“Fear not,” wrote Theatre de la Jeune Lune artistic director Dominique Serrand in a recent statement announcing that his organization would end its operations. “The art is alive and coming soon to a theatre near you.”
Archy and mehitabel…life in lower case, a theatrical performance created by Sarah Agnew and Jim Lichtsheidl. Presented through November 2 at Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis. For tickets ($20 or pay as able; one free child admission with each adult admission) and information, see openeyetheatre.org.
Local theatergoers waiting for Jeune Lune to reincarnate itself ought