Art Hounds: Three very different plays about immigration 

Two people dance in an industrial cell setting
"The Hairy Ape" by Combustible Company.
Courtesy of Lillian Jones

"History repeats itself,” says Twin Cities actor James Craven. That was one of his takeaways after he saw a workshop of Combustible Company’s production of “The Hairy Ape last summer.

Written in 1922 by Eugene O’Neill, this play about labor rights and immigration feels just as timely today. Combustible’s production, staged with the company’s signature focus on actors’ physicality, will be performed Nov. 10-18 at the Center for Performing Arts in Minneapolis. 

“It aggravated me. It aggrieved me. It made me fearful. It made me sit on the edge of my seat because I realized that the same things that were going on in 1922 are going on in 2023,” says Craven about the version he saw. “That is to say, the rise of Make America Great Again, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the rise of political violence, all these things are on stage done by the Combustible Company." 

Sarra Beckham-Chasnoff has followed Fortune’s Fool Theatre for years, particularly the shows they’ve done at the Fringe Festival. This week, she’s looking forward to attending their production of a new musical, “Cold Planet Warm Heart” at Crane Theatre in Minneapolis.

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The script and lyrics are by producing artist director Daniel Pinkerton and the show features his fellow producing artist director — and daughter — Ariel Pinkerton, who is part of an all-female cast. 

“Cold Planet Warm Heart” is billed as a family-friendly sci-fi musical: A spaceship has landed in a small Minnesota town, carrying with it a being from another galaxy, which prompts misadventures and eventually a pageant.

The score is by Robert Elhai, whose wide-ranging by-line spans Broadway’s “The Lion King,” six of the Fast and Furious movies and many works for Minnesota theaters.

“I’m sure it will be really quirky,” Beckham-Chasnoff says. “Fortune’s Fool Theatre does a great job with very adventurous plays.”

Three people stand outside
Left to right: Xan Mattek (Sprocket), Ariel Pinkerton (Wubu), Madison Fairbanks (Andy) in "Cold Planet Warm Heart."
Courtesy of Kari Elizabeth Godfrey

Twin Cities actor and director Ansa Akyea recently saw Full Circle Theater’s production of Naomi Iizuka’s play “Anon(ymous)” at Park Square Theatre in downtown St Paul.  

“Anon(ymous)” is a take on Homer’s “The Odyssey” and is the story of a young man who is a refugee. He crosses the Atlantic as he seeks to reunite with his mother in the U.S.  

“You’re sitting there and you’re wondering, what does that have to do with today,” says Akyea. “And right away, they make it clear that this is about immigration, immigrants, and they’ve done the specific work of placing Liberia also in that narrative. And so you know, which has resonance for our community, in the Twin Cities in particular.” 

The play was directed by Stephanie Lein Walseth and continues through Nov. 19.

Two people stand and look at each other
"Anon(ymous)" by Full Circle Theater Company.
Courtesy of Full Circle Theater Company
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment‘s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.