Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Tell us a story, mother..."

When the script for Medea and Jason: Rubicon Waltz was still taking its final shape in early rehearsals back in early 2009 down in Iowa, I was sitting in on a production meeting and suddenly realized that I hadn't set up the story properly.

It's one of those cases where the playwright's been living with the play too long, so everything seems obvious to him. The designers were sitting around trying to figure out who these characters were who were telling the story of Medea and Jason.

They couldn't just be generic storytellers. They had to have a life and story of their own. They had to have a reason for telling this story.

"Maybe students are visiting an ancient ruin and unearth the spirits of mythological people and creatures from another time. The spirits take over the bodies of the students and channel the story through them. So I guess that means they need backpacks, and I guess we stage those opening moments as..."

It was all I could do not to say, "What?! No. That's not... No. What are you talking about?"

In moments like this, I thank God for the freedom of rewrites.

Sure, *I* knew it was Medea's story, that she was the one telling it, that she was conjuring everyone else in the ensemble to tell the tale, but I obviously hadn't made that clear for anyone just picking up the script for the first time. Or the actors. Or the production team.

We couldn't just launch into the story. Like any good story, you needed a framework.

Once upon a time...

Who are these people? Why are we watching them? Why does this story matter to them so much? Why should we listen?

So, OK, Medea is literally telling the story. But to who?

Well, who do you normally tell stories to?


Wait a minute. Medea has children. Or rather, had children. Depends on which version of the legend you're listening to...

So Medea is telling the story to her children - who may or may not be dead.

When you get freaky inspiration like that, you have to run with it.  

"Tell us a story, mother." 
"Tell us a story."

"What story? What story shall I tell you?"  

"That story." 
"The only story."

"The story of the Golden Fleece."

Refrains that resurface time and again include:

"This is the story of how your mother met your father."

It occurs to me that I don't know the story of how my mother met my father. I should ask.

For these kids, it's a doozy of a story. A romance with a frighteningly high body count.  How the young adventurer Jason met the young princess Medea.

It also also the story of how Medea betrayed her own father.
How Medea charmed a dragon.
It is also the story of how Medea killed her own brother, Apsyrtus.
It is also the story of how Medea killed a giant.
It is also the story of how Medea killed a king.
Killed two kings.
And a princess.
It is also the story of how Medea killed her own children.

"It begins with a woman turned away by the man she loved because he loved another."
"It begins with children in danger."
"It begins with the death of a child."

 We do our first run through with costumes tonight.  Tech begins tomorrow night.

The show opens this weekend.

The Flowershop Project's production of Medea and Jason: Rubicon Waltz runs Saturdays and Sundays at 7pm, the first three weekends in October (10/1, 10/2, 10/8, 10/9, 10/15 and 10/16) at the Bryant Lake Bowl (810 West Lake Street in Minneapolis).  Doors at 6pm.

Interregnum 2011-2012 - Blog of the Time Between - Rubicon Waltz

The Flowershop Project produced the regional premiere of my dark romantic comedy Medea & Jason: Rubicon Waltz in October 2011.  And naturally, I wrote a little something for the occasion on the blog...

9/27/2011 - A Mother Tells A Story To Her Children, Who May or May Not Be Dead
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

Friday, September 23, 2011

Closing weekend of Yarrrh! - Because we all need a little lusty, busty sometimes

If you're feeling a little Fringe withdrawal as summer fades behind us, and applications for the next Minnesota Fringe Festival go-round are still several weeks away, might I suggest some lusty female pirate action?

One of this year's encore winners as the most well-attended show in its venue, Yarrrh! - The Lusty Busty Pirate Musical has been giving the fabled ship The Golden Rack one last trip on the high seas before taking her into dry-dock for a while.  They're currently running at Open Eye Figure Theatre (506 East 24th Street in Minneapolis) - tonight (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) (9/23, 9/24).  Friday's show is at 7:30pm.  Saturday has two shows 7:30pm and 10pm.  And then the lusty, busty ladies are done with their pirate gear for a while.  (And if you wear a pirate costume to the 10pm Saturday show, you're eligible for fabulous prizes - it says so on the internet, so it must be true).

I saw the first outing of YARRH! with Mom at the Fringe, but wasn't able to crank out a review in time before it closed.  Two of the three talented ladies in that production are back again - Lisa Bol and Ariel Pinkerton Leaf.  Their third compatriot this time around is Valerie Rigsbee.  And of course, there's the accordion accompaniment of Noah Strom.  And the puppet, Toby Bustle (and can you believe it took me this long to figure out why they listed the actor as Oliver Hands?  All of our hands.  For a show full of word trickery of a naughtier kinds, you think I'd pick up on all the puns.)

YARRH! has been described as an all female Irma Vep, but it's got a little more going on than that.  It's not just about all of Andrea Gross' rapid-fire costume changes for the ladies.  Sure, the actresses play across gender and mimic heterosexual romantic couplings.  And yes, there are a multitude of double, triple and quadruple entendres in Daniel Pinkerton's book and lyrics on swords, beavers and racks (among many other handy euphemisms).  In this play, to bastardize Freud, a cigar is never just a cigar.  But underneath all of composer Chris Gennaula's jaunty pirate anthems, and Pinkerton's mischievous wordplay, there's some almost subversive sexual politics playing out.  After all, the hero ends up being less the stalwart Jake O'Reilly (Bol) and more the Pirate Queen Desiree La Femme (Leaf).  And bar wench/hotel proprietor Rosie Bustle (Rigsbee) ends up not with the man of her dreams, but the woman of her dreams.  She captures the heart of the Pirate Queen, they get a naughty love duet, and sail off into the sunset together.  And because of all the gender-bending costume and character changes, the production conditions us to accept this is perfectly normal, where it another production a lesbian couple might stick out like a sore thumb.  It's precisely because the show doesn't make a big deal over who ends up with whom, and it's such playful fun, that it flies in the face of all the political posturing going on these days.  Adventure is just adventure, heroes are just heroes, and love is just love, no matter what clothes it's wearing.

