This is the second production from new theatre company Stage North at the newly renovated Capri Theatre in North Minneapolis. I really enjoyed their first production King of the Kosher Grocers. That play was set in the very neighborhood that the Capri theatre is located. A neighborhood that doesn’t scream “Theatre District” and a demographic for whom a night at the theatre probably isn’t a regular occasion. I noted at the time that the selection of that play for their first production was well chosen. I really like the programing decisions being made by Artistic Director Peter Moore. Smart to open with a comedy set in the area your theatre calls home. For your follow up presenting The Family Line, which is a new play by Lee Blessing, that also ties in with the city of Minneapolis, is to my mind the perfect way to capitalize on whatever community inroads were made and draw in other theatergoers.
The Family Line is a two character play that takes place almost entirely inside a car on a 24 hour road trip from Florida to Minneapolis. The characters are Finn, a mixed race 15 year old boy and Jonah, his Grandfather, whom he doesn’t know. Finn’s mother has died from Covid-19 and Jonah is bringing the boy to his father in Minneapolis, whom neither of them know. Jonah is hoping to get to know Finn a little on the journey. Finn wants Jonah to “Fuck off” and let him have his phone so he can tune out this stranger. Beyond that, I don’t want to elaborate on what we find out about these characters and the way information is revealed is the power of the piece. On the surface the play is engaging, at times funny, always natural, there is a very organic feel to the conversation between Finn and Jonah. But Blessing has a lot more going on underneath the surface of the play. It’s about these characters in this specific time and place in history. It’s also about how history repeats itself, both on a societal scale as well as the familial. The ending feels off, but on reflection that is because it doesn’t resolve itself the way most entertainments do. Probably because this isn’t just an entertainment, this is art. Blessing is an accomplished playwright, and this new work showcases his skill at creating real world characters and situations that are also capable of commenting on our world in a way that never feels forced or contrived.
Bob Davis who portrays Jonah, and Hunter Reeve as Finn, are amazingly natural together on stage. Reeve grounds his performance in a reality that any parent of a sullen irritable teanager will recognize as authentic. Thankfully, the role is more than just that and Reeve perfectly modulates maintaining that reality while not letting it be the defining characteristic of the character. I think we will continue to see great things from this young actor. Davis has to play a man who is trying to connect with someone who doesn’t want to be connected with. He does a nice job of playing the patience that requires and punctuates it nicely with moments of frustration. Particularly well handled is a conversation early on about where the name of Panama City came from, the miscommunications that come throughout feel real, this is the moment when we stop thinking of them as actors but as the characters.
Director Peter Moore has utilized a very simple but effective design to stage a play that stays carbound. The Set Design by Rick Polonek consists of a mock up of the front seat of a car and dashboard with a steering wheel. I normally try and get in the front row at a general admission theatre like the Capri, but in this case I realized I needed to be back a few rows or risk not seeing the actors full faces over the dashboard of the car. The car sits on a road that runs off into the horizon, behind it and alongside the car we have maps of the states in which they will drive on their journey. Lighting Designer Sue Berger uses a nice technique of shining a spotlight on the state they are in as the lights come up between scenes. This gives us a sense of where they are on their trek to Minnesota.
It can be difficult for new theatre companies to attract their audience. It’s especially difficult in a city as full of theatres as the twin Cities are. I hope Stage North finds it’s audience as a greatly admire the work they are doing and the company’s mission.
Stage North is a diverse and inclusive group of theater professionals dedicated to creating vibrant, live experiences that bring people together to tell and celebrate stories of urban life. We will produce three plays a year at the Capri Theatre in the heart of North Minneapolis. Our hope is that Stage North will help bring new audiences and new excitement and vitality to the North Side business district and contribute to the neighborhood’s continuing growth and expansion. As the only professional theater company on the North Side, we make live theater easily accessible to the community.From Stage North Website https://stagenorthmpls.org/
The Family Line is playing through April 17th at the Capri theatre in North Minneapolis. There is ample free parking in a well lit lot directly west of the building. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://stagenorthmpls.org/.
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