A night of cotton-candy theater with “Nellie Oleson” at CAMP Bar’s cabaret theater

Arts / Article

The work you’ll find in St. Paul’s grand performance halls – like the Ordway and O’Shaughnessy, Fitzgerald Theater and Landmark Center – commands such a large share of critical and audience attention, it’s easy to overlook what’s happening on the smaller stages. And we have so many terrific, intimate venues for performance: History Theatre, Lowry Lab and Gremlin theaters, Joke Joint comedy club and the newly opened Bedlam Theatre-Lowertown. You can find one of the most inviting cabaret stages in the Twin Cities at CAMP Bar, in the historic Rossmor Building downtown.

Alison Arngrim’s solo show, based on her tell-all book from 2010, “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch” was on stage at CAMP Bar in St. Paul last week. Photo courtesy of www.hgd.com/alison

CAMP is a relative newcomer on the scene – the 5,000-square foot gay bar opened just five years ago – but the proprietors quickly carved out a sweet niche, and diverse audience, for the venue with the lively piano bar up front and consistently cheeky, slightly risqué and unabashedly silly cabaret fare on the small, back-room stage.

This weekend, for example, I went to CAMP with a couple of girlfriends to see “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch,” a very funny solo show by Alison Arngrim (better known as the incorrigible “Nellie Oleson” from the beloved television series, “Little House on the Prairie”).  Goofy, charming and harmlessly profane, Arngrim regaled a packed room of “Little House” super-fans with behind-the-scenes stories from her eccentric Hollywood childhood, and years making the still-globally-popular syndicated show. She dished about her longtime friendship with co-star Melissa Gilbert and off-screen feud with Melissa Sue Anderson (a.k.a. “blind Mary”), and the still-vexing question for devotees of the series: “What in the hell was the matter with Baby Carrie?”

The evening was pure cotton-candy – it’s not stick-to-your-ribs theater, and I’m sure a steady diet would give you cavities – but I loved every silly, sugar-rush minute.

Photo by Gor Megaera

Next up at CAMP Bar, 490 Robert St. North, St. Paul: Leslie Jordan (most recently of “Will and Grace” and “The Help”) will take the cabaret stage November 14 through 18 for “Fruit Fly,” a one-man show on the question: “Do gay men become their mothers?” For more information, visit camp-bar.net/cabaret.