Mount Rushmore and Southwest South Dakota
I was looking forward to two days of exploring southwest South Dakota with a friend in his Airstream, but thanks to American Airlines’ mega-snafu of delays and cancelled flights, which forced me to spend 23 hours in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and a nearby Super 8 Hotel, I wound up with only a day in the 40th State. Frustrating as that was, I still got to see something that had been on my bucket list since childhood, Mount Rushmore.
Dennis and I first approached the gigantic sculpture at night around 9:30pm (it’s open until 11pm). Brilliantly illuminated, the four Presidents’ heads almost looked like they’re floating in space. While there certainly were other tourists at that hour, we mostly had the monument and the Avenue of the Flags, the promenade leading up to it featuring flags representing America’s 50 states, one district, three territories, & two commonwealths, to ourselves.
As fabulous as that was, I actually found the view even more impressive the next day when we saw sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s colossal creation against a clear blue sky. Taking in the massive image carved into, or out off, the Black Hills under a bright sun allows its full impact to come through. To call it “spectacular” is an understatement.
In addition to the monument itself, what I really appreciated about our visit were the extras that were added to the National Memorial’s site during the 1990s as part of its 50th anniversary commemoration.
A handsome walkway, the Presidential Trail, surrounded by boulders and leafy pine trees, takes you close to the Mount as it slopes gently downward from George Washington’s side to Abraham Lincoln’s giving you a view up into the nostrils of the Presidents.
In the Visitor Center, three times an hour in a small but handsomely appointed auditorium, a brief film plays that serves as an excellent introduction to the monument as it tells of its inspiration and the challenges in carving it out of the rock.
Next door, a one-room museum goes into further depth about the people and politicians who initiated the project, the incredible workmanship and technical feats that formed it, and the tumultuous reception it received as, one by one, the enormous heads were unveiled; I especially enjoyed seeing vintage film of President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking at the dedication of Thomas Jefferson’s bust in 1936.
Granted, by the time we got to Borglum’s Studio on the Presidential Trail, some of the details of the National Park Ranger’s talk sounded a bit repetitious, but it was still interesting to see the models and tools Borglum and his son Lincoln (who took over after his father’s death in 1941) used in the carving process that are showcased there.
Parking was easily accessible (the $10 cost is good for 24 hours so you can return and see the prezzes by night and day); a restaurant offers food and outdoor tables with commanding views of the monument; and the only complaint I had was that the gift shop had a long and slow-moving line (admittedly, there are two other shops but they’re run by the Park Service and apparently don’t have as extensive a range of items; I never did figure out who ran the main store).
Sure, Mount Rushmore is a bit off the beaten path, but it offers a rewarding experience if you have a chance to visit it.
Elsewhere in the area, Black Hills National Forest has amazing scenic views, including long-distance ones of Mt. Rushmore, as well as the Iron Mountain Highway with its corkscrew roadway that takes you through tunnels carved out of the stone.
Alas, the herds of bison that call Custer State Park home remained at a distance as Dennis and I drove through (which might’ve been for the best), but we were awed by the Cathedral Spires formations along the Needles Highway, a region of looming granite pillars and towers. Wish we had had time to hike along its 1.6 mile trail.
If you want to tour the Wind Cave National Park, established in 1903 by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, making it the U.S.’s seventh national park and the first cave to be so designated anywhere, get there early; we didn’t and missed out on seeing its “boxwork”, a type of calcite formation that it has more of than any other cave in the world. Friends who had been there previously had told me it’s a very worthwhile attraction. Guess I’ll have to make a return visit for it.
I certainly wouldn’t mind returning to Tally’s Silver Spoon in Rapid City (530 6th St.) not far from where Dennis parked his Airstream overnight. This upscale yet relaxed restaurant offered a menu that would not be out of place at a fine dining establishment in the Warehouse District or along Magazine Street. The Squidward’s Mango salad delivered refreshing yumminess and the outstanding Mushroom D’Jour appetizer was large enough to almost be an entree. I enjoyed my bison flank steak with corn cakes as much as Dennis did his Pork & Pinot, a special featured on Tuesdays. That our server Daniel was cute, charming and openly gay was a bit of lagniappe I hadn’t expected to find in South Dakota.
Can’t tell you too many things to do in Rapid City (damn you American Airlines!), but outside Tally’s along Main Street and the parallel St. Joseph Street, playing off the faces on Mt. Rushmore, are 43 life-size bronze statues of every President by a variety of sculptors. We posed with Harry Truman and John Kennedy, and enjoyed seeing Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well. No sign–yet–of 45. Why then 43? After a little pondering, we realized a statue wasn’t missing, just that Grover Cleveland gets counted twice in the presidential line-up.
