Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The theme Landvik chose for this year's show is Pages and Stages, with a focus on her recent novels (the pages) and her lackluster efforts to find fame in Hollywood (the stages), which took her as far as appearances as a contestant on television game shows. In fact, the show opens with a video clip of Lorna in 1980 as returning champion going a round on the game show "Password Plus" with celebrity player Jack Jones (you know, the male vocalist popular in the 1960s with hits like "Lollipops and Roses," "Wives and Lovers," and the "Love Boat Theme"). While Ms. Landvik was a successful game show contestant (she won a trip to Tahiti on "The $10,000 Pyramid"!), her hopes of parlaying those victories into a prominent career as a stand up comedian and comedic actress did not pan out. She amply made up for this by turning her instincts for humor into her career as a writer ... augmented by recurring visits to the Bryant Lake Bowl stage.
But she does amuse us with descriptions of her game show and other experiences. She creates a vivid image of the apartment building, Peyton Hall, in which she and her husband hunkered down while in Hollywood, a place of faded glory–Douglas Fairbanks designed its olympic-size swimming pool–that was razed soon after, and its denizens. She tells us about odd jobs that carried her along, such as a temp job at the Playboy Mansion. These remembrances were fodder for her 2016 novel "Best to Laugh." We hear a bit about that, as well as her latest, "Last Circle of Love," published just this past December, in which a church struggling with dwindling membership seeks a fundraising project and decides, having previously used up all their collective recipes in church cookbooks, to compile a collection of erotica contributed by members (no pun intended) of the congregation. Landvik offers brief readings, giving us a flavor of her gentle wit and talent for loopy narrative twists. She also takes questions about her books–or anything else one might wish to ask her–and for those true fans at the performance I attended, this was clearly a pleasure.
Did I mention that this is a musical? The show's musical component is in the form of sing-alongs, with Landvik strumming a toy guitar–sounding darn good, for what it is–as we sang "Home on the Range" and "You Are My Sunshine." She tried to have us join her in Leonard Cohen's melancholic "Hallelujah," but that proved beyond the audience's repertoire for sing-along, though the attempt was itself mildly funny. Selected songs may change from performance to performance, lest you feel compelled learn the words to "Hallelujah" before seeing the show.
There are several breaks for improv, with Landvik soliciting ideas from the audience–basically variations of a person, a place, and a thing–and then proceeds to gamely combine those in a short character sketch. Our group's picks included a Russian policeman and a doddering Paul McCartney, though who knows what or who you will encounter. Later on, Landvik combines audience cues with pages randomly selected from the phone book's Yellow Pages–talk about a throwback prop. This makes the point that it can be done, but it does not necessarily yield particularly funny results. The challenge is in doing improv as a solo effort. Once Landvik establishes a character, amusing as that may be, there is little momentum for improvising a scene without another character to play off of, so the bits seem to ramble on without much effect. The best of the improvs was one in which she included an audience volunteer who came on stage and was given a scripted part, making for a far more engaging–and funnier–dynamic. Still, Landvik's undaunted insistence throughout on making the effort to keep us entertained is in itself quite cheering.
Landvik appears at home with the relaxed, informal vibe at Bryant Lake Bowl. Those sitting in the back did express difficulty hearing her. This is not helped by the sporadic noise from the bowling lanes on the other side of the wall, which brings an atmospheric rec room feel to the show but also some acoustical interference. Barb Otos is responsible for the sound and lighting, with variation in the latter adding momentum to the show.
Lorna Landvik: Pages and Stages is a fluid entertainment, with our host drawing from a range of anecdotes at each performance, reading her audience as she engages in conversation with them, making choices along the way accordingly. It is not without form–my sense is that Landvik knows exactly what she wants to accomplish on stage and has a firm grasp of the elements at her disposal. She creates an atmosphere of warmth and welcome, and a process for the artist and audience to engage together and co-create the performance. Owing to that, within the framing device, the show will never be the same twice.
Those who are fans of Landvik's novels no doubt arrive with a stronger sense of their own part in that creative process, being familiar with the author's sensibilities and point of view. But, as one unversed in the thirteen planets in the universe of "Patty Jane's House of Curl" through "Last Circle of Love," I felt at ease in the warmth, wit, and good will that permeate Landvik's rec room. If my ribs were not aching from the strain of robust laughter, my facial muscles were well exercised by the pleasure of constant smiles.
Lorna Landvik: Pages and Stages runs through January 28, 2023, at Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $20.00 in advance, $22.00 at the door. Shows play Friday and Saturday evenings only. For tickets and information, please call 612-825-8949 or visit www.bryantlakebowl.com/.
Created and Directed by Lorna Landvik; Sound and Light: Barb Otos; Stage Manager: Byron Gunsch.
Cast: Lorna Landvik