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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

The Baron, Figaro
and The Prince and the Pauper

The Baron
Baron von Raschke in action
Anyone who has ever really watched professional wrestling knows that the event is a kind of theater. The wrestlers are cast as either babyfaces (good guys) or heels (bad guys). Even individual matches tell stories of good triumphing over evil, or of evil winning through nefarious means (including the occasional chair shot to the head).

The story of one of these larger-than-life figures is told in The Baron. From the 1960s to the early 1990s, Baron von Raschke was a top heel in the business. Working mainly for the Minnesota-based American Wrestling Association, the Baron and his signature Claw finishing move terrorized generations of babyfaces with his brutal style. Yet underneath that was Jim Raschke, a mild-mannered gentleman who quietly lived his life outside the ring.

The two halves of this life are told in the play, often by Raschke himself. Aided by a quartet of performers who play a wide variety of characters, from family members to other wrestlers, Raschke explores his life and the odd division his profession caused. It also delves into the real question behind the sport is professional wrestling real or fake?

The eventual answer is a good one, and along the way, Raschke and playwright Cory McLeod talk about the real (physical injuries abound) and unreal (the results are predetermined, and the wrestlers will mold each match as they go along), even taking time to talk about "kayfabe," the code that protected the business for decades.

A talented and diverse cast help bring the characters to life, with Joe Scrimshaw, Michelle Hutchinson, Fred Wagner and Joe Kudla jumping in for every over-the-top moment. Lots of classic Midwestern wrestlers, from the Baron's long-time tag-team partner Mad Dog Vachon to legends like Verne Gagne, Nick Bockwinkel and Da Crusher.

The main weakness comes from Raschke himself. While he is confident in his Baron guise, he seems ill at ease playing Jim Raschke and has a bit of trouble when interacting with the other performers. McLeod's script at times feels a bit scattershot, though that's not surprising, considering the sheer amount of great material he has to work with here (come on, Vachon could be the subject of his own show, not just the occasional "Mad Dog Tangents" presented).

At its heart, The Baron is a loving tribute to a type of entertainment that has largely passed us by. And considering Raschke retired more than a decade ago, it may offer the last chance to see the Claw applied the way it should be, even if the stage at the History Theatre seems a million miles away from the Minneapolis Armory or the St. Paul Civic Center.

The Baron runs through May 20 at the History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul. For tickets and more information, call 651-292-4323 or visit www.historytheatre.org.


Theatre de la Jeune Lune Figaro

Yes, it was that kind of week professional wrestling and Mozart within the span of a few days. Jeune Lune remounts its successful take on The Marriage of Figaro (paired with another Mozart adaptation, Don Juan Giovanni) with absolute confidence.

In this version, the action starts with an older Figaro and Count Almaviva, trapped in their home by the ravages of the French Revolution. Through their memories, we see the tale of Figaro's tumultuous wedding day, as the Count does his best to bed the bride before the ceremony.

As the older pair, Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand (who also created the script and direct the show) have the weariness of two, if not friends, then companions. On the other side, Bryan Boyce shows the quick wit that kept Figaro alive as a younger man, while Bradley Greenwald (who also adapted the music) is perfectly oily as the younger count. The singing half of the company is impressive, led by Greenwald's considerable vocal talents and stage presence, but Boyce, Momoko Tanno (as Figaro's bride, Susanna) and Jennifer Baldwin Peden (as the Countess) are also strong throughout.

The staging shows Jeune Lune's typical invention, including the use of video cameras to provide additional perspective on the actors or to create the different settings. What could have been a distracting trick works in this case, as the video becomes a vital part of the two worlds explored in the show that of youthful vigor and of tired survival.

Figaro runs through June 23 at Jeune Lune, 105 N. First St., Minneapolis. For tickets and more information, call 612-333-6200 or visit www.jeunelune.org.


Stages Theatre The Prince and the Pauper

Part of Mark Twain's brilliance was his ability to use any storytelling style to get, not just at his point, but to the underlying truth of the situation. The Prince and the Pauper may be on its surface a fairy tale about two youngsters from different worlds changing places to see how the other one lives, but Twain has a deeper message one about compassion, making changes when things are unjust, and that you cannot truly understand another person's plight until you've spent a night in their clothes.

All of this along with a cracking great adventure is captured in Stages Theatre's production of the show, which opened last weekend. With solid acting, strong direction and definite sense of purpose, the production a revival that was first produced 12 years ago thrills, while also leaving the audience, both adult and child, with plenty to think about once the house lights have come back up.

The story, set in London during an unspecified time in the Middle Ages, involves two teenage boys. Tom Canty is forced to beg for scraps of food and loose change by his overbearing father. All the while, he dreams of becoming a prince. Edward is a prince - the Prince of Wales, actually - but is something of a brat who treats all around him as nothing more than servants.

As is often the case, a chance encounter and an attempt to play a bit of a joke find the two stuck in the other's life. Tom is scared to death of his new responsibilities, but is aided by a royal cousin, Lady Jane Grey. Edward is chased through the streets of London until he finds help in the guise of Miles Hendon, a member of the nobility who has fallen on hard times. Aliens in their respective worlds, the two switched youngsters try to get back to their homes and families, stopped by those who only see the clothes and not the person beneath at every turn.

The story's underlying message comes through as each one learns more about the other side's view of the world. Tom is shocked that the royal household has so many expenses while people must beg for survival in the world beyond its walls, while Edward cannot believe that such squalor exists in the same London where he lives.

Thankfully, playwright Buffy Sedlachek doesn't use a hammer to bring these points home. Instead, the characters discover the underlying truth and inequality through the story. This makes their respective plights and discoveries much more real and allows the message to sink in with the viewers far more than any long speech about injustice.

Director Steve Barberio crafts a strong show from beginning to end, while the cast cast a mixture of local young performers and older professionals dig into the material, creating a string of characters that, while not necessarily realistic, are certainly believable.

The Prince and the Pauper runs through May 20 at Stages Theatre, located at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, 1111 Main Street, Hopkins. The show is recommended for ages 7 and up. For tickets, call the box office at 952-979-1111 or visit www.stagestheatre.org.


- Ed Huyck



Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Twin Cities area