The vacant and steamy Grain Belt Office Building has been inhabited by thespians.
They turned the rooms into nontraditional stages and display cases for abstract works of art. It’s up to the audience to keep up with them as they show off the space for two and a half hours.
The thespians are a part of Skewed Visions, a theater company best known for 2000’s The City Itself: Part One, The Car, in which the stages became vehicles and the actors drove audience members around and performed. Staging shows nontraditionally is a part of Skewed Visions’ mission.
In honor of their 10th anniversary, University alumni are putting on a production unlike anything they’ve done before, while still playing with ideas of space and setting.
Usually two of the three founders take a step down to be supportive when one does a show. But in Days and Nights, all three founders are offering their own starkly different performance.
“We each had something we wanted to try,” said Sean Kelley-Pegg, one of Skewed Visions’ three founders. “We had different desires to do shows. So we decided we could work in the same space and respond to it in different ways, allowing each of us to have our own skewed vision.”
The first piece, The Hidden Room, was created by co-founder Gülgün Kayim. Main character Bruno Schulz, played by Ivey Award-winner Nathan Christopher, stands close to the audience making deep eye connections as he leads the audience around the upper level of the Grain Belt building.
With excerpts from Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles, Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass and the Brothers Grimm’s Rumpelstiltskin, Schulz tells a multilayered story, adding to it puppets, roaring orchestral music and curious noises. The tale centers on Rumpelstiltskin, the Holocaust and a deteriorating family at the same time, switching back and forth from subject to subject with subtle transitions.
“Reality is paper thin,” Schulz says in the show when he finds a piece of raw meat in a book.
The second installment, Time for Bed by Kelley-Pegg, is two video loops of dolls pushing through walls, making love and talking to the camera. Because Time for Bed is sandwiched between the two other plays, snippets of those plays’ dialogue are littered throughout the script.
There is a 30-minute intermission between the first and last piece, which allows ample time to check out the Time for Bed video.
The final piece, A Quiet Ambition, is the most abstract. Created by Cherri Macht and co-founder Charles Campbell, it features excerpts from the works of several other playwrights. These pieces of dialogue are repeated in different settings: rooms with lamps and boxes, varied sizes of flowerpots bearing green grass, on phones, eating popcorn and watching TV, in an old claw-foot bathtub. Each setting gives a starkly different feeling to the recurring bits of text.
“There are so many spaces, you can’t fill them all, try,” Macht says as she performs in A Quiet Ambition closing empty cardboard boxes and labeling them.
The acting approach in all three pieces is merciless. For its heightened nonfigurative theme, it’s surprisingly black and white, all vowels and consonants. Much of it can be hard to stomach or grasp, but it isn’t about linear plots and climax — it’s an exploration.
And if you don’t get it or like it, it’s hard to imagine these actors would care. Living vividly in their work and exhibiting a palpable sense of wonder and honesty, you’d have to have a pretty cold heart not to let the weird babble and strange sights fill you with passion, too.
Days and Nights
WHEN: Fridays through Sundays, through May 14 7 to 8 p.m., The Hidden Room, 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., A Quiet Ambition “Time for Bed” runs continuously from 7 to 9 p.m. (free) Special Thursday performances April 20 and April 27
WHERE: Grain Belt Office Building, 1215 Marshall St. N.E., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $18 general for one show; $16 for students or both shows for $32; special Thursday performances are $10 per show; (612) 201-5727;