birds?"  My mom stood in the dark and eagerly penciled the birds in on her canvass.  For me, it was neat to see my mom and dad work together on something other than the care and feeding of children.

The first three or four paintings were hung on the walls of my mom and dad's house.  As my mom completed other paintings, she gave them to my older siblings who had their own houses.  There were scenes of the North Shore, water flowing over rocks, butterflies, and daisies.  She also took another class in abstract painting, but she didn't care for that style very much.

(contributed by SAM)

Mom's shasta daisies
(contributed by B&R)

Mom painted for only a very short time, probably about ten years, and then she stopped.  She had started working on a huge sunset picture and it was taking forever just to put down the white base layer on the canvass.  She never finished that one; it sat in the basement leaning against the moldy wall behind the ping pong table.  I'm not sure why she stopped; maybe she got frustrated; maybe she got tired of it.  Or maybe that particular season of her life had ended, and she finished what she needed to do; shared these special works so that we could remember her fondly.

When Mom passed away seven years ago, I realized I was one of the only people in the family who didn't have one of her paintings on my wall.  (I was very young when she painted, so I didn't have a house to put it in at the time.)  My favorite one, the autumn scene, was still hanging at the old house, so I asked my dad for it.  It goes very well with my living room decor - reds and oranges, light wood and gold accents.  I remember this one the most because it reminds me of Maiden Rock near Red Wing.  (I also remembered how tedious it seemed as I watched her paint every single leaf!)  I also liked the close up and distant perspectives.  It just amazed me how she was able to capture that from the original photo.  On the back of the painting I found a birthday card that my mom had used for the picture.  It was from my grandma to my brother (dated 1973).

Also in my house I have one of Mom's abstract pictures.  She painted the picture of the smoke swirling up from an extinguished match (which as you can see, is a neat picture). Since it was an abstract class, the teacher suggested that she add the curved black slices in the picture.  Needless to say, this was not my mom's favorite painting.

Personally, I really like certain forms of abstract art, but I also didn't really like the black slices.  I'm not a painter, but I decided to add a few of my own creativity to the work.  I had some glitter paint which softened up the black portions.  I also glued on some colored embroidery threads to make it look more three-dimensional.  It's still a work in progress, but it's something of which I can say, "Mom and I did this one together."