Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 5: The Shrieking Harpies, Finger Lickin’ Good (Winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award), He-Man is the Devil & Other Satanic Panic Tales, and Pinata.

The Shrieking Harpies is an improvisational musical by three performers who are clearly on the same page. It works beautifully flowing nicely from scene to scene so that we end up with a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. Musical improv terrifies me on behalf of the performers. But, obviously these three Hannah Wydeven, Lizzie Gardner, and Taj Ruler accompanied by Justin Nellis on keyboard thrive on that danger. They have the wit and the voices to carry it off. This is improv done right, very very funny.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/the-shrieking-harpies

Photo by Ryan Lear

Finger Licken’ Good is the winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award! For me, this was the most anticipated show heading into the Fringe Festival. I’ve seen many of these artists before both on and backstage and have really responded to and admired their work. It tells the story of Colonel Harland David Sanders and his rise to become the founder of KFC and the undisputed chicken king of America. It’s hilarious, at times a little risque, and when it comes to Colonel Sanders the play leaves little to the imagination. There are some portions of the story that don’t seem quite right, but luckily Shannon Custer is there as the fact checker to keep things more or less on the up and up. This cast loaded with local talent like Custer, Duck Washington, and co-writers/performers Heather Meyer and Nissa Nordland Morgan does not disappoint, nor does Meyer and Morgan’s script. The show belongs though to the incomparable Sam Landman, in what can only be described with the euphemism that he gives a very brave performance. Director Mike Fotis whom I’ve seen perform at Huge Improv does an amazing job as the show seems to fly by, so many fun choices like having Landman on stage as the audience comes in laying on a Chicken skin rug in a red silk robe and hardly anything else. To the staging of the Colonel’s last moments in what one might call poetic justice. Everything from costumes and props to the occasional musical number work together to make one of the wildest and enjoyable shows at Fringe.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/finger-lickin-good

He-Man is The Devil & Other Satanic Panic Tales is a one man show written and performed by Kyle B. Dekker based upon his own childhood. I’ve learned as a parent of a transgender child that what is more powerful in terms of opening people’s minds and hearts is not news stories or social media memes but telling your own story directly to people. I have certainly been aware of many of the things in Dekkers play, but for the first time I didn’t just hear them, I felt them. It’s a well constructed assemblage of stories of his upbringing in an ultra right wing religious family. that vividly illustrates a childhood that sounds exactly like what the adults in his life were supposedly trying to save him from. I want to applaud Dekker for his skill in taking a childhood full of stories like the ones he shares and selecting the perfect examples for creating something that flows like a narrative. I also want to thank him for sharing so much of himself. After the performance Dekker remarked to the audience that this was the first time he had ever performed at Fringe, in the past he produced and wrote shows. I’m so glad he chose to perform the show himself, it made it so much more powerful. Telling our stories directly to people like this is what creates understanding and empathy.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/he-man-is-the-devil-other-satanic-panic-tales

Pinata is a very funny exploration of the mean girl phenomenon but the adult version. Taking place at a children’s birthday party where two mothers are marched upon their arrival to the penalty box. One is a mother who has been in the group for awhile now, but doesn’t really fit in. The other is a new mother to the group who is terrified that if things go wrong with her, her son will not be invited to any more birthday parties, thus scarring him for life. While essentially a comedy it sneakily deals with several themes that really do deserve to be examined. Not only are we witnessing this dynamic between the mothers, but issues such as entitlement are brought up, and worrying about our kids not being accepted or teased. Pinata deals with these issues in a humorous way, but it does address them in a way that the audience hears and processes. The three main performers are all excellent. Greta Grosch as Queen Bee Carol who finds herself in the penalty box at one point plays both the one in control and the one losing control equally well. Katie Consamus and Stephanie Cousins play their rolls broadly but not cartoonishly. They have to be certain types, Consamus the free thinker who doesn’t care what the other Mom’s think and Cousins as the timid one who is worrying about everything. There are a lot of laughs in this show with a fair amount of physical humor as well.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/pi-ata

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Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 4: The Conversation, Rewrites, What’s Your Day Job? Or, How Capitalism Destroys Us All!, and Living Underground (Winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award).

