Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Magical Mystery Tour at
Ten Thousand Things and Jeune Lune

By Michelle Pett

Winter's Tale is Smashing

Marie-Francoise Theodore and
Steve Hendrickson

The woman sitting next to me asked why I was taking notes. This was just before we parted company for the mandatory headcount. I explained that I was reviewing the show. She was surprised that anyone would review a theater production for which she was in the audience. I studied the faces of the women around me, two of whom were pregnant, and said that Ten Thousand Things had chosen Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale because its themes might be meaningful and entertaining for this audience; for me to see it in anyone else's company would not do the production justice. And in a women's correctional facility, justice is paramount.

The incarcerated pregnant women in the audience provided an eerie parallel to The Winter's Tale: King Leontes jails his pregnant queen, Hermione, for suspected infidelity with his best friend, Polixenes. She gives birth to a daughter, Perdita, while Polixenes escapes. Leontes orders the abandonment of his daughter just before his young son dies. The queen perishes just before Leontes discovers her innocence. Sixteen years pass and Perdita, raised by shepherds, falls in love with Polixenes' son, Florizell. Only magic can bring Perdita and Leontes back together again; and Shakespeare is willing to give magic a try.

This Winter's Tale is stripped down storytelling at its best - six terrific actors playing a range of roles in a highly physical, "hurricane paced" production that never flags. Guest Director Tracy Young has her actors double (and triple) roles in combinations that inform the work: Steve Hendrickson is both the anguished child-abandoner Leontes and the seeming-doofus shepherd who raises her; Marie-Francoise Theodore is both the virtuous Hermione and Camillo, the servant who arranges Polixenes' escape. While performances are excellent across the board, Matt Guidry and Nathan Christopher's work was particularly notable. Christopher moves fluidly from a teddy bear toting toddler to an elderly advisor to the lovesick Florizell; Guidry stands out for the natural majesty of his Polixenes, the low comedy of his jailer and the practiced slight-of-hand of his thief, Autolycus.

Tracy Young, an award-winning veteran of LA's The Actor's Gang, comes to Ten Thousand Things in a program designed to introduce top directors to the TTT aesthetic. Paired with Peter Vitale (music director), Sonya Berlovitz (costumes) and Stephen Mohring (set/sculptor), Young has crafted a compelling production that's stunning in its simplicity and naturalness. Vitales' soundscape is woven seamlessly throughout the piece. Berlovitz' costumes allude to renaissance styles but are made for quick changes. Mohring's witty "sheep" (leashed fleece poofs on wheels) are part pet and part foot stool.

I've been giving some thought to Leontes' dilemma since watching this Winter's Tale. He was so certain of his queen's infidelity that he overlooked the tenuous nature of his supporting evidence. We may have fallen prey to this same sickness in our search for WMD's, proving yet again that human nature never changes - and that Shakespeare knew what he was talking about.

The Winter's Tale Public performances May 14 - 16, 2004 at Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave., Minneapolis; May 21 - 23, 2004 at Minnesota Opera Center, 620 N. First St., Minneapolis. Friday - Sunday at 8PM. Tickets $20. Ten Thousand Things Theater Company. Call 612-203-9502 for reservations.

Photo: Peter Vitale

Jeune Lune reprises The Golem

My first memory from a Jeune Lune production is of Vincent Gracieux racing headlong down an elevated catwalk in Ubu for President; no sir, I wasn't in Kansas anymore. Now 25 years young, this theatre company continues to keep us out of Kansas. The Golem, set so far out of Kansas it's in a pre-war Jewish ghetto, is an intellectually engaging but emotionally distant exploration of the Jewish Diaspora.

The Golem, a company-developed piece, is not narrative-driven; instead, it's an impressionistic series of vignettes illustrating the collision between the ghetto's need for bread and its need for magic. The play's throughline is provided by the Narrator (Charles Schuminski), who accidentally acquires a hat imbued with magical powers. When he wears it, he lives scenes from the real owner's life. This life takes place around the water pump in the ghetto's square, surrounded by a community of nameless characters: the Rabbi and his daughter, the Fool, the Whore and the Water Carrier. The Rabbi (Bradley Greenwald) is the mystic that creates the Golem, a supernatural clay man who's meant to provide special protection to the Jews but may also be a danger to them.

Set on a nearly bare stage, the show unfolds to live klezmer and religious music. Movement and magic are central to this tale: the choreographed hubbub around the water pump suggests the ghetto's repetitive daily grind, a rock washed under the pump turns into a piece of bread that feeds everyone. The visual legerdemain also includes the use of puppetry: the ghetto is recreated in miniature by stacking together black suitcases (each sporting chalk outlines of windows and doors) and peopling it with wooden marionettes; the Whore's patrons are puppet shoes; puppet newspapers float on puppet breezes.

Director Robert Rosen's fine cast includes Charity Jones (the Whore), John Clark Donahue (the Fool), Luverne Seifert (the Water Carrier) and Lisa Rafaela Clair (Rabbi's daughter). Memorable scenes include the Fool's Chaplinesque retelling of the Exodus story with soup spoons, the cabal of shadowy-robed figures bringing forth the Golem, and the Whore's torch song about shoes (sung while sprawled atop a pile of them) that ends with the ironic question: What happened to all the feet?

The Golem's imagery is dazzling but its cumulative power is undercut by a sometimes preachy text. Jeune Lune's most successful shows marry virtuosity and spectacle to poetic language. The Golem may come up short, but it still keeps us out of Kansas.

The Golem May 8 - June 27, 2004. Thursday - Sunday; performance times vary. Call the box office for schedule. Tickets $15 - $30, depending on performance. Theatre de la Jeune Lune, 105 N. First St., Minneapolis. Call 612-333-6200. Online at

Photo: Michal Daniel

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