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Arts & Entertainment The Manitou Messenger, volume 133, number 9

The cast of "Cloud 9" during act I. Photo by Fernando Sevilla/Marketing and Communications

"Cloud 9" amounts to a shocking, powerful, thought-provoking performance

By Eli Aronson, contributing writer

This past Friday, the St. Olaf theater department opened its production of “Cloud 9” by Caryl Churchill. Filled with non-traditional casting and a remarkable scenic and costume design, the production delivered a powerful statement on the intersection of repression, colonialism and identity.

“Cloud 9” is a bold complex play that utilizes absurdism to challenge the ways sexual orientation, gender, race and class identities intersected in both 19th century British colonial Africa and 1970s London.

"Holistically, the production was a marvelous success. “Cloud 9” is a powerful and frequently shocking play that requires a great deal of reflection from the audience," Eli Aronson '21 said.

The first act of the play, set in British colonial Africa, shocked the audience from the onset. “Cloud 9” immediately submerged the audience into the absurdist and bent reality with cross-gender, race and age casting. The play continued to shock through tense character dynamics, jarringly direct and profane dialogue and simulated sex acts. It was clear through the direction and performances that special attention was paid to these potentially problematic elements to ensure they effectively furthered the themes.

The second act, set 100 years later in 1970s London, was an interesting departure from the world created in the first act. The characters are free to explore and embrace their identities, but still struggle to fully overcome the repression developed in the first act.

While the show was well performed, there were some standout performances that made this production extraordinary.

Rachel Ropella ’20 performed with incredible strength and clarity of intention. Playing the secretive Harry Bagley and the bumbling Martin, Ropella’s attention to detail was evident in every scene, conversation and vignette. Bianca Davis ’21 performed her contrasting roles in the first act with excellent distinction and variety and in the second act, her performance as the lesbian single-mother Lin was a scene stealer.

Additionally, both Claire Chenoweth ’20 and Kendall Otness ’21 portrayed their roles with excellent dramatic gravitas that especially grounded the new reality in the second act. Seeing Chenoweth’s performance as the elderly mother Betty in act two expertly articulated the struggle of self-expression and societal oppression.

There were times when the pacing of the show lagged or accelerated unexpectedly. Some moments seemed to swell lethargically but were often immediately picked up by the energy of Ropella or Davis’ characters.

The scenic and costume design was decadent and tastefully absurd. The production transformed the proscenium Kelsey Theater into a thrust stage with the audience seated on the stage itself. Brian Bjorklund’s scenic design and Aimee Jillson’s costume design possessed a beautiful attention to detail and complemented the dramatic and absurdist themes of the play. The physical concept was seamlessly tied in with the overarching dramatic concept was a testament to the creative abilities of St. Olaf’s theater department.

Holistically, the production was a marvelous success. “Cloud 9” is a powerful and frequently shocking play that requires a great deal of reflection from the audience. It is encouraging to see that the St. Olaf theater department is unafraid to present difficult and uncomfortable art that forces the audience to think critically about how one is complicit in the oppression of others and oneself.

aronso2@stolaf.edu

Agnes A Capella concert has all the elements of an entertaining evening

By Madeline Everett, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Agnes A Cappella had the audience clapping, cheering and laughing along to the music at their fall concert on Nov. 15.

Agnes A Cappella is St. Olaf’s resident soprano and alto a capella group and includes students, Katie Anderson ’20, Emily Bohlig ’20, Alina Villa ’20, Jessica Folson ’21, Emma Borkowski ’21, Meg Swanson ’21, Gabbie Hotlzman ’21, Chloe Militzer ’21, Kylie Landa ’22 and Mila New ’22.

This year, their fall concert focused on the theme of “Fire, Water, Earth and Air.” The set began with a medley of rain themed songs, including “It’s Raining Men,” by The Weather Girls, ‘’Thunder” by Imagine Dragons and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Watch the video by Teague Peterson-McGuire and Claire Strother below

After the introductory medley, each member or the group took turns performing solo pieces with the rest of the group acting as the mandatory a capella backup. Villa was an essential part of the backup with their beat-boxing prowess, and the group expressed thanks at the end to Folson, who they said “gives us all of our notes to sing every single song we sing.”