The Conversation is a show I wanted to like more than I do. It’s a good idea and a great topic that should make for powerful theater. But, the script for The Conversation plays like a less interesting and less natural version of a real conversation. A conversation can be a great way to come up with ideas, but then you have to dramatize it. The show is full of threads, either intentional or not, that could be developed into something interesting. It’s also full of extraneous details, like a contract for an upcoming venue that interrupts any flow the show has without any real purpose. Like those contract asides, in execution this is awkwardly staged and performed. Suzanne Bengtson is clearly someone with a commanding stage presence and can perform. William Bengtson, who in fairness is making his acting debut, doesn’t have the same confidence and the performance is more like a script reading. What the show needed was an outside director to help address staging and script issues. This feels like 15 minutes worth of material stretched to 45 minutes that just don’t really build to any type of climax.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/the-conversation

Rewrites by Phil Holt takes a surreal view of how a playwright creates by imagining that she can actually call and invite her characters over to help her through her writer’s block. But then who’s the writer? As her character’s point out, they cannot tell her what happens until she writes what happens. I love a work in any medium that takes on the challenge of trying to understand and share the creative process. The show explores why we want to create taking loving stabs at the pomposity that can motivate those intentions or that one might use to try and justify their success. It’s a clever script full of surprises and humor that I have no intention of spoiling. The cast is excellent with great comic timing but, also an ability to change the mood and tone at a moments notice to something more real.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/rewrites

In What’s Your Day Job? Or, How Capitalism Destroys Us All Fearless Comedy Productions takes the skit approach to tackle their theme of, well basically how messed up our capitalistic society is. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the script with some sketches working better than others. The messages are important and come across, though not always as clearly as they could have. What isn’t a mixed bag though is the cast, who all show up and gave it their all in every moment. A good example is the final skit between an engaged couple. There is an interesting idea about the economic realities of trying to do what you love and the cost that can have on a relationship. The message could be better addresses but both performers are terrific and extremely present in the moment.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/what-s-your-day-job-or-how-capitalism-destroys-us-all-

Living Underground Today’s winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award. Brad Lawrence’s one man show keeps the audience enraptured as he tells about life in New york City and stories of what the Subway has meant to him. It’s a deeply confessional show in which we genuinely feel like we have gotten to know Lawrence. The storytelling takes various tangents but none of them are ever dead ends and they always seem to wind up back on the tracks, but with more background information under the audiences belt. The less said about the details of this show the better, but I will say it got a little dusty in the theater at the end for this reviewer. Brad Lawrence is an incredibly engaging and likeable performer and I found his show very rewarding.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/life-underground

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Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 3: Who’s Afraid of Winnie the Pooh?(Winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award!), Pajama Stories (For Children, All, Adults Only), A Day With the Newhearts, Slender Vale, Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign.

Who’s Afraid of Winnie the Pooh? In which Pooh and Piglet attempt to crush each others souls while Christopher and Hunny watch on in horror. Today’s Winner of the Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award. Combining the world of Winnie the Pooh with the bitter marital games of Edward Albee’s classic play is anything but obvious. They seem like strange bedfellows but once you see it, well, it fits so perfectly it seems shocking that no one thought of it before. But then you think, who in the hell would EVER think of doing this? Thank God writer Alexander Gerchak did! The script, the performances, and the cross pollination of these disparate ideas is dead brilliant. Endlessly inventive, the premise never runs out of steam and holds true until the very end. It shouldn’t work but, it really works! Word of mouth should turn this into a hit. It’s easily the most accomplished script and production I’ve seen so far at Fringe. The entire cast is great but a special shout out to Thomas Buan as Winnie, best dramatic performance so far. Knowledge of the works of A.A. Milne regarding Pooh Bear and Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are not required but will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the play.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/who-s-afraid-of-winnie-the-pooh-

Pajama Stories (For Children, All, Adults Only) written and performed by Marie G. Cooney is a wonderfully expressive and engaging storyteller. You can tell that she is gifted at connecting with young children. That is the common theme in her storytelling, interactions she has with young people and it’s almost a class for us the audience in how to engage with them ourselves. The issue is that in most cases we, the audience are not children. The delivery ever so slightly pushes the tolerance level. What keeps it from crossing the line is our knowledge of how effective it is with the people in her stories. The other issue is that a couple of the stories are best enjoyed by people who know the children in the story.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/pajama-stories-for-children-all-adults-only-

A Day With the Newhearts is a play that explores the dark underbelly of the typical suburban Minnesota neighborhood. Taking the form of a 1950’s sitcom the show skewers the form as well as the idea of “MN nice”. It’s a lot of fun performed by a cast that nails the plastic sitcom presentation while also showing us the fear, anger, and menace underneath. It’s a crowd pleasing show no doubt. The character work is great, the set, props, costumes all first rate, the idea is ripe with possibilities. Yet the whole is a little less than the sum of its parts. It loses something in the last 10 minutes, it crosses a line that takes it from quirkily off, to a place irredeemably unreal. But, the parts are kind of a blast!

