Filmmakers, independent or studio financed, know that once they decide to shoot on location in Minnesota there’s a teeming pool of talented, proven actors working in Twin Cities theater. Fargo, Grumpy Old Men, and Untamed Hearts, for instance, put the likes of Sally Wingert (Guthrie Theater), Claudia Wilkens, Buffy Sedlachek (Jungle Theater) and other luminaries to handsome use in filler roles.
Ironically, the film utilizing the most Twin Cities talent was a resounding flop. Justice (2004), brought Roger Guenveur Smith to town and assembled supporting actors like Penumbra Theatre Company’s T. Mychael Rambo and Mixed Blood Theatre’s Joe Minjares. At least it hired the most minority actors until Into Temptation, starring Jeremy Sisto.
Into Temptation (2009) featured Bruce A. Young (Mixed Blood Theatre, The Playwrights Center) with strong appearances by Marquetta Senters (Mixed Blood Theatre), Isabel O’Connor (Guthrie Theater), Greta Oglesby (Guthrie Theater, Penumbra Theatre Company), Regina Marie Williams (Guthrie Theater, Penumbra Theatre Company, Mixed Blood Theatre) and Ansa Akyea (Mixed Blood Theatre, Pillsbury House Theater).
It’s a shame more Minneapolis and St. Paul luminaries haven’t followed Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Devil in a Blue Dress), Kimberley Elise (Set It Off, John Q, For Colored Girls) and Carl Lumbly (Buffalo Soldiers, Cagney & Lacey) to stardom. James Austin Williams got “introducing” billing on Broadway in August Wilson’s Radio Golf, but Hollywood is not exactly breaking down his door.
Regina Marie Williams would be a likely candidate. Ever since her breakout vehicle Dinah Was at Penumbra, there’s been no stopping her. Every time you turn around, some theater wants to star her in a show.
Couple seasons ago, Williams triumphed at Mixed Blood in Lynn Nottage’s powerhouse drama Ruined, winning an Ivey Award. In that production she worked opposite film and television veteran Young (Jurassic Park III, NYPD Blue).
Regina Marie Williams’ ascent to prominence in Twin Cities theater began inconspicuously enough in Mixed Blood Theatre’s touring, educational outreach vehicle, Syl Jones’ Daughters of Africa. She stepped into a high profile with a phenomenal appearance opposite James Craven in Gus Edwards’ Louie and Ophelia at Penumbra.
Then came Dinah Was, depicting the tumultuous life and historic career of immortal chanteuse Dinah Washington. It had to be held over. Regina Marie Williams reigns as the first lady of Twin Cities theater, drawing critics’ accolades, attracting packed-house audiences wherever she performs.
Into Temptation didn’t have the sort of success Fargo, Grumpy Old Men and Untamed Hearts enjoyed. Not commercially. It is, though, an artistic accomplishment well above and beyond the stilted, vapid, and generally incompetent Justice.
Cast members can point to this with pride. They’re working with Sisto in a film with a strong story. A priest goes through, as it were, hell on earth trying save a woman from committing suicide. As you’d expect, he winds up having to find himself in process.
It’s not a formulaic script, though. Thoughtfully crafted, Into Temptation comes to a disquieting climax you never see coming.
One could find fault with the character Regina Marie Williams portrays, seeing it as a stereotype. Same for Greta Oglesby. One could put a sock in it. Yes, as “Angela” Williams plays a cheerful, dyed-in-the-wool sexpot, full of brass and sassafras, sashaying around as scantily clothed as possible. Oglesbly plays street walker “Miriam.”
Sure, it would not have hurt to have other images of Black women. Still, Regina Marie Williams and Greta Oglesby call on amazing chops, affording undeniable dimension. William’s “Angela,” spirited, whip-smart, with more charm than the law should allow, is one of them wild, relentlessly fun-loving party gals who’d run the Energizer Bunny off the road.
Oglesby, flat out, is a gas. She enlivens “Miriam” with fascinating grace, a brash, swaggering, pragmatist who struts her stroll leisurely with unassailable dignity. Honestly, considering how often theater-goers have seen her play sweet old ladies, to witness a bit more of Oglesby’s depth and range is, to say the least, refreshing. No paint-by-number performances, no caricatures.
Ultimately, anytime Tinsel Town comes calling, Twin Cities theater can be counted on to pick up the phone, answering with first-rate artistry. Nothing at which to sneeze.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.