Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review of Charlie
What Hair Ball has in common with last year's Log Jam, in addition to its venue and its creator, is the frolicking mayhem created by director Joel Sass, abetted by stage manager Brian Hirt, along with a performance by Maren Ward, in both cases playing, in male drag, a weird paranoid fella who upsets everyone else's equilibrium. In this case, the character is Jerry Loudermilk, dressed like a less fashionable Red Green (hopefully, you are familiar with the old "Red Green" comedy show on PBS, to which I refer). Loudermilk is a backwoods type who has seen evidence of a Bigfoot monster off in the woods, which manifests itself in the form of the titular ball of hair.
The story is set in northwestern Canada, in a community economically dependent on the golf resort owned by the sinister Forbelius Dort (Tom Reed, also a Log Jam veteran), who enjoins mayor Sheldon (France Roberts) and wants to keep things quiet. However, not only does Loudermilk insist on hunting down the monster, but aspiring detective Winnie Von Highsmith (Abilene Olson), the adolescent daughter of snooty Patricia Von Highsmith (Georgia Doolittle), is determined to solve the mystery herself–pushing back on her mother's insistence that she abandon her goal of becoming a detective and learn proper etiquette as befits a socially prominent young lady. In the woods, Winnie encounters Canadian Ranger (not quite a Mountie, you see) Montgomery Ward (Luke Aaron Anderson), who is determined to show his mettle, while disavowing the existence of a Big Foot. Whew!
And, for good measure, the cast of characters includes Elmer (Rick Miller), a flaky guy who hangs out around the golf resort, though I never was clear on his role there, and chanteuse Mimi Marmot (Lux Mortenson), who is never seen without her marmot puppet firmly wrapped around her hand and lower arm. Good thing, too, as the puppet is the source of much wisdom, such as the show offers any. Oh, yes, of course there is also the Big Foot character itself, who is dubbed with the far less fearsome name Little Toe (Rick Miller again, though you would never know it, beneath that mass of matted hair, without checking the program). There is a surprise appearance by one other character, but I won't be the one to spoil that delightful surprise.
The story gets wackier as it goes along, so much so that when the entire forest, which had heretofore concealed Little Toe, goes up in flames–intentionally set as part of a golf course expansion plot–it is actually fun, with audience participation to boot. The tale incorporates a few somewhat serious notions: letting your children become themselves; the vacuous nature of much of what passes for high society; and the evils of corporate greed, especially when it imperils the environment. But there is no mistaking Hair Ball for a serious dive into any of these themes.
Such an enterprise calls for a cast willing to tread the line between actual acting and hamming it up, sometimes stepping on one side of the line, more often on the other. Maren leads the way as Loudermilk, with a no-holds-barred performance that includes literally rolling on the floor. Reed knows his way around a gleefully over-the-top performances as well, playing an arch villain (as he did in Log Jam) who has a swell time being evil. Anderson plays his counterpart, the extravagantly earnest Ranger, who harbors a secret of childhood heartbreak. Olson wins hearts as the awkwardly spunky Winnie, intrepid to the end, and Doolittle mugs with aplomb as haughty Patricia Von Highsmith.
Joel Sass gives the show the feel of a fairy tale being told. When characters enter on one side of the rooftop stage while others leave on the other side, you can almost hear a narrator's voiceover saying "Meanwhile, in another part of the woods"–though no narration is needed, for in spite of the lunacy, the plot is always made clear. The songs are forgettable, but earnestly presented, with Anderson, Olson, Doolittle and Mortenson displaying impressive vocal prowess. Sass incorporates some light dance movement, which livens up what is already an indisputably lively show. Costumes by Rubble and Ash further enhance the production, and the contributions of Anne Sawyer, designer of the Big Foot costumes, is immeasurable.
Being outdoors, and on the roof, the show is given a unique form of "special effects" from birds swooping over the lawn/stage while much higher above, airplanes soar in take off or landing patterns, being not all that far from Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport. The juxtaposition of natural and engineered flight seems like a perfect metaphor for these theater artists at work, using the artifice of dramatic structures to deliver a show that prompts one of our most natural instincts: laughter.
The whole thing couldn't be sillier, which is just fine by me. There is a place for silly in our lives, and when it is delivered by a group of actors, designers, and director who are not only having a boatload of fun, but generously sharing that fun with us, I'm all for it. Also, Hair Ball is totally suitable for all ages, which can make for a nice family outing, combining time in the fascinating Bakken Museum (tickets allow for museum admission) along with live entertainment.
Hair Ball, an Open Eye Figure Theatre production, runs through June 19, 2022, on the green rooftop of the Bakken Museum, 3537 Zenith Avenue S., Minneapolis MN. Bring lawn chairs or a blanket. Tickets: adults $30, students and seniors $25, children 12 and under $20, a limited number of economic accessibility tickets $15.00. Unsold tickets, if any, are available at the door on a pay as you can basis. For tickets and information, please visit openeyetheatre.org/ or call 612-874-6338.
Book, Music and Lyrics: Josef Evans; Director: Joel Sass; "Megapaw" Designs: Anne Sawyer; Costumes: Rubble & Ash; Sound Design: Rachel Anne Brees; Arrangements and Music Direction: Spencer Chandler: Stage Manager: Brian Hirt.
Cast: Luke Aaron Davidson (Montgomery Ward), Georgia Doolittle (Patricia Von Highsmith), Rick Miller (Elmer/Little Toe), Lux Mortenson (Mimi Marmot), Abilene Olson (Winnie Von Highsmith), Tom Reed (Forbelius Dort), France Roberts (Mayor Sheldon), Maren Ward (Jerry Loudermilk),