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/a-day-with-the-newhearts

Slender Vale is an improv horror show. Improv and horror are two genres that I generally enjoy. The combination of the two should be really interesting. Maybe it can work, but tonight it didn’t really ever get into a groove. When you think about it, Horror in itself is a genre that routinely fails to stick the landing. There our hundreds of horror novels, movies, TV episodes, and yes plays that are really effective right up until the end, and then kind of lets you down. Horror is hard to write well, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that a genre that relies heavily on a well crafted and constructed build up and a satisfying end doesn’t lend itself well to being made up on the fly. a Horror story without a plan would require and uncanny amount of luck to successfully pull off. Sure there are individual moments and performers that worked. The darkened basement for example and everything Tom Reed said. But as a whole it never felt like it had any sense of direction. The performers seemed to constantly be thwarting each other and anything that looked like a promising development plot wise. I wrote all of these thoughts down before I saw the final show of the day, or it might have been less favorable.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/slender-vale

Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign is improv that worked at the highest level. It’s basically a Dungeons and Dragons game played out live with a Game Master narrating the story which directs the performers on what to do next. When the characters wish to do battle they tell the Game Master and he rolls his 20 sided die to determine if they are successful or not. The performances are serialized and will carry on the story from wherever it ended the previous performance. This flowed beautifully, organically the performers seemed to sense the best direction to take things and never seemed to be struggling with what to do or say next. The entire cast was brilliant but highlights being the two Tylers, Michaels King and Mills. The biggest laugh undoubtedly went to Maria Bartholdi for her sandmetary line. What a Fringe Bartholdi is having, not only is she brilliant in this but she also co wrote and directed Endometriosis: The Musical which won The Stages Of MN Fringe of the Day Award yesterday. This show was so much fun I wish I could take in each performance! It was a fairly full house, so this might be one to line up for early or reserve your seat for.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/swords-sorcery-the-improvised-fantasy-campaign

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Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 2: Arsgang: What You Follow Follows You, Curtain Call: Letters to My Friend Louie Anderson!, Endometriosis the Musical (Winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award), and Shoe Night.

Photo by Erin Dvorak Clark, Design by Amber Bjork

Arsgang: What You Follow Follows You centers around a Swedish folktale about a walk that some would choose to go on in order to gain foresight of the coming year. The story follows a young orphan Lajla, who was recently made only child, and her Arsgang journey. Created by the Winding Sheet Outfit it has they’re usual attention to language and sense of reverence to past cultures and customs. A spare but effective set consisting mostly of this bare trees that evoke a feeling visually that ties in with Lajla’s solitary trek. Beautifully written and performed along with being deliberately paced with music by Joshua Swantz and Amber Bjork that’s almost hypnotic. While all of those elements combine to give the show a unified feel and tone, it might not be the best show to attend in a 10:00 PM performance slot if you’ve been Fringing all day and not a night owl. I’d like to mention the costumes which I thought were really good as were the masks created by Derek Lee Miller who also designed the trees.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/_rsg-ng-what-you-follow-follows-you

Curtain Call: Letters to My Friend Louie Anderson! consists of writer comedian Jason Schommer alternating between reading letters he’s written to his recently deceased friend Louie Anderson and performing bits of standup that revolve around the legendary entertainer. Like many Minnesotans I grew up with Louie’s comedy. His Guthrie comedy special was recorded off the TV and played repeatedly. My Dad, sister, and I would all quote from it throughout our lives. Both aspects of the show work well. In his letters, Schommer gets to express to Louie what he meant to him and how he misses him. In the stand up segments we get to hear stories about the real man. If you’ve been an Anderson fan as long as I have, getting that glimpse of the real person and having it reflect what you always hoped was true about him is a real treat. I had someone in my life that I felt the same as how Schommer feels about Louie. They are the relationships that we carry with us throughout our lives and the ones we’ll always miss.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/curtain-call-letters-to-my-friend-louie-anderson-

