October 9, 2011

Theatre North’s “Hairspray,” David Gruba’s “Broken Wand,” and BAC Street Journal

A More Perfect Union – If you are feeling shaken by the serious challenges we face as a nation (multiple, endless wars; an anemic economy; grid-locked politics, to name just three), you might find much solace in the arts. Does that seem like a stretch? Consider: The other night in Ironwood, Michigan (population just under 6,000, located in the Gogebic Range of the state’s western Upper Peninsula), Robert Charles and I thoroughly enjoyed the local Theatre North’s production of, “Hairspray.” John Waters’ tale of integration in 1962 Baltimore, featuring a cross-dressing star-turn for the actor portraying Edna Turnblad, might strike you as an odd and even risky choice for a community theater production in the North Woods. Yet, the show’s run was sold-out, the second act’s “I Know Where I’ve Been” (an anthem to the very American struggle of equal opportunity) proved to be a true show-stopper, and the loud, enthusiastic standing ovation at show’s end was well-earned by the earnest and talented cast. Add to all of that this fact: “Hairspray” kicks-off Theatre North’s 48th season. (“Theatre North is among the three oldest continuously operating community theaters in the United States,” according to a program note.) The evening brought back to mind a short story and literary journal I also recently enjoyed. "Broken Wand," by David Gruba (pictured here), is a clever bit of literary sleight-of-hand, telling the tale of two magicians. It’s also just one of many gems in a slim journal published by the Beverly Arts Center on Chicago’s south side. Like the community-created production of “Hairspray,” the poems, stories, photographs and other artwork featured in this fine journal define, describe and decipher the ways in which we live our lives. In so doing, locally created art – whether printed on a page or performed on a stage – builds and fortifies the very bonds of community that hold our nation together. And that, I find, is a reassuring thought. Together, artists are, indeed, helping to build a more perfect union.


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