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Minneapolis by Elizabeth Weir

We are watching ourselves in The Human Show
by Michael Opperman

Part Molierean farce, part modern dance, The Human Show is existential and abstract - and it is about us. The play exposes the best and worst of humans, all through characters in heavy makeup and prosthetic noses.

The Margolis Brown Theater's The Human Show, staged at Intermedia Arts Minnesota, is an exercise in minimalist theater. With little more than black and white folding chairs as props, the production explores the landscape of the human condition. Beginning with seven characters scrambling for a single red envelope (an invitation to a mysterious party), the play pushes the seven together and pulls them apart for the next hour.

The single red invitation becomes seven invitations in a carefully choreographed version of musical chairs in reverse. After opening their respective invitations, the seven characters - who remain nameless - dress for the party in shiny dresses and colorful evening jackets. Arriving at a party with no address, no host, and no exit, these seven characters move through a series of scenarios examining what it means to be an individual and an individual in community.

The production was conceived and is directed by Kari Margolis, and was developed as a community effort of a small group of performers. They retain a similar anonymity as the characters they play; they are listed in the program, but not linked to the character they play. May Lane Benardo, Ian Blivins, Beth Brooks, Jay Hanson, Erik Hoover, Kym Longhi and Michael A. Sward play the seven characters in fancy evening clothes struggling to determine what it means to be human and in relationship with other humans.

Margolis considers theater "vital to our society, reminding us of the strength of the human spirit. Just as great athletes show us how fast we can run and how high we can jump, the performer connects us to our physical power and incredible emotional and intellectual potential." This play is about the physical, reducing dialogue to its barest components to expose only the essence of who we are. Much of the utterances resemble things overheard through a thin wall or while passing an open doorway. The words that are said shift, morphed by inflection and intention.

Like the dialogue, the characters are reductions. Margolis and the company strive to essentialize the characters until they are any of us, and all of us. We are the couple staggering through a dance marathon in the last scenes of They Shoot Horses, Don't They, or mourning at a funeral. Some of the scenarios are successful. Other scenes are incongruous and confusing. The Human Show, however, never fails to be intriguing.

But The Human Show is not for everyone. Devoid of a discernible narrative, the play relies on identification with the characters as they pantomime a life-sized game of checkers, a funeral, a game show, a court hearing. Engagement in the production is dependent upon suspension of disbelief. The play is reminiscent of work by Samuel Beckett of Eugene Ionesco and will frustrate attempts to assemble literal meaning.

The Human Touch March 18 - 26, 2005. Thursdays - Sundays 8:00 p.m. Tickets $16 - $18. Margolis Brown Theater, at Intermedia Arts Minnesota, 2822 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408. Call 612-871-4444, or www.intermediaarts.org.



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