“It really is hard to describe,” said members of an approximately 100-person audience as they happily filled out comment forms. Mixed Precipitation Theater’s director Scotty Reynolds had just pleaded for comments that might succinctly communicate a complicated mashup. That’s what it is, a mashup.
Opera by Handel meets country twang; a breaker on that, good buddy meets “some of it not sung in English,” requiring effective gestures and sweeping subtitles painted in white on a black scroll advanced manually by unobtrusive garden helpers. And occasionally, really interesting hors d’oeuvres get passed through the crowd. Chef Nick Schneider masterminds the food.
This show, which I caught at the J.D. Rivers Children’s Garden at Theodore Wirth Park on August 28, is on the road to community gardens near you. They made such great use of the site, proclaiming from atop the huge Adirondack chair and lunging off a pile of wood chips. It makes me curious how they will use each subsequent venue…whatever they do, they surround the audience with action, mostly in the first half.
Running time is about 90 minutes straight through. The J.D. Rivers performance set the scene with a devotee explaining opera. This one is based on Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso. Then the determined trucker Ruggerio, or Ruddy, played by Jameson Jon Baxter, barrels down the highway represented by an asphalt path within inches of the audience. The company beckons people to follow, pick up their first morsels, settle on blankets and chairs, and watch the story unfold.
Accompanied by three to five real life musicians who had to look into the afternoon sun without shades, all characters sing country and opera interchangeably and flawlessly. (Who am I kidding, I wouldn’t know if they dropped a verse of either, but they seemed to hit all the notes).
And there were just enough almost crack-ups to know these true professionals are still having fun connecting in the moment. Campy!
Laura Hynes Smith’s Alcina is a business-like truck stop waitress who has magically turned travelers into “animals, plants, rocks and dark spirits,” as the show program puts it. Her sister Morgana, Lauren Drasler, is a ditzy valley girl, tall with taller hair and a perfect “kiss my grits” outfit.
Molly Pan, as Bradamante, Ruddy’s girlfriend before he hit the road and fell under Alcina’s spell, disguises herself as a man traveling with Peter Hogan, Melisso, “a wizard of the highway.” As happens in most plays, slap a little mustache on her, Ruddy does not recognize his love. But Morgana, she sings (not English) to Bradamante while unfurling a banner from her pocket that proclaims, “I am so into you.”
You probably know how it ends, and it is so much fun getting there. Pray for weather as lovely as Sunday’s for the rest of the run, which includes the times and venues below. Performances are free, you offer what you can at the end. They’re supported in part by Legacy Amendment funds as well as by Spoonriver, Alexis Bailly Vineyards, Linden Hills Co-op, the Aliveness Project, Gardening Matters, Peace Coffee, Wise Acre Eatery, The Wedge, Seward Co-op, Local D’Lish, Summit Brewing, Rustica, Gardens of Eagan, Interact Center and others. The company requests that guests make reservations so they can be sure to have enough food on hand.