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July 4, 2005 // UPDATED 1:56 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Anna Pratt
Anna Pratt

Just out of the pen

In its 18th year, the experimental theater series Fresh Ink offers playwrights the chance to test out new, still-malleable works, offering theatergoers a slate of original pieces that shed light on important issues from interesting voices.

First, Jordan Harrison's play, "Act a Lady," directed by Peter Rothstein, describes a true story from Lanesboro dating back to before World War I. About identity as it reflects gender - this play-within-a-play is a role reversal as men play women and women portray the male roles.

"Autistic License" by Stacey Dinner-Levin and directed by Peter Moore centers on a mother's contemplation. She has second thoughts about her choices regarding her first-born child, who was diagnosed with autism.

An omniscient interviewer prods her to muse over past events forcing back previously suppressed memories of family, friends and hopes for the future as she confronts the diagnosis. Since Dinner has written a lot about autism - her first full-length play is an accurate portrait of parenting an autistic child.

Then the irreverent "Mrs. Man of God" by Beth Gilleland and Donald Bazzini probes the meaning of marriage, especially when it comes to being wedded to a man who's actually bound to the church (does that demote his domestic partner to the title of mistress?)

In this case, the minister is gay. Complications of religiousness are portrayed through music, flashbacks and storytelling. All question the definition of righteousness and how it fits in when it sacrifices the things that are supposed to be cherished.

Next, if you know Kris Strobeck as performance artist, it's entertaining to note that she once took over the duties of a family farm, including raising cattle with her brothers. As you may have suspected, urban and rural life tango in funny and surprising ways. That amusement is capitalized in the performance piece, "Driving the Tractor Down the Hill" (it's no coincidence that it's "down" a hill and not "up").

Meantime, Jimmy Breslin's more sober piece, "Festus" which is directed by Brian Goranson (and offered in partnership with the Guthrie Theater, 725 Vineland Pl.), examines faith and love in the turbulent ashes of the September 11, 2001 attacks as it centers on one blue-collar family's coping mechanisms.

• Th-Su July 7-31. Call for times. Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave. S. $12 or $30 for package of three. 339-4944,

'Passing the Beat'

A spirited revival of an ancient form of Japanese drumming becomes one collective heartbeat, as it melds modern music and movement in Mu Daiko's seventh annual student recital, "Passing the Beat." This drum corps is energetic, raw and physical.

Just as visually entertaining as it is musical, this isn't the band concert you remember from high school. Or the same drum corps. The sound of these drums is deeper and reverberations last much longer.

• F-Su July 8-10; F-Sa 7 p.m., Su 2 p.m. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S. $12. 340-1725,

Not another brick in the wall

Ohio-based artist Derek Hess combines the masterful drawing skills of classical artists with a contemporary sensibility. Hess' drawings manage to be beautiful and grim and messy and refined, all at the same time.

In some, figures bear caricature-scale muscles or are foreshortened. Many of these figures seem to struggle with invisible but heavy matters, but they emerge superstar style, with wings.

This accomplished artist's rookie portfolio resides in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Hess has illustrated hundreds of posters for bands including Pink Floyd and Pearl Jam. However, Hess' posters rise above graphic design to the level of fine art.

• Reception: Sa July 9, 7 p.m. Show: Tu-Sa July 9-31, 4-8 p.m. Ox-Op Gallery, 1111 Washington Ave. S. Free. 259-0085,

Anna Pratt can be reached at