Winner of today’s The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award is Endometriosis the Musical. It’s a musical about Jane Smith and her ongoing struggles with extremely painful menstrual cycles. Making things worse she lives in our world where far too often women’s health issues are controlled by men. This has all the makings of an intense social drama but instead it’s an hysterically funny musical. Written by Maria Bartholdi and Kristin Stowell this is sure to be one of the hottest tickets of this years Fringe Festival. Featuring a brilliantly expressive and all in cast lead by Abby Holmstrom that brings the house down with every song. Nothing is off limits and it confronts the sad truth that for many people, the subject of this production is something that should not be mentioned above a whisper and definitely not during dinner at Applebees. I urge you to reserve your seats now this one feels like a sell out.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/endometriosis-the-musical

Shoe Night is written and directed by Kelsey Norton who based the story on an experience from her own life. This effective one act, two character play deals with the phenomenon of ghosting. In this instance a young woman runs into the ex-boyfriend whom she lived with, went out of the country for work, then ghosted her. Resisting the urge to slink away unnoticed she decides that after four years it’s time she got some closure. The script avoids the treading water that can happen in a one subject show and is filled with details which give the show a feel of authenticity. It doesn’t drag nor out stay it’s welcome, and the end, when it comes, seems to underline the lasting damage this practice of ghosting can do. The show is anchored by two well rounded and naturalistic performances by real life couple Gillian Constable and William S. Edson. It’s nice to see a present day drama in the mix and it’s a nice palate cleanser between comedic shows.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/shoe-night

Don’t want to miss a single Fringe review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have each post delivered directly to your email. On your computer from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also, you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn.

Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 1: Erotica For Houseplants, Karaoke After Dark, and Bob and Reggie Go To Bed (Winner of the Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award).

Wow! What a show to pop my Fringe Cherry with. Erotica For Houseplants is written and performed by Tom Reed who reminds us why his name alone put this on my must see list. Wickedly funny and oddly arousing at times. Tom’s script unearths every possible double meaning for everything from plant anatomy to gardening tools. It’s smartly earthy and when you think he has to have about run out of path he breaks into song, beautifully. It’s all in fun and never crossed into uncomfortable territory, but it’s not the show you or your Grandma want to see sitting next to each other. However, with adult friends or that special someone it’s… well, not exactly good “clean” fun, You’ll definitely be laughing at how dirty nature can sound. A quick run through the sprinkler afterwards should cool you down and have you feeling clean again in no time. This was my first Fringe show of the 2022 festival and my first live Fringe show ever, and when I left it I knew I was going to love the next week and a half!

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/erotica-for-houseplants

Karaoke After Dark is a combination of Karaoke, Burlesque, and Improvisation. If you are looking for a way to join in on the performance side of Fringe this is the show for you. Audience members can put their names and song choice on a slip of paper before the show begins. Throughout the show Curvee B, the Emcee, will call an audience member down to perform their song. While they are singing, a burlesque dancer will perform. The Improv comes in the what the dancer comes up with for the song, as opposed to a normal dance performance they are not moving to a song they’ve rehearsed. The highlights of the show are the costumes and what the dancer does to make the song choices fun. This is an 18+ show, it’s risque but not too graphic.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/karaoke-after-dark

Comedy Suitcase presents Bob and Reggie Go To Bed created and performed by Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen. I don’t know what I was expecting when I entered the theatre for this show but it wasn’t to see my love of silent comedy brought to life, live on stage. Bob and Reggie get ready for bed confronting obstacles that arise with the problem solving skills of Laurel and Hardy. Set in the silent world of a Buster Keaton two reeler, the duo blend physical comedy with a Keatonesque surreal humor. Inventive in the way it keeps building on it’s situations. The humor comes as often from the reveal as it does from their solution to the next snag in their bedtime routine. Just when you think it can’t get any crazier it takes a turn that made me think of Sherlock Jr. The similarities to the silents doesn’t stop at the type of humor but also in the fact there is no dialogue. Just as there was with the silent movies, there is a live score and sound effects, created on stage by Rhiannon Fiskradatz, who adds more than just accompaniment to the proceedings. The final performer in this four person show is Sulia Altenberg as the Tooth Fairy. Scrimshaw and Weinhagen are brilliant in their gag creation and execution. You have to be pretty smart to act this stupid. I only knew Scrimshaw from his work with the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society and would never have guessed that a genius for this form of comedy was in his or anyone else in the 21st Century’s wheelhouse. This is the perfect show to take everyone and anyone too, old and young, the larger the audience the more fun it will be.