And lest you think there’s no theater in SW SD, as we were driving along, I saw a sign for The Black Hills Playhouse which is presenting The Marvelous Wonderettes (thru July 4) followed by I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (July 9-25) and Altar Boyz (July 30-Aug. 15). More info at https://www.blackhillsplayhouse.com/ Yet another reason to head back to Rapid City.
As long as I was going to be in the neighborhood, I decided I’d visit friends in Minneapolis, which would be my first time there. Happy I did as I had a very enjoyable stay there.
While some may first think of the Minnesota Vikings when they hear “Minneapolis” and others the Minnesota Twins, for me it will always be Mary Tyler Moore or, rather, Mary Richards, the beloved newsroom producer and single gal of the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show.
So it should come as no surprise that highlights of my visit included a pilgrimage to 2104 Kenwood Pkwy., in the Lake of the Isles neighborhood, to see the iconic house from the opening credits where Mary and Rhoda “lived” with Phyllis as their landlady (never mind that only exterior shots were filmed there). The home, a private residence, looks pretty much just as it did with its famed turret, though the metal gate that Mary bounded out from has been replaced by a short stone wall, bushes and some nice landscaping.
I also had to go to Nicollet Mall and S. Seventh Street to toss my tam, well, a friend’s beret, in the air just as Mary did in the unforgettable closing moments of the opening sequence. Following that I went across the street to the IDS Center and rode up the escalator in the Crystal Court just as Mary had (though I wasn’t holding a potted yellow aster plant, or whatever type of flowers they were).
On a much more serious note, my friend who was showing me around and I had planned to visit George Floyd Square (East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue) and it just so happened that we arrived there a few hours after Derek Chauvin’s sentence had been announced. It’s a somber memorial where “No Racists [are] Allowed”, but one filled with much love, flowers and tributes to the man whose life was needlessly and senselessly cut short by police brutality.
A newsman and his crew from a local TV station were setting up to broadcast live for that evening’s telecast. Some young fellows from the neighborhood were playfully pelting each other with raw eggs (never figured out if that was a “Minnesota thing”). And quite a few people were milling around. Yet it was almost hard to comprehend that this site, on an unremarkable commercial avenue in a mostly residential neighborhood, was where history was made causing the world to change forever, hopefully for the better.
Other places I enjoyed visiting included the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) (2400 3rd Ave. S), with its incredible collections of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, European and American art, including the most pointedly gay grouping of works I’ve ever seen featuring fabulous paintings by Paul Cadmus, Marsden Hartley, Pavel Tchelitchew…and John Wilde’s image of a banana being peeled;
The Museum of Russian Art (5500 Stevens Ave.), the only major institution in North America devoted entirely to Russian art and culture. Now featuring special exhibits of works by Belarusian artists (thru Sept. 12), and avant-garde designer Alexey Brodovitch (thru Oct. 24), I found the large Socialist Realist canvases from the permanent collection to be fascinating, and marvelously done, documents from a bygone era;
The American Swedish Institute (2600 Park Ave.) currently is presenting Bea Szenfeld’s outrageously wonderful sculptural paper-fashions (thru July 11) in both its new Nelson Cultural Center (2012) and the adjacent grandiose Swan Turnblad Mansion (1908) where her imaginative designs play off well against the solid, intricately carved wooden architecture in rooms featuring “kakelugns”, beautifully designed Swedish tiled stoves;
The Capri Theater (2027 W. Broadway Ave.) where Prince first performed and downtown’s First Avenue (701 N 1st Ave.) where he performed many times in his career;
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (725 Vineland Pl.) featuring Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry and the cheeky Hahn/Cock (2013/2017) by Katharina Fritsch along with many other works;
and in nearby St. Paul, the historic James J. Hill House, the impressive Cathedral of Saint Paul, Rice Park with its bronze statues of native son Charles Schulz’ Peanuts characters and the Hmong Marketplace where I had a delicious meal of bamboo and chicken accompanied by sticky rice.
And that’s all in addition to the miles and miles of jogging/walking/bicycle paths and hundreds of beautiful lakes, large and small, throughout the city. I saw lots and lots of people taking advantage of this natural splendor. Who could blame them given that the weather was warm and 8 months of the year it tends to be on the chilly side?!
As for theater, sadly the famed Guthrie Theater (818 S 2nd St.) was closed when I was there; it will be having a gala reopening on July 8. Guess I’ll start planning my next visit to Minneapolis soon.