Notable solos included Anderson’s heart-wrenching performance of “Turned to Stone” by Ingrid Michaelson and Holtzman’s energetic rendition of “Mr Blue Sky” by The Electric Light Orchestra.

“Hill Harmonics,” St. Olaf’s mixed-voice a cappella group performed three songs during the concert’s intermission. The group’s wobbly but comedic set was a definite crowd pleaser. You can check out Hill Harmonics in a full concert on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Pause Mane Stage.

The concert included a decent amount of group participation – at one point, the singers taught the audience how to sing some basic a cappella techniques and, during intermission, Agnes members invited the audience to play a Kahoot filled with fun trivia about each Anges member.

At times, the balance seemed a little off, with the background singers drowning out the lead. However, the shaky balance could have been due to questionable tech, as deafening screeches occasionally filled the Pause, making everyone in the audience flinch.

The concert may not have been pitch perfect, but the Agnes A Cappella put on an entertaining, captivating performance Friday night.

everett2@stolaf.edu

Photos: Claire Strother/Manitou Messenger

2019: The Year of Horror Movies

By Robert Piwonka, columnist

Against all odds, 2019 has delivered more evidence of a genuine horror-film renaissance

2019 has been a year of welcome surprises for movies. Comic-book movie naysayers have been silenced with Marvel’s “Avengers Endgame” and DC’s “Joker” raising quality standards of the genre. A new throwback mob movie from Martin Scorsese has been embraced with universal acclaim despite its unlikely Netflix home. This year has even seen unprecedented success in the international film market, with Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” clearing $100 million at the box office and setting limited-release U.S. opening weekend records. Perhaps the most miraculous of the surprises, however, has been the affirmation of a legitimate renovation of the horror genre.

This is a renovation that has been in the works for many years now. At the cusp of the 2010s, the genre was saturated by franchises like “Paranormal Activity” and “Saw.” Despite having critical receptions as low as their budgets, Hollywood’s gore and jumpscare stuffed seasonal franchises dominated the market. Industry experts worried over diminishing annual profits of horror movies. Sans a few indie and international outings like “The Babadook” and “It Follows,” the genre was seeming increasingly disposable and stale.

The latter half of the decade, however, has suggested more promising prospects for horror fanatics. Thanks to companies like A24, more obscure and artistically driven horror films like “The Witch,” “It Comes at Night” and “Hereditary” found widespread distribution and attention. Hollywood horror movies began to find its groove again, with mainstream hits such as “It” and “A Quiet Place” each raking in over $300 million in the box office.

However, the real game changer was perhaps the critical and commercial success of Jordan Peele’s 2017 film “Get Out.” “Get Out” was a blockbuster horror sensation, becoming the first horror movie to compete for the Best Picture Oscar since 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs” (Peele took home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the film, becoming the first black man to do so). And among 2019’s most popular and critically acclaimed films are horror flicks: “Us,” “Midsommar” and “The Lighthouse.”

“Us,” Peele’s second horror outing, has been every bit as commercially and critically popular as “Get Out.” “Us” earned $250 million – becoming the most financially successful original horror film of all time. Peele’s films have been noted for their carefully constructed socially commentary, with “Get Out” and “Us” being interpreted as criticisms of this era of so-called “post-racial” America. Peele has also made good use of his famed background in comedy, splicing crowd-pleasing comic relief into his films.

“Midsommar” comes from “Hereditary” writer and director Ari Aster, whose freshman effort shocked audiences, going on to be hailed as “the scariest movie since ‘The Exorcist’” by certain critics. For “Midsommar,” Aster decided to downplay the horror elements of the film, focusing instead on creating a mesmerizing atmosphere. On top of much play with melodrama and trauma, Aster’s films have been noted for their arthouse influences with allusions to the films of Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky. “Midsommar,” despite positive critical reception, has been the subject of much debate, with as many people disparaging it as hailing it a masterpiece.

Robert Egger’s “The Lighthouse,” however, may be the year’s horror stand out. Fans have been calling the film a bona-fide modern classic since it opened to rave reviews at Cannes. Like his freshman effort, “The Witch,” Egger’s film is a meticulously researched and crafted New England period horror film. Despite only featuring two actors in the entire film (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe), audiences have been entranced with the film, rallying for Academy attention for both actors. Eggers shares similar arthouse influences with Aster; the two have discussed their admiration for Bergman on a podcast.