I already knew that one of the downsides of Fringe is that it’s impossible to see everything, there is always the worry of what you are missing. Tonight I discovered another downside, you can’t justify seeing things twice. That’s really frustrating in this case because I want to see Bob and Reggie Go To Bed with everyone I know. If this was not at Fringe and just a normal show on a two or three week run, I’d be organizing group meet ups to enjoy this show again and again. If you could see only one of the three shows I saw today it has to be Bob and Reggie Go To Bed. And so it earns the inaugural, highly coveted and just made up on the fly The Stages of MN Best of Day Fringe Award!

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/bob-and-reggie-go-to-bed#tickets

Don’t want to miss a single Fringe review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have each post delivered directly to your email. On your computer from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also, you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn.

The Minnesota Fringe Festival Begins This Thursday!!

In the spring of 2020 I was excited to experience my first Minnesota Fringe Festival when Covid-19 shut down live in person theatre. There was an online festival and I did review a few of the productions. In 2021 Fringe returned but I was away on vacation and unable to participate. Finally summer 2022 has arrived and I’m throwing myself into covering my first in person Fringe Festival! To say I’m excited would be to state the obvious. To say I found the process of making my Fringe schedule overwhelming would be an understatement. There are nearly 120 different shows with close to 600 performances. Apparently, it’s possible for one person to see 55 different shows during the festivals eleven day run from August 4th through the 14th. I am not that person. I have several personal commitments (code for soccer matches, podcast appearances and non-fringe shows) that conflict with the festival. Right now my schedule is set at 35 shows. I have room to add a show or two if there’s something that I must see and providing that it’s running in one of those two or three free slots I have open, in which I was planning on breathing.

It’s a lot! I don’t know how I would have begun to narrow down that list of shows or figure out how to schedule them if it weren’t for two things. First, my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers. This group of experienced Fringe goers have given me so much help in how to make the most of my time during Fringe, companies whose productions I should try and see, and strategies for not only attending each show but when to find the time to write about them as well. If you are not following our group on facebook you should https://www.facebook.com/TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. I don’t see and review every show in town but there’s a good bet if I haven’t, one of my colleagues has. Several of us will be covering Fringe, while we’ll be too busy to post much as a group, we will be posting our thoughts on what we’ve seen on our individual blogs regularly. Secondly, The Minnesota Fringe Festival website has a lot of built in tools to help you make your Fringe schedule. So whether you want to see one show a night or only have two days you can go and want to make the most of your time, go to https://minnesotafringe.org/ . There is a full list with synopsis of each production, you can go through and favorite the ones you are most interested. Then you can view the festival by date and location and create a schedule on your Fringe account. It’s a great site and it was invaluable to me in solving the tetris like puzzle that is scheduling 35 shows acoss 11 days.

Stay tuned to my blog starting August 5th for post with short reviews of what I’ve seen and what I recommend. Don’t miss a single review from The Stages of MN, on your computer from the home page on the right enter your email address and click subscribe, on your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesonmn.

Sweat the Pulitzer Prize Winning Play at the Guthrie Should Raise Your Temperature

Photo by Dan Norman

*Warning this review may contain some minor spoiler information.

It’s eleven o’clock Friday night July 29th as sit down to write my review of Lynn Nottage’s powerful, thought provoking, and very human play Sweat. I’m wrestling to understand everything I’m feeling and thinking. The feelings are calming, but now I need to try to unravel why I felt them and what I can do with them. It’s sometimes challenging to review a play right after seeing it, you don’t have time to fully come to terms with all of your reactions. More often than not there’s the pressure of time. There’s another review to write tomorrow night, a podcast to prepare for, the day job, the wife, the kids, the dog, must remind myself to sleep at some point. It’s plays like this one where time feels like an enemy, where you know you can’t do the work justice. There isn’t time to process fully, write, and publish something that will adequately convey my experience in the theatre tonight which can be a depressing and crippling thought for a writer. It’s a valid concern, but it’s also an unproductive train of thought. Someone once told me that sometimes a useful frame of mind is “better done than perfect”. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to do our best, it means that we don’t let the goal of perfection get in the way of creating or starting.