(All photos by B. Sands)
With more and more people getting vaccinated and things returning to normal (or what passes for normal here), theater options are continuing to expand, especially in Orleans Parish.
Using the tagline “More Lehrer, more singing, more of what you’ve been longing for”, Lehrer’s Lyricisms–the songs of Tom Lehrer returns for two more performances, July 11 and 15, at the Prytania Cinemas on the 3rd floor of Canal Place.
With promises of such classic Lehrer ditties as Poisoning Pigeons In the Park, The Masochism Tango, The Vatican Rag and The Elements, his setting of the Periodic Table to tuneful harmonies, this cabaret/revue should harken back to a time when musical satire was fresh, smart and spirited.
The entertainment will be served up by Bremner Duthie, award-winning performer of the Canadian Deep South; Claudia Baumgarten, the multi-talented Magazine Street-costuming chameleon; Alfred Richard, energetic omnibus of stage, street & television; and Phil Melancon, lethargic lounge lizard of 88 Lowerline Street. Showtime is 7pm. For reservations and more info call (504) 202-0986 or email email@example.com.
Summer Lyric Theatre returns to its Dixon Hall home at Tulane with a 50th anniversary production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Featuring such memorable songs as I Don’t Know How to Love Him, Hosanna, and, of course, Superstar, JCS is directed by Michael E. McKelvey and Polanco Jones Jr. with choreography by Diane Lala, and stars Prentiss E. Mouton (Songs for a New World) as Jesus, Alex Stone (Newsies) as Judas, and Chase Kamata (Oliver) as Mary Magdalene.
Jesus Christ Superstar plays July 15-25, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets & Box Office information can be found at https://liberalarts.tulane.edu/summer-lyric-theatre/events-tickets/tickets-box-office-info
Also at Tulane, The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival will present The Comedy of Errors for its 2021 Season. This early comedy from the Bard includes plenty of ribald wordplay, clownish slapstick, and outlandish situations as twin brothers separated at birth unknowingly visit the same city along with their twin servants, also separated at birth. Mischief, mayhem and mistaken identities abound.
Director Jon Greene (Radical Buffoons) has reset Comedy on some breezy beaches of 1983. The production runs from Friday, July 23–Saturday, August 7. Evening performances start at 7:30pm; weekend matinees at 1:30pm. The opening night performance will be a special event with a reception following. Tickets are available through the N.O. Shakespeare Festival website at https://neworleansshakespeare.org/products/the-comedy-of-errors
On the North Shore, Swamplight Theatre in Ponchatoula presents Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the story of an extraordinary little girl with extraordinary powers. I’ve seen this Tony Award-winning musical three times and, with its imaginative book by Dennis Kelly and fantastic score by Tim Minchin, am still looking forward to seeing it again.
Directed by Vicki Jarrell Freeman, Matilda plays July 16-24 at Swamplight’s home at 950 Southwest Railroad Avenue. Go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/matilda-tickets-159239065331 for tickets and more information about this musical that posits “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”
Nearby in Hammond, The Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts and RoBenHood Productions combine forces to present Reverse Negative, an intimate evening of short plays by David Ives, Neil LaBute, Kitt Lavoie and Marco Ramirez. Don’t know too much about this but we’re promised “Four authors. Four directors. Four unsettling snapshots of the darker side of everyday American life.” And if Neil (In the Company of Men, Fat Pig) LaBute is involved, there’s a good chance it’ll be unsettling.
Reverse Negative has only four performances (July 23, 24, 30 & 31 @ 7:30pm) at Columbia’s 220 E. Thomas Street home so go to https://www.columbiatheatre.org/whats-on/2020-2021-reverse-negative to book now. I’ve been impressed with RoBenHood’s previous two productions, The Pillowman and Topdog/Underdog, and this sounds like it should be right up their alley.
More in the mood for pure silly fun? Then head over to Mandeville where 30 by Ninety Theatre (880 Lafayette St.) is investigating Clue. Inspired by the classic board game, this farce-meets-murder mystery begins at a remote mansion, where six mysterious guests assemble for an unusual dinner party where murder and blackmail are on the menu. When their host turns up dead, they all become suspects. Led by the Wadsworth the butler, Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, and Colonel Mustard race to find the killer as the body count stacks up as they try to figure out…”WHO did it, WHERE, and with WHAT?”
Clue runs July 17-August 1 and some shows are already sold out so proceed to https://ci.ovationtix.com/35711/production/1058110 with a dagger or candlestick and, more importantly, a credit card to get your tickets!