Thursday, April 24, 2008

Review – BFA 2008 – Final Productions - 4-1/2 stars (1 of 4)

(Every now and again I lift my moratorium on writing about shows at the Guthrie – because, honestly, they don’t need any help from me. The reasons for lifting it vary, but most often it’s because I think there’s a production of real merit going on that, for whatever reason, folks may be overlooking. And while there’s a big spectacle production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” going on on the thrust stage, and a great co-production with Penumbra Theatre on the proscenium of August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” [more on that last one later], there’s also a series of new plays going on upstairs in the Dowling Studio that are closing this weekend, and I wanted to give them a nudge, because two of them are quite good indeed, and deserve bigger crowds.)

“Where are you? What time is it?”


Tweaking Chekhov is dangerous business. Not long ago, we just had an entire month of the Russian playwright in a variety of permutations at the Bryant Lake Bowl under the banner of a Twin Cities Chekhov Festival to bear that out. For those who love Chekhov, you will be measured under the looming shadow of the great master. For those who hate Chekhov, they wish you’d all stop whining and get over it. But I love both Chekhov and Carson Kreitzer’s work as a playwright, so I had high hopes for her modern day riff on “Three Sisters” entitled “Be Here Now.” I wasn’t disappointed.

Yes, there are three sisters – Liv (Kate Durand), Shel (Alia Attallah), and Izzy (Allison Snow). Yes, they once lived in the big city, and now live somewhere not so big. Yes, they long for travel, and long for change. Yes, there are soldiers involved, though this one – Jim (Duncan Frost) - is shipping off to Iraq. Yes, there is unrequited love, and infidelity (though, refreshingly, it is emotional rather than sexual, at least at first).

But here’s the big difference. These are women of the 21st century. They have options, and they take them. They have choices, and they make them. Izzy wants to sate her desire for far-off places. So she pawns her late mother’s necklace, given to her for her 18th birthday, and hops a plane to New Zealand. Shel is bored by her fiancé Patrick (Hugh Kennedy), so she strikes up conversation, and extended email correspondence, with soldier Jim. Liv is tired of being the surrogate parent for her younger sisters in the aftermath of their parents’ death many years before. She’s tired of living in the family home as if it’s a museum and not really hers. So she puts her own needs first and ends up doing a lot more than just redecorating.

Be Here Now” is also just as much about the men, even if it is always somehow in relation to these three women. Patrick isn’t without his charms and his passions, something Liv is quick to notice when Shel casts him aside. The war changes Jim – and the man who comes home promises a very different life, and challenges, for Shel. Izzy learns a lot about just taking a breath and appreciating where you are, as well as where you’re headed, from a zen surfer dude named Steve – who bears a striking resemblance to the lovelorn skateboard boy Zeke who Izzy left behind (not surprising, since both are played by Joseph Newton). Relationships get tangled and untangled. Family gets expanded and redefined. So does home.

Benjamin McGovern’s direction keeps things flowing smoothly despite multiple plot lines, locations and time shifts. The actors are all in tune with each other and their characters and are a joy to watch in action. The set design of rolling flats and highly mobile furniture by Randy Farris is fluid and multifaceted, and in its own way, a seventh actor in the production. The liberal use of music throughout, as part of Montana Johnson’s sound design, is a great reinforcer of mood and tempo. Craig Gottschalk’s lighting design is full of vibrant color and shadow, and gorgeous. Cana Potter’s costumes strike just the right note of individuality for each character, and evolve as they do. Also, a nod must be given to stage manager Adam Ehret and assistants Caitlin Milligan Sheaffer and Stacy Davis Spensley, for making sure all these balls stay in the air so effortlessly.

Be Here Now” is so full of beautiful moments – solo, duo, and ensemble; spoken and unspoken – it’s a wonder that they’re all packed into a single act. It’s a lovely script, lovingly executed. It’s a great piece of theater.

Very Highly Recommended

Be Here Now” has only three more performances before it closes this weekend - Thursday and Friday, April 24 and 25 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, April 27 at 1pm (but I believe Sunday’s performance may already be sold out). The plays are paired up in different combinations on Thursday through Saturday, and all three play on Sunday. Tickets are $10, or $7 for students and seniors (a steal, really, at twice that). Reservations and more information at or by calling 612-377-2224. Performances are in the Dowling Studio on the 9th floor of the new Guthrie theater complex at 818 South 2nd Street in Minneapolis.

Seriously, don’t miss this one.

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