Nottage’s play is set in two time periods 2000 and 2008 in Reading Pennsylvania. The play opens in 2008 with a parole officer meeting separately with two ex-cons, Chris and Jason, both recently released from prison. We will not learn why they were incarcerated until towards the end of the play. Most of the action takes place in 2000 at local bar that is populated by blue collar factory workers, workers who have put in the years at their union jobs and make a wage that allows them some level of comfort and security. There is a group of three women who have all worked at the factory together for decades. Cynthia, Tracey, and Jessie and are celebrating one of their birthdays as they always do with a night out at the bar. Chris, we will learn is Cynthia’s son. Jason is Tracey’s and they are best friends like their mothers. A rift begins to form when there is a management position open at the factory. Cynthia declares that she is applying for the position but Tracey at first can’t understand why she would want to do that. But eventually she applies as well. When Cynthia gets it, Tracey doesn’t deal with it well, even implying that see got it because she is black and they wanted to hire a minority. It deals with the specifics of a town where the The Manufacturers are beginning to send jobs overseas. Workers once secure in their jobs with the power of the unions behind them discover that the Union no longer has the power it once did. The companies are fully prepared to move all of the jobs out of the country if the workers don’t concede. When their factory locks them out, Cynthia is management but also their friend, she can’t change what is happening but she does try and let them know what to expect and what the reality is. The problem is none of them listen to reality, they just believe what they want to believe that the factory they have always worked at that their parents worked will always be there, and that the unions will be able to protect them as they always should.

The cast of characters is rounded out by Stan the bartender, Oscar who also works in the bar stocking and cleaning up, and Brucie who is Cynthia’s husband. Stan was injured on the job at the factory and could no longer do the work so had to make a change. He understands his customers because he was once one of them, but he also has some distance from that life that allows him to be less reactionary. Oscar, whom is of Colombian descent, is treated by most of the characters as if he is invisible, that is until he decides to cross the picket line and take a job in the factory, which will pay him $3 more per hour than he makes at the bar. For him that is about a 37% raise. Brucie has been kicked out by Cynthia and has turned to drugs to deal with his unemployment.

Nottage has a real gift for presenting her characters in ways that make them recognizable to most audience members. Even if you can’t identify with a character, you know someone that is like them, if you haven’t lived too privileged a life. Recognizing them helps us to understand them. That really is the power of her work, helping us to understand these characters, through that understanding comes two things. First it humanizes the characters and secondly it clarifies their flaws and what that leads too. There are two types of people in this play those with set mindsets and those with growth mindsets. Cynthia and Chris are growth mindset people. Cynthia wants that promotion, she doesn’t want to keep standing on her feet 10 hours a day until she retires. Chris is planning to enroll in college, he also doesn’t want the rest of his life to be played out on the factory floor. Tracey, can’t imagine why Cynthia would even apply for the management job. Jason makes fun of Chris for wanting to do anything other than work at the factory until he can retire in his 50’s and then buy a Dunkin Donuts franchise in Florida. Tracey can’t stand it when her black friend who has worked at the factory two years less than she has gets the promotion. Even though she didn’t want it in the first place she still believes she deserves it. Why? because she has been there longer? That’s what living the union life has taught her, seniority over performance. Or is it because she’s white? All her hints that minorities are getting all the special treatment these days seems to come down to that she’s white and should have gotten it even though she clearly didn’t want it as much as Cynthia did and thus probably didn’t interview as well or show the promise of success as much as Cynthia did. Stan has a conversation with Oscar suggesting that he shouldn’t cross the picket lines. He warns him there are a lot of good people who are going to be upset by it and that he’s not going to have many friends if he does it. Oscar points out that these are not his friends, they don’t even know his name. Are these good people? They clearly think nothing of Oscar and think he should go back to his own country, even though as he points out he was born in the town they are currently in. Why on earth would anyone with half a brain think Oscar should give a fuck what these set mindset racist entitled white people think. All he is trying to do is make a little money and improve his life. It’s not his fault they were locked out. It is their fault that they never gave him an in to become a union worker as he had been trying to do for two years. If they had, he’d been with them on the picket lines instead of in the factory working while they are out in the rain holding signs.

