A cast of 40 take the stage at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio through November 8th for the immensely ambitious Northern Lights/ Southern Cross: Tales from the Other Side of the World, an international collaboration between the Interact Center and the Tutti Ensemble of Adelaide, Australia.With Aboriginal and Native American artists, members of Robert Robinson’s Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir, actors and singers with disabilities from both Interact and Tutti playing clowns and singing, and numerous other actors, singers, and dancers, the expansive cast takes on Kevin Kling’s beautiful script about facing death and coming to the other side physically and spiritually changed.
With exuberant energy, the enormous cast creates the world of the central character Oki, a vivid tale of a Minnesota man married to an Australian woman who almost dies in a motorcycle accident and “goes epic” in order to survive, as Kling explains in the program notes. He enters the spirit world, peopled by Native didgeridoo players, Native American fancy dancers, and other spiritual guides including 20 Heyoka, or Sacred Clowns, played by Interact and Tutti actors.
|northern lights/southern cross: tales from the other side of the world, playing through november 8 at the guthrie theater. for tickets ($18-$30) and information, see guthrietheater.org.|
Kling, unsurprisingly, tells the story brilliantly, hilariously, and with pathos. Catherine Campbell, as Oki’s wife Claire, counters Kling’s quirkiness with simple grace. Together they portray an odd pairing of characters, who come from opposite sides of the world but who find in each other a deep and enduring love.
At the talkback after the October 25 performance, Alvin Baker, who plays “Wind in His Hair,” one of the spirits that Kling encounters on his journey, said that he doesn’t so much “perform” in the play as he participates in the cultural rituals of his people.
Similarly, when Larry Yazzie, who plays Rev. Holy Smoke, dances the traditional fancy dance, the audience witnesses a sacred ritual dance interwoven into the play. It’s a breathtaking moment, and creates the feeling that this work is more than just a play: it’s a healing ritual itself.
When I spoke to Stephen Goldsmith, an Aboriginal artist who dances and plays the role of Tarnda, he said that he doesn’t consider himself so much an actor as a storyteller. Regardless of what he’s called, though, Goldsmith is wonderful to watch, and has an engrossing energy on stage.
The actors with disabilities playing the sacred clowns provide joyous light-heartedness to the tale. They are silly and wonderful and add to the off-beat wonder that the show exudes.
There are some clunky moments throughout the performance, and clearly many of the performers in the show are not professional actors, but the “radical inclusion” of the wide variety and diversity of talent, abilities, and experiences in a way adds to the piece, rather than detracts from it. In his program notes, Kling writes that in telling the story of his personal experience with trauma, he knew that “conventional performance methods could not adequately describe the experience.” Indeed, I don’t know how the story could have been told in any other way. I highly recommend you try to experience this event.