Peele, Aster and Eggers have found much success in their respective lanes of the horror genre, each releasing successful sophomore efforts in 2019. As the year has shown, despite anxieties about an increasingly changing landscape, film as a serious cultural force is not going anywhere. In fact – as perhaps is the case for horror films – it might just be getting started.

piwonk1@stolaf.edu

Graphic by Thomas Hardy/Manitou Messenger

A&Eats: Cozy caf meals

Claire Strother & Teague Peterson-McGuire, Multimedia Director & Video Journalist

"I love when there are soup options in the caf, especially the vegan soup options," Sylvie Deters '22 said.

Heartbeat

By Alexia Nizhny, Opinions Editor

It took me about a year and a half, but I think I can say with full certainty that I have exhausted the St. Olaf dating pool. As a first-year, hookups and dating seemed inconsequential – my romantic life was an opportunity to explore and have fun. That exploration, however, has slowly developed some unintended consequences.

At dinner the other day, I was talking with my friends about an ex-boyfriend of mine. I told a fun anecdote about a time his close friend Ruby* and I went to dinner together. I had nothing against Ruby. She was a nice girl who always treated me with respect and kindness. But Ruby is a close friend of my ex-boyfriend and as a means of disassociating myself from any romantic feelings towards him, I figured it would be best for my mental health to avoid Ruby. After all, Ruby was a part of my ex-boyfriend’s world, and we belonged to different friend groups, so it was easy to keep those worlds separate.

“Ruby? She’s my SI instructor for religion!” My friend exclaimed.

“No way,” another friend chimed in, “She lives right across the hall from me!”

I realized then that our worlds were not as distant as I had previously thought. Somehow my ex-boyfriend's world overlapped with my friendships and I was at a loss. Sure, I could keep adding people to my “avoid-eye-contact-at-all-costs” list, but I had already watched it grow exponentially over the past year as I added the names of my recent ex-boyfriend and, by association his friends and their friends.

In a small school, it is impossible to avoid the ghost of relationships past. It is tempting to try and distance yourself from old heartaches, but learning to confront your post break-up reality is part of moving on. People have as much power over you as you give them, and unnaturally trying to keep your worlds separate can be draining. Especially considering that memories of your failed romances will haunt every inch of this school. It is at Old Main where you first spotted that cute person in your 9:00 a.m. BTS-T class. It is at the Cage where you had your first coffee date or at Viking Theater when you went to see Incredibles 2 together. For me, it was at the Caf when I carried my food to my table.

Just as I was setting my tray down, I look up to see my ex-boyfriend one table over. He was facing me, laughing with his friends. We had not yet made eye contact, so in that moment I had a choice. I could either take my tray downstairs and eat in the Pause or take a seat at that table. Whatever decision I was going to make would say something significant about me – my coping mechanisms, my conflict resolution tactics and my insecurities. Was I going to live the rest of my time at St. Olaf in fear of an array of college boys, or was I going to confront my relationship ghosts head on? Sitting down would mean I was ready to let go.

So, I took my tray and went to go eat in the Pause. However, as I turned the corner and walked past the dishroom I stopped. I glanced at my reflection in the window and then at my uneaten food. Refusing to acknowledge my history was ironically what was giving it so much power. By actively avoiding my past I was not allowing room for personal growth. That is never a healthy way to live.

When navigating relationships at St. Olaf, it is important to develop healthy coping mechanisms in case the relationship ends. We are young and bound to make mistakes when it comes to love. Sometimes those mistakes cost us a few friends or partners, but hiding from your past will make your time here so much more unpleasant. Especially on such a tiny campus, it is practically impossible to entirely forget old relationships. You will see them, and St. Olaf will somehow remind you of their existence. You have a choice, too: you can hide from your ghosts or let them go.

I took one last look at my reflection in the window. My heart was racing and I stared myself down. I had made my choice. So, I walked myself back to the table at the Caf, and took a seat.

*names have been changed.

nizhny1@stolaf.edu

Graphic by Thomas Hardy/Manitou Messenger