(Fair warning - It's not a family musical.  It's filthy.  But its heart is in the right place, all the while it's entertaining you in a thoroughly naughty fashion.  Adults should get to have some silly fun, too, now and again.)

If you haven't boarded the Golden Rack, it's a fun way kick off your weekend.

More information can be found at openeyetheatre.org

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review - Leonce and Lena - Who knew Georg Buchner was so funny?

Normally when the name of 19th-century German playwright Georg Buchner comes up, my first thought isn't "goofy romantic comedy." But with Buchner's play Leonce and Lena, currently on display at the Walker Community United Methodist Church as the inaugural production of the new Dovetail Theatre Company, that's exactly what we get - a goofy romantic comedy with a generous helping of satire thrown in for good measure. Though better known for his tragedies (Danton's Death, Woyzeck - which is getting trotted out this December by Nimbus Theatre), Leonce and Lena proves that Buchner is also quite the comedian. In the ongoing clusterf**k of theater productions exploding onto the scene one after another this month (this weekend is only the beginning), Dovetail's Leonce and Lena is an (unfortunately) easily overlooked little gem that deserves a wider audience.

Leonce (Topher Jordan), the Prince of Popo (pronounced poh-poh), is destined for an arranged marriage to Lena (Kelsey Cramer), Princess of Pipi (pronounced pee-pee - told you it was goofy). Both young people rebel at the idea of being forced to marry someone they've never met, so they run away. Each has a trusty sidekick in tow. Leonce has befriended a commoner, Valerio (Joshua Fazeli), who keeps him entertained with witty banter. Lena hits the road with her trusted governess (Charla Marie Bailey). Guess who Leonce and Lena meet up and fall in love with out in the wider world? (If you guessed each other, you would be correct.)

Meanwhile, Leonce's father, the King of Popo (Eric Ringham) frets that the big arranged marriage event won't come off as planned, mostly because both the bride and groom are nowhere to be found. Nothing his coterie of well-meaning, if slightly inept, servants (Joanna Harmon, Ricardo Garciaherreros Quinones, Kara Davidson) can do can set him at ease. If you guessed that the solution to all this will somehow involve robots, well, you're a lot savvier than I am. (Again, goofy.)

Not your average goofy romantic comedy/satire, of course. Buchner is tweaking the notion of the haves and have-nots, the inequities of the class system (and let's face it, we still have one today, even here in America). And there's a fair amount of (amusing) meditation on the futility of life and the tyranny of work and the elusiveness of love, even a half-hearted (and easily foiled) suicide attempt. Plus, the word play here is dazzling. My theater-going companion rightly pointed out that the success of the script owes a big debt to the translator, Victor Price. I had to remind myself this was originally written in German, since this version in English is so nimble and clever and funny.

Of course, the success of the comedy also owes a great deal to Dovetail Theatre co-founders David Darrow (in the director's chair) and Kara Davidson (who, in addition to being in the acting ensemble, also served as assistant director and costume designer), and their talented cast of classically trained goofballs. (David first crossed my theater-going path earlier this year in All's Well That Ends Well, while Kara just got done with a great turn as Ophelia in the unexpectedly wonderful Fringe show Red Hamlet.)

They take a play that's 175 years old and have such fun with it that they make you forget that in lesser hands it might seem old and clunky.  Also, hats off to the cast for playing to a tiny crowd the night I attended. It's hard being in the big Walker Church space and having less than a dozen people to play to. They valiantly grappled with a couple of bits of audience participation - even though there was very little audience to participate, and the smaller the numbers, the shyer and more quiet we get. Throughout the night they all performed full-out, as if the place was packed and people had to hear them all the way back in the cheap seats of the balcony (which, having suffered through any number of mumbled selections of theater in recent months, was a wonderful treat for my ears. You'd think "speaking loudly and clearly enough to be heard and understood" would be standard operating procedure for all theater artists. This is not the case.)

The things that stick with me, though, are the tiny moments of low-tech theater magic that add a whole new level of whimsy to the piece. There's a bit with a long scroll of white paper fastened to the back wall of the theater space, on which the King's servants paint a distinct pattern during the pre-show sequence as the audience takes their seats. It is bookended by the King peeling away layer after layer of paintings from the wall at the end of the night, and the servants bringing out another blank sheaf of paper to start all over again.

But my favorite has to be the moment when Leonce and Valerio fall asleep on their travels and the King's servants appear and cover the stage - and their fellow actors - with colorful paper flowers. Lena appears, Leonce awakes, and the servants bring them brooms. Since these are young royals, they have no clue what a broom is, or how to operate it. The servants give them basic instructions, and Leonce and Lena are delighted to play with these new contraptions called brooms, sweeping through the flowers. It's a wonderful, imaginative bit of playfulness.  

Leonce and Lena zips right along, too. 70-75 minutes straight through, no intermission. You leave with a smile on your face and you've still got a chunk of your evening left to do with as you will. Yet another thing to recommend this clever little comedy. Leonce and Lena may be a bit off the beaten path, but it's theater worth seeking out.  

Very Highly Recommended

Dovetail Theatre's production of Leonce and Lena runs through October 18, 2011 at the Walker Community United Methodist Church ( 3104 - 16th Avenue South in Minneapolis). Tickets are just $10 (a steal, plus there's a pay what you can night on Monday, September 12 besides). For tickets and tons more information, visit www.dovetailtheatre.com