THEATER | “The War Within/All’s Fair”: In the trenches with Dominique Serrand, Steve Epp, Nathan Keepers, and theater students at the University of Minnesota


Some people create collaboratively devised theater pieces and talk about it by saying, “On Sundays we go to Sam’s. We’re making something.” Some, on the other hand, say, “The play’s simple dialogue and repetitive physical language work to wield a crisp analysis of the emptied rhetorical and social structures pervading contemporary capitalism.”

The first quote comes from a member of the cast of the intimate, charming Even if we never look forward, an independent production staged at Paper Moose Jumpsuit & Co. The second appears in program notes for The War Within/All’s Fair, a show created by theater students at the University of Minnesota in collaboration with Theatre de la Jeune Lune alumni Dominique Serrand, Steve Epp, and Nathan Keepers. Despite some amusing moments and a talented artistic team, this is an experiment that seems to have been much more rewarding for the experimenters than it is for the subjects—that is, the audience.

The title of The War Within/All’s Fair is just the first of many clumsy, top-heavy elements that weigh this silly-on-the-surface show down. The large Rarig Thrust stage, with its Brutalist cinderblock, is not a space that makes it easy for comedy to breathe, and the thicket of verbiage in the program made me wonder whether this was going to turn out to be an ambitious snoozefest along the lines of the final Jeune Lune show, Fishtank.

In fact, The War Within/All’s Fair is indeed very much in the mold of the beautiful but tedious Fishtank. Members of the 14-member student cast enact a series of interlocking episodes, transitioning through various characters and settings on an efficient, flexible, and precisely constructed set by Amanda Wambach. A couple moments of physical comedy play well—notably a frustrated trio of cubicle workers injuring one another’s pride—but most of the episodes feel precious and prolonged. A final episode of collective movement feels appropriately climactic, but emotionally left me cold.

Press accounts suggest that the process of creating The War Within/All’s Fair—which Serrand and Epp intend to restage as a professional production next spring—has been richly rewarding for all involved. That being the case, the production has served its purpose for these promising playmakers. Free-agent audience members looking for an engaging evening of theater, though, would do well to look elsewhere.

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