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Minneapolis by Elizabeth Weir

Wit and pathos infuse Jungle's
Separating the Men from the Bull

Also see our review of A Christmas Carol

Separating the Men from the Bull
Michael Heintzman and
Neal Lerner

Michael Heintzman and Neal Lerner's premiere, Separating the Men from the Bull (the mikeandneal show), at the Jungle might feature bulls with toilet roll horns and U-Haul trucks as weapons, but it is so original that it feels authentic ... in a surreal sort of way. I laughed out loud and held my breath in tender moments.

Bull looks at the vicissitudes of male friendship. Two actors play seven different pairs of male characters in a series of vignettes. Each scene feels like a fragment, lifted straight out of life, but with a comic book edge. No background is given. You are simply plunged in. But each story kicks with life, as body language and dialogue reveal character, unspoken feelings and story.

The play dips into loneliness, jealousy, pre-puberty, toe-curling shyness, the uncertain steps of friendship and competitiveness. And, no, this is not a gay play, although it features a luminous gay vignette.

Heintzman and Lerner are consummate actors. With a mere shift in Barry Browning's imaginative lighting design and perhaps a shirt change, the two men transform into different people. Under Bain Boehlke's sensitive direction, they change their mannerisms and how they use their bodies, and they seem to enter the being of each new character.

The opening scene does not move with the panache of subsequent scenes, but it is funny in a wacky, John Cleese-like way. Heintzman, a lonely man whose close friend has died, interviews with a man (Lerner) at a friendship agency, and the interview is amusingly unpredictable, arbitrary and judgmental.

One of the finest vignettes has the pair camping out in a backyard as 10-year-old boys, one Jewish, one Catholic. They leap and fiddle in spontaneous jumps of thought, the energy between them seesawing back and forth. They explore religion and the meaning of the flip, fingers become guns, imaginary guts spew, and they spy on the Catholic boy's older sister in her room, which leads to hilarious talk about sex in misinformed fragments of understanding.

In another of my favorites, two diffident men, Dale and Lyle, host a "Shy Talk" cable show; it's fragile and sweet, funny and sad. The remarkable range of vignettes includes two popcorn-popping Bollywood enthusiasts; a hunter bargaining with his dying friend about marital rights to his wife; two bulls who must service 3,500 cows; a fractious couple in a gay bar, pulling in different directions, among abs that are "as hard as math"; and a couple of blokes in a boat quarrelling over the ashes of woman.

It's so original, you couldn't make it up if you tried; yet it rings true.

The show merits a better title. Separating the Men from the Bull (the Mikeandneal show) suggests pure froth. Bull is more than froth. It dives into men's relationships with playfulness, sensitivity, affection and insight.

And, most refreshing, it's not a sugared Christmas show.

Separating the Men from the Bull (the mikeandnealshow). November 21 - January 18, 2004. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturday 8:00 p.m. Sunday matinees 2:00 p.m. $10 - $30. Jungle Theater, Corner of Lake and Lyndale, Minneapolis. Call 612-822-7063.


Photo: Ann Marsden



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-
Elizabeth Weir



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