I’m not anti-union and I don’t think Nottage is taking that stance either, but she does point out the way the Unions have sometimes taken on that set mindset mentality and fostered it in their members. Unions, like people need to have a growth mindset. Everything ends, and if you have never thought about that possibility you are doing yourself a disservice. To think that since your grandfather worked here his whole life along with your father that it will stay the same for you and your children shows a staggering inability to grasp change and recognize patterns in history. Jason wants to beat some sense into Oscar, why? Because things changed and he’s hurt? Since he can’t adapt he’s going to beat up the “foreigner” who isn’t even a foreigner, because dammit he’s white and he’s owned this monotonous existence because his family has done it for years and years. He was here first he deserves the job, and in his and his mother’s eyes, that makes it OK to beat up someone who’s trying to make more than $8 an hour. He’s not taking your job, he’s taking a job he’s been offered for more money, that used to belong to someone who is striking to try and prevent losing some wages and benefits. These are very clear portraits of racism in the general population, ones cloaked in almost logical arguments so that if you don’t take a step back and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you might not see them for what they are. That is the power of Nottages writing though, you see the behavior, you see the other point of view, you think, and it crystalizes.

As you’ve probably gathered there are a lot of ideas contained with Sweat, I’ve only scratched the surface and all I’ve discussed so far is plot, characters, and themes. And there are more ideas in play than those I mentioned above, that’s just what angered me the most. There is discussion to be had about the set mindset’s anger at what they lost, their willingness to blame the “other” rather than the Republicans who battle for the interests of companies whose only concern is higher and higher profit margins rather than for the people who mysteriously keep electing them against their own interests. There are just too many rabbit holes in the warren of this play to go down them all and I need to devote some space to the talented artists who brought this powerful work to life.

Lynn Nottage, dead brilliant script for all of the reasons I go into above. Director Tamilla Woodard whose guidance allowed all of these themes to emerge in a naturalistic way, it’s amazing how many different issues and ideas all find their way clearly unto the stage, always finding their own space to come into focus and without feeling like a pot that everything was thrown into with all the flavors fighting to be tasted. Scenic Designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams who created a local that felt like a thousand small bars in a thousand different towns across America. We’ve all been in them and that helped us establish a familiarity right from the beginning, as soon as the bar set is revealed we collectively have this flash of “I’ve been there”. Aaron Preusse as the Fight Director stages one of the most realistic fights I’ve seen on a stage. Generally they seem to be very fake and barely physical, for the obvious reason that it’s live and these are actors not stunt people, but this one felt close to real. The cast…. There isn’t a weak member of this ensemble so I think rather than try and pick favorites I’m going to list them all below. Praise is due as well to the unsung folks who helped the show arrive at this amazing cast, Jennifer Liestman the Resident Casting Director and McCorkle Casting, Ltd who is the New York Casting consultant. It’s not very often that I see a show with more than say five or six actors that there isn’t one performance that maybe isn’t quite as good as the others. This is one of those casts where there simply is no weak link, period.

Well it’s now a little after 2:30 AM on Saturday morning and I feel like I haven’t said half of what I wanted to say, but also like I’ve said too much. I think that might sum up why this Sweat won the Pulitzer. Certainly there are thoughts and feelings I’m still wrestling with. But, if society is still wrestling with them I think I can let myself off the hook a little bit. I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you expected to read, honestly it wasn’t what I expected to write either. I’d like to promise to return you to your normal format for my next review, but next up will be the MN Fringe Festival so that’s going to look a little different as well. Maybe this is a good time to practice our growth mindset and see if we can’t adjust to things being a little bit different for a couple of weeks. As for this review, I think that while it may not be perfect, it is done. Sometimes the satisfaction needs to come from getting it done. Because, Perfect is simply an unattainable ideal. Whereas done is an accomplishment. And you know what else, I did the best I could tonight.

Sweat runs through August 21st in the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis. For more information about the show and to purchase tickets go to https://www.guthrietheater.org/shows-and-tickets/2021-2022-season/sweat/


Cast

Ansa Akyea as Brucie

Mary Bacon as Tracey

Terry Bell as Chris

Darius Dotch as Evan

Lynnette R. Freeman as Cynthia

Terry Hempleman as Stan

Noah Plomgren as Jason

Antonio Rios-Luna as Oscar

Amy Staats as Jessie

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