Even in a town chockablock with small, eccentric theatrical venues (Minneapolis Theatre Garage, Open Eye Figure Theatre, Red Eye Theater), there’s nothing quite like Our Garage. Off-Leash Area directors Paul Herwig and Jennifer Ilse maintain their home and office in a Longfellow duplex, and Our Garage is…their garage. The audience—a few dozen at most—perch on folding chairs to watch the show, then everyone spills out into the backyard for drinks around the fire pit.
The Jury, a play with text by Max Sparber and choreography by Jennifer Ilse; directed by Paul Herwig and Jennifer Ilse. Presented by Off-Leash Area through October 12 at Our Garage, 3540 34th Ave. S., Minneapolis. Admission by reservation only, with suggested minimum donation of $10-$15. For information, see offleasharea.org.
The setup makes for a festive, familial atmosphere—but if you missed last year’s A Gift for Planet BX63, you missed the closest thing to a festive, familial show Herwig and Ilse are likely to produce. Their spring production, Border Crossing, was a hard-hitting look at the travails of immigrants in the desert Southwest; The Jury aims to take the audience inside the head of a traumatized and reckless young woman.
In a program note, Ilse explains that the show was inspired by a manslaughter trial in which she served on the jury: “The young woman was being tried for second degree manslaughter, and though she did not directly kill her boyfriend, we were being asked to hold her accountable for reckless behavior that ended with her boyfriend being shot.” The Jury is framed by a narrative, delivered by a prosecutor (Elena Giannetti) as “the Accused” (Ilse) sits silently, that puts the audience in the jury’s place. The heart of the production is three dialogue-free movement vignettes dramatizing the Accused’s inner struggles; this approach serves to emphasize the fact that in a case where the sequence of events is not in question, the jury’s judgment must hinge on their (that is, our) appraisal of the Accused’s motives and character. Ilse’s partner in all three vignettes is Karla Grotting, who performs first the role of a seductive, abstract “desire”; next the role of a frustrated teacher; and finally, of the Accused’s affectionate but drug-addled mother.
Ilse’s choreography is effective throughout, but it is most compelling at its most abstract—particularly in an astonishing sequence where Ilse struggles, desperately, alone with a dangling rope. Dance is not always best experienced from close up (I’ve been splashed with the sweat of a Nutcracker Prince, and believe me, it breaks the spell), but both Ilse and Giannetti can act as well as dance, and together they turn the tiny space into a searing little hothouse of emotion.
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.