THEATER | Interact's "Life is Sweet" depicts a journey helped along by people with Down Syndrome

Photo courtesy Interact 

In 15th-century Europe, a popular form of entertainment was morality plays, allegorical tales in which the main character is confronted by personified moral attributes who help him choose good over evil.  One of the most famous of these plays, titled Everyman (or, The Summoning of Everyman), written by an unknown author, is about a man who seeks a companion to accompany him in his journey toward death.

In popular culture, the term "Everyman" has come to mean an ordinary person, and has been said to be the basis for such modern day characters as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life.

life is sweet, presented through november 27 at the lab theater. for tickets ($18-$22) and information, see interactcenter.com.

Interact Theater takes on the story of Everyman with their current show, Life is Sweet, now playing at The Lab through November 27. In their rendition, the Everyman character, Everett Mann (Eriq Nelson), is visited by the "virtues," played by Interact artists with Down Syndrome:  Friend (Mike Brindley), the Lovers (Matt Dahlstrom and Shaina Robb), the Truth Teller (Erica Wheeler), the Singer (Lhea Jaeger), the Warrior (Laura Mullin), the Dancer (Naa Mensah), and the Angel (Laura Nelson).  The virtues take him back through his life and show him the goodness in it, ultimately healing him and preparing him for the beyond. 

According to press materials, director Tod Peterson came up with the idea for the production when he discovered the shocking statistic that 90% of expectant parents who discover their unborn babies have Down Syndrome terminate the pregnancy. He realized that those with Down Syndrome, many who have qualities he strives for such as self confidence, love, humor, and honesty, will become much fewer in future decades. Collaborating with Interact staff members as well as Interact artists with Down Syndrome, he developed a show which highlights the wisdom and virtues of people with Down Syndrome.

The result is a beautiful show with some wonderful moments, such as a fantastic dance solo by Naa Mensah, who emanates freedom and joy, and a hilarious performance by Lhea Jaeger as an enthusiastic would-be opera singer. 

Thomas Sandelands creates an excellent sound design for the production, but of particular note is Kate Sutton-Johnson's art direction. The set for the show is the best I've seen at The Lab since the old Guthrie days. Instead of the cavernous empty hole that it usually is, Sutton-Johnson transforms the space with a gorgeous back wall full of doors signaling different paths Everett Mann's journey might take. Ken Cubbage's lighting design is also lovely. 

What I really like about Interact is their mission of "radical inclusion"—giving voice to individuals and peoples who have been marginalized, and hearing and learning from their stories. Indeed, in the talkback after Life is Sweet, Laura Nelson said of performing at Interact: "I feel powerful and I love it here." I think what ultimately makes Interact succeed is that it offers a venue for creativity for artists with disabilities, but does so in a uniquely entertaining manner. In Life is Sweet, the artists with Down Syndrome are showcased, not in a way that trivializes or marginalizes them, but in a way that brings out their joy, their humor, and their hope in a way that is meaningful and beautiful.

700 1st St. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55401
612-333-7977

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    Sheila Regan's picture
    Sheila Regan

    Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

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    Thanks for coverage

    As the parent of a 24 year-old son with Down syndrome, thank you for covering this theater production of "Life is Sweet." Often times positive events like these are not covered by the press, so many thanks for making the efforts. Beautifully written as well.  Thank you.

    How wonderful!

    Also as the mother of a 20-year-old son with Down Syndrome, I, too, commend you for covering this and for the people who coordinated it.  Special kudos to those with Down Syndrome who are acting in it!  I wished I lived in Minnesota just so I could see this!