Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The play is set in a mythical car wash at the corner of a mythical Park Avenue and Lake Street. This is not to be confused with the actual car wash located at the corner of Park Avenue and Lake Street in midtown Minneapolis. We know they are not the same, because we are told as the play opens that the car wash on stage is in an upscale resort town, with well-heeled customersnot the down-at-heels ambience one finds at the Park and Lake in Minneapolis. The resort setting is important for one reason, namely that housing there is so high-priced, the car wash employees can't afford to live there. For that reason, they all live together in a ramshackle dormitory provided by the car wash company. Here we have a classic sitcom premisea group of colorful co-workers who appear to have no life apart from one another, at least none that lasts longer than a half hour episode.
The head of the operation is the manager Manny, a Filipino who realized his "American Dream" by rising from car scrubber to manager. His employees include street artist Thor, socialist intellectual J., bicep-flexing lesbian Pony Boy, wannabe songstress Teela, gentle Selby Dale who offers a prayer to soothe any problems, Greeken, a grouchy immigrant who rants about the urban legend that an octopus is trapped in the car wash's plumbing, and Lolly, a self-possessed gal who is the car wash's assistant managermeaning she gets to sleep with Manny, when he can get away from his wife. The eighth of the employees is Jack, a gentle soul, simple and kind, the only one who dreams of nothing better than the life she has: for Jack, this is her bliss. Most of the actors are double cast, so aside from their car wash personas there are several steady customers: Pony Boy's twin sister, Thor's mother, and a new employee suspected of being a spy from corporate.
I need not reveal the subplotswho hankers for whom, or who has a plan to bolt the car wash, and so onnor the nature of the crisis, except to say that in true sitcom fashion, you can count on a crisis to pull a disparate group together and to move the underdog across the finish line. After laughing for two hours, it would be a dirty trick to send an audience out downhearted. In truth, it isn't two solid hours of laughter, as there are a few dry spells and a few good bits that become overly labored, but in the end, the funny bone wins out, and the audience member's parting gift is a big goofy grin. Also, the audience gets to weigh in at the end to choose between two possible endings. This was especially fun for the audience at the performance I attended.
Usually, early on in a Ten Thousand Things review, I mention that they always perform in the round, with just two or three rows of chairs on all sides, and always with all the house lights on. The reason for that is that the "house" is often a homeless shelter, a community center, a rehab facility, or a prison. Each production is performed for public, paying customers (see below for the schedule), but the core mission of TTT, as they call themselves, is to bring theater to those who would otherwise never have access to it. I have attended past TTT shows with paying audience members and at community sites. For Park and Lake I was privileged to be invited to see the show at the Ramsey County Men's Detention Center. I could tell as I watched the fellows enter the gym that most of them had no idea what to expect. For the first few minutes they were mostly silent, but then the laughter began to escape, and grew and grew. These guys knew these characters, the poor suckers whose lives depend on hosing down other people's cars, who have dreams but, so what? Life doesn't deliver on dreams. They laughed throughout and at the end gave the cast a standing ovation. One man, in his early twenties, turned to me and said "This is the first play I've ever seen. It was great!"
His tribute belongs largely to the cast, all of them enormously generous in their efforts to create a piece that would entertain. George Keller stands out as voluptuous Lolly, level-headed, yet deluded into thinking that her special "management meetings" with Manny meant something, and putting out some delirious physical moves. Kimberly Richardson is wonderful as the sweet-souled Jack, the picture of innocence, the unsung heart of the entire crew. Thomasina Petrus gets to show off her fabulous pipes as the songbird Teela, a women trying desperately to hang on to her dream. Stephen Cartmell is hilarious as Greeken, with his propensity for malapropisms, especially regarding English curse words, spouting out would-be vulgarities like "cork-plucker."
Karen Wiese-Thompsonwho just might hold a record for appearing in the most TTT productionsis, as always, a riot as Pony Boy: tough as nails, but never fully concealing her tender heart. H. Adam Harris does a great job as J, cynical about his co-workers' dreams and schemes, but not coming up with anything better. Eric "Pogi" Sumangil is spot-on as Manny, the self-satisfied manager who, having made good for himself, has no feelings for those he left behind. For example, he doesn't get it when they grouse about wearing duck masks in the rain to promote a car wash special. Lastly, Luverne Seifert, doing double duty as co-director with Michelle Hensley, is super as Selby Dale, with an infuriating ability to stay calm under the craziest of conditions.
Hensley (in her last season as TTT's Artistic Director) and Seifert seemed to give the cast a pretty wide berth to figure out their characters and plot their behaviors. Kira Obolensky has been TTT Playwright in Residence for the past five years, and Park and Lake marks her sixth work premiered by the company. She may have erred a bit too much on the side of free expression, rather than exercising her craft as a playwright; there is a looseness to the show that may be off-putting for those accustomed to a more structured narrative on which idea can hang. All I can say to that is, Park and Lake is a different kind of show, striking differentbut no less vitalchords.
Theo Langason does a great job providing sound effects and music, with jangly chords on his electric guitar to signify frenzied scrubbing at the car wash. As usual, the props and set are extremely simple, allowing them to be transported from place to place. Trevor Bowen designed costumes tailored to each character's persona, though when playing their car wash roles (which is most of the time), those costumes are worn under a turquoise jump suit, the Park and Lake uniform. I caught myself amused at the similarity to the jumpsuitsonly in navy blueworn by my fellow audience members.
There is nothing terribly deep going on in Park and Lake, and humor can be a personal taste, so I can't say for sure you will love this play. I can say, if you give yourself over to it, and accept the gift of talent and heart, and a belief that we all need a break from the deep, from the heavy, from the troubling, your chances of loving Park and Lake are high.
Park and Lake, February 23, 2028 through March 4, 2018, at The Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis MN; and March 9, 2018 through March 11, 2018, at St. Paul's Evangelical Church, 2742 15th Avenue S., Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $30.00, Pay what you can, $10.00 minimum, for those under 30 with ID. Free tickets for all remaining community performances are sold out. For tickets, call 612-203-9502 or visit www.tenthousandthings.org.
Writer: The Cast with Kira Obolensky; Directors: Michelle Hensley and Luverne Seifert; Costumes: Trevor Bowen; Sets: Irve Dell; Props: Abbee Warmboe; Music and Sound: Theo Langason; Choreography: Kimberly Richardson; Production Manager: Nancy Waldoch; Assistant Director: Jane Froiland; Production Intern: Fiona Lotti.
Cast: Stephen Cartmell (Greeken/The Dude), H. Adam Harris (J./Richie), George Keller (Lolly/Thor's Mom), Thomasina Petrus (Teela/Bryonaise Lemon), Kimberly Richardson (Jack/Tia Penucci), Luverne Seifert (Dale Selby), Eric "Pogi" Sumangil (Manny/Thor), Karen Wiese-Thompson (Pony Boy/Nurse Judy).