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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Reeling at Children’s Theatre Company
Knock! at Theatre Latte Da History Theatre

Reeling
Dean Holt
Midway through Reeling, the henpecked hero - exhausted after a long morning of sight gags and pratfalls - tries to take a break with a banana. He discovers, to his sorrow, that all he has grabbed is an empty banana peel. With nary a second thought, he tosses the peel behind him.

Aha. That peel, everyone in the audience knows, will be used in a later gag, like some kind of Chekhovian rule of physical comedy.

All of Reeling is like this. The situations, gags and punch lines are all familiar, but in the hands of the Children’s Theatre Company, they become fresh once again.

Reeling is a silent movie brought to the stage. There is no dialogue during the hour-long show, apart from the occasional title card projected above the stage. Not that the plot from playwright Barry Kornhauser is all that hard to follow. It’s the standard boy meets girl, boy loves girl, girl leaves boy for the glitz of Hollywood, boy follows and inadvertently becomes a Hollywood director during the days of silent movies. You know, that old story.

And that is only a clothesline on which to hang the string of increasingly complex gags that follow. In the end, Reeling is truly about the performance of Dean Holt as the “Little Man.” Channeling the spirit of Buster Keaton, Holt flops his way through situation after situation.

As with any good story, there is rising action here. So his early troubles are with keeping baking soda off the pants of his best (to be honest, only) suit or losing a fight with a rake. His troubles become more and more complex when he arrives in the big city to win back the heart of his love (played with ‘20s-style charm by Rebecca Lord). Here, he comes face to face with the Big Man (a delightful Zach Curtis) and then a movie studio full of crazies, and - eventually - a very Keystone-like cadre of cops.

Fans of gag comedy will recognize many of the elements: from bottomless garbage cans to falling sandbags to a breathtaking bit that finds Holt hanging on for dear life on a ladder while being harried by a couple dozen police officers and the Big Man.

And the banana peel. I haven’t forgotten the banana peel.

While there is no dialogue, this is far from a silent affair. Composer Michael Koerner has crafted a score that captures the spirit of the silent film era - leading the action on stage at some moments; commenting on it at others. Adding to the fun is Foley artist Joe Chvala.

Best of all, director Peter C. Brosius, playwright Kornhauser, lead actor Holt and the rest of the cast and crew have crafted a very funny show without an ounce of irony. This is, in the very best sense of the phrase, innocent fun.

At show’s end, our hero and heroine slip from our world into that of a true, black and white silent film. As they walk off into the sunset, all seems to be wrapped up. Until they slip on the monochrome grass. They pause for a moment, and then find the banana peel there, waiting to close its own comedic path.

Reeling runs through March 4 at the Children’s Theatre Company Main Stage. For more information, call 612-874-0400 or visit www.childrenstheatre.org.


Photo: Rob Levine


Theatre Latte Da, Knock!

More proof that you don’t need dialogue for a fantastic night at the theater. Apart from a few “knock-knock” jokes tossed into the action, Theatre Latte Da’s Knock! features no spoken dialogue. Instead, the action of this imaginative and engaging show is presented via music, expressive onstage action and dance, and the occasional handwritten dialogue card.

Created by co-director and star Jim Lichtscheidl, Knock ! - a hit at the 2004 Minnesota Fringe Festival - takes us into the life and, more importantly, mind of 12-year-old Toehead. The show is presented as episodes of Toehead’s inner TV show about his family. So, seemingly mundane activities as going to the dentist, eating dinner or taking a long vacation by car become fodder for his active imagination.

Here’s an example. Toehead and his best friend sit down for an afternoon of playing video games together. Since the show is set somewhere in the dark days of the late 1970s and early 1980s, they use a pair of vintage Atari 2600 controllers. Gaming to the strains of Hot Butter’s “Popcorn,” the two are eventually forced outside, where their game of basketball has the same stiff actions as their vintage game - down to the giant pixel they toss around.

It helps that the quintet of performers are more than willing to go with the flow here, bringing life to every scene in the show. Alongside Lichtscheidl, Ken Rosen (Toehead's sister), Eriq Nelson (Dad), Lisa Spreeman (Mom) and Michelle Hutchison (a variety of additional roles) breathe so much life into the concept that by show’s end, it seems perfectly natural for the family to dance through their lives.

And, again, there is little irony or cynicism here. Lichtscheidl connects with his pre-teen self here, obsessed about playing games and eating candy, while at the same time feeling the first pangs of maturity. It’s still early in 2006, but Knock! is certainly play of the year material.

Theatre Latte Da’s Knock! runs at the Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, through Feb. 19. For information and tickets, call 651-209-6689.

 


- Ed Huyck



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