Photo courtesy Mad Munchkin Productions
At this point in the year, I would hazard a guess that most Minnesotans—I would not say all, because there are freaks among us—are sick to death of winter. "Why do we live here?" we say to ourselves, shaking our heads and raising our fists to the sky. Even last week, when the temperature was unusually high, we'd peek outside—maybe even go for a walk—thinking, knowing that it will not last, that we have at least another six weeks of frigid hell to endure.
For this reason, it seems a slightly odd choice to produce a kind of ode to winter, as Mad Munchkin Productions has done, along with Eclectic Edge Ensemble, in their recent show Snow Bound! A Journey from Autumn to Spring. But I found myself charmed, despite my misgivings about the timing of the show, by the enthusiasm that the dancer and puppeteers had toward our horrible, wonderful climate here in Minnesota.
In the program notes for the show, director Laura Wilhelm says the idea for the production came to her when she was living in Memphis, Tennessee, of all paces, missing Minnesota winters. She proposed the idea in that city, but she writes that in the end, it was decided that Memphis residents would not "get it." She says that the show is an attempt to illustrate the struggle to survive our cloister and celebrate as well.
It was a fun little show, and really what made the whole thing were Wilhelm's adorable puppets, which she designed with Ted Hansen. Wire squirrels, trees that come to life, an owl, a cardinal, and puppets that dance were just so goddamn cute. I say that in the best way. Usually I don't like cute, but I couldn't help falling in love with the little critters. I was actually surprised they didn't market this show as a kid's show. I feel like kids would just love it. Besides, it's only an hour long: perfect for middle-schoolers.
Willhelm got Karis Sloss from Eclectic Edge Ensemble to choreograph the piece, and Sloss did a good job, but I gotta say by far and away the thing I was most impressed with was how she got those penguins to dance! It was truly amazing.
I did feel a little bit bad for Ten Hansen, though (despite the fact that I cannot lavish enough praise about the puppets), because he really wasn't very charismatic as the lead character that we journeyed with through winter. I don't know if it was the ho-hum costume, or his lack of expression, or that he totally got upstaged by the puppet of himself, but I feel like there was something missing there.
Bryce Larson's scenic design worked really well for the piece. Six glacier-like structures lined the side of the stage while the back scrim was decorated with a kind of abstract shape that contained a circle, where shadow puppetry was performed. It was really quite beautiful, and I very much appreciated the shadow puppetry, aided by Lulia Carlis's lighting design.
In the end, I liked Wilhelm's appreciation for all that is beautiful and magical about our winters here up north. Winters may drive us crazy, but it makes us who we are: Minnesnowtans.
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