A Pound Of Flesh Defies Both Sense And Sensibility

Sam Black

Last week began with a modestly attended celebration of the 125th anniversary of The Depot, in the center of what was then Duluth. Today, The Depot is one of the primary arts centers in our region. The Depot is home to the St. Louis County Historical Society and all of the many presentations they sponsor year in and year out. But The Depot is also the home of The Duluth Art Institute, The Duluth Playhouse and all of its branches, Minnesota Ballet, Matinee Musicale, Arrowhead Chorale, not to mention the train museum - - the whole reason for The Depot in the first place. I encourage you to visit The Depot and its changing programs on a regular basis.

Second Saturdays at Sacred Heart Music Center

Saturday afternoon featured Minneapolis organist Melanie Ohnstad, offering a brightly varied program on the gorgeous Felgemaker pipe organ at the Sacred Heart Music Center. She shared her program with flutist Shelley Gruskin, baritone Erik Krohg, and bagpiper Michael Breidenbach. French, German, Italian, American, and Scottish music were celebrated with lots of organ pipe coloring. For me, the delight was listening to Gruskin play the old Scottish tune Highland Cathedral with Ohnstad, and then to have Breidenbach burst out of the back room with his bagpipes and join in the memorable melody. There was no room for winter at that moment.

Happiness for a Couple of Couples

In Duluth, which is rich in theatrical talent, I visited two quite different performances last week. The College of St. Scholastica presented the 2014 dramatization of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The stage adaptation by Kate Hamill was non-stop action from beginning to end. The audience was in a large circle, and the actors crossed the performance space in a large X pattern, moving furniture and props as they came and went. The story of mis-interpretations, confusing alliances, and the gentility of early 19th century England ended with a double marriage in center stage. Finally, most everyone was happy. Tammy Ostrander directed this romance, and Holly Kostrzewski put together a variety of dance routines that added to the evening’s delight. Hamill takes a few too many liberties with modernizing the language of Jane Austen, but the most ironic reflection was watching a cluster of college students assume roles of individuals between the ages of 12 and 72. Even in costume, all the actors looked about the same age! This was a new approach to the world of Jane Austen, whom I greatly adore.

Kevin Walsh begins understand reality as Shylock
Kevin Walsh begins understand reality as Shylock
Devin McKinnon offers his thoughts on Shylock’s behavior
Devin McKinnon offers his thoughts on Shylock’s behavior

Shakespeare with no blood loss

Wise Fool Theater, with a gentle name change, put Will Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, on stage in the auditorium of the Lincoln Park Middle School - a wonderfully sized venue for both music and drama. For the most part, vocal projection was quite adequate, which is certainly a useful skill for all actors. Managing Director Chani Ninneman did indeed direct this presentation, with Kevin Walsh in the role of Shylock, Jason Page as Antonio, Brad Damon as Bassanio, Jennie Ross as Portia, and Devin McKinnon as Lancelot Gobbo.

The plot of budding romance, business deals, and deception on several fronts is too intricate to detail here. What ultimately happens is that Portia and her close friend Nerissa (Maria Lockwood) are able to snare the husbands they want, acting as judge and lawyer in disguise. With all their help, they are able to bring the legal quarrel between Shylock and Antonio to a conclusion. Kevin Walsh was spectacular as the greedy Shylock, even when he was penalized for that greed. In the end, his penalty involves truly supporting his own daughter and her future. Asking for a pound of human flesh, without taking a single drop of blood, proved too much for Shylock to pull off. 

This was a super production of this sometimes troublesome play, and the constantly humorous behavior of McKinnon added greatly to the irony taking place in each scene. The heavily falling snow that greeted us on leaving the theater wasn’t too bad, since the stage delights had been so creative. 

Highlights of the coming weekend

Be sure to catch the new Metropolitan Opera, The Exterminating Angel (Thomas Ades) at noon Saturday at the Marcus Duluth Cinema in Canal Park. Saturday night the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra will combine the Reformation Symphony (No. 5) by Felix Mendelssohn, with The German Requiem by Johannes Brahms. The DSSO chorus and guest soloists will make you forget all about the chill and the snow outside.