Downtown Art

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February 16, 2004 // UPDATED 2:54 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Anna Pratt
Anna Pratt

'As Long As We Both Shall Laugh'

My dad is Yakov Smirnoff. Well, not really, but Dad is a Yakov look-alike; he performs like Yakov, too. The two are twin comics (Yakov doesn't know yet). They're about the same height and both have egg-shaped faces, dark hair and matching mustaches that signify matching muses. They even gesture similarly. Seriously, I might actually feel comfortable calling Yakov, "Dad."

While Yakov's theater is in Branson, Mo., Dad's stage is Anoka classrooms. He's a famous substitute teacher, renowned for his pre-lesson warm-up comedy routines. Perhaps you've heard of Mr. Pratt? Dramatically, Dad clacks (a loud sound that some, not many, can make with their tongues and the roof of their mouths) "Name That Tune." Admittedly, it's an odd talent. He performs everything from "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" to '70s sitcom theme songs. Contorting his face, he reveals various fictitious characters he's conceived of, including a Russian caricature. He does voices, too.

Dad's also regaled classroom after classroom with the linguistic fable of his vowel children -- all of our names start with vowels, (including the controversial "sometimes" "y" and "w") a legend now, in School District 11. In fact, considering the mileage he gets out of this household mythology, you'd think we were born to satiate his kooky verbal bliss. All of the silly things we vowels do, the problems we've had with our homework or our hair, fuel his one-man show. While Yakov is everyone's "favorite Soviet," Dad is everyone's favorite substitute.

"As Long As We Both Shall Laugh" is the title of Yakov's current act, but for Dad, these are also words to live by. Yakov pokes fun at relationships and romantic snarls, snickers at the miscommunication between men and women, and recycles his own experiences for the sake of a laugh. He does tongue-in-cheek with heart.

I don't receive many messages from my Dad regarding theatrical performances, but tonight I got a voicemail: He heard that Yakov is coming to the Historic Pantages Theatre and wants to know if I can confirm. He definitely wants to go.

Saturday, Feb. 21, 8 p.m., The Historic Pantages Theatre, 710 Hennepin Ave. S., $31.50-$41.50. 651-989-5151.

'Toward the Livable City'

Contributors to Milkweed Press's "Toward the Livable City," would rather talk about heartening aspects of the city than issues like urban sprawl or pollution. Even more so, these forward thinkers contemplate ways to maintain the characteristics they love. Local literati like Emilie Buchwald, Jay Wallsjasper, Judith Martin, Mary Rockcastle and cartoonist Ken Avidor will discuss urban life in a publication party for the book, Tuesday, Feb. 17.

There'll be city-inspired art, with paintings and sculpture that reflect the Twin Cities, urban-issues cartoons and scene-depicting manhole covers borrowed from local streets. If you find yourself moved by these urban-philosophiles, send your submissions to Milkweed Press's companion Web area (www.milkweed .org), where poetry and prose contributions form a tribute to the city (Milkweed pays for selected works).

Local organizations devoted to sustainable cities -- the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club, Transit for Livable Communities and the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation -- will have displays and literature available. And top tasty purveyors of socially and environmentally responsible food and drink will provide refreshments, including Summit Brewery and Pizza Luc/, 119 N. 4th St.

Tuesday, Feb. 17, 5:30-8 p.m., Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Free. 332-3192.

Anna Pratt can be reached