Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Thin Veil is ideally suited to the intimate Open Eye Figure Theatre. Kling is a master storyteller, and I found myself on the edge of my seat, being drawn in by his words. He moves seamlessly from episodes out his life ... his childhood just outside the Twin Cities, his travels, his accident and recovery ... to the stories of others, real or imagined, and makes everything he says feel like it comes from his own heart.
Kling appears to us looking like a Dickensian undertaker, with an ankle-length black coat and stovepipe hat, a black vest, and his necktie askew. He starts things out on a light note, talking about signs ... signs that invite closer interpretation, like the sign that read "Help Wanted Inquire Within," to which Kling, in his droll manner, observed "How Zen-like." From here, he moves to signs that something more may be happening than what we see, and that not all of our experience can be easily explained by the facts.
We are treated to such stories as a Halloween in Kling's childhood that established a tradition of eating scorching spicy pickles; a tale told by an 80-year-old man who may or may not have survived an ordeal in the frozen north; and a ghost story set in a northern Minnesota forest called "The Lost Forty"the forest is a real place, the ghost .... well, you be the judge. The tales all include humor, Kling's trademark warm and affectionate humor that finds the irony in the human condition, while assuring us how wonderful it is to be part of it. In one story, told with an accompanying slide show, the humor is more barbed. The story is "Curious George in Hell," and the well-loved, but poorly behaved monkey wanders further than ever from the Man with the Yellow Hat.
In a story told over several segments, Kling acts as an intermediary between a friend who wanted to communicate with a lost loved one and a psychic medium, with the words transmitted by the medium spoken by Simone Perrin. Interspersed throughout The Thin Veil, Ms. Perrin applies her exquisite soprano to several songs composed by Eric Jensen and accompanied by cellist Jacqueline Ultan and Jensen on keyboard. The songs have a melancholy feeling, conveying a longing for experience we may know only fleetingly, if at all.
The show also includes puppetry, super-natural phenomena performed by stick puppets within a small puppet theater wheeled in and out as called for. These brief interludes are fun and playful, as they pull aside "the thin veil" to suggest what might be on the other side. No special effects are needed, just an invitation to open our imaginations. Director Michael Sommers designed and operates the puppets. He has integrated this miniaturization of Kling's theme fully into the program. Michael Murnane's lighting design draws our focus wherever it needs to be, whether on Kling, Ms. Perrin, or the tiny movements of a puppet.
As The Thin Veil nears its end, Kling brings it home, that is, to his own near-death experience. Fans of Mr. Kling are familiar with the motorcycle accident that cost him use of one arm, and nearly cost him his life. He speaks about his immediate experience in the context of that thin veil he referenced at the start of the show, and leaves us with a feeling of joy and gratitude for landing fully back on this side of the veil. His joy is infectious; it would be hard to leave the program without a sense of affirmation for the wonder of life. If The Thin Veil was conceived as a program for Halloween; it casts a warm glow of a light to guide us through the dark of night.
The Thin Veil continues at the Open Eye Figure Theatre through November 1, 2015. 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets are $25.00 general admission, $22.00 age 65+, $15.00 for students, $12.00 for children. For tickets and information go to openeyetheatre.org or call 612-874-6338.
Writer: Kevin Kling; Director, Design and Puppetry: Michael Sommers; Composer: Eric Jensen; Light Design: Michael Murnane; Sound Design: Sean Healey; Costume Design: Susan Haas; Stage Manager: Audrey Rice
Cast: Kevin Kling, Eric Jensen (keyboard), Simone Perrin (Singer/Ghost Girl), Justin Spooner (Spooky), Jacqueline Ultan (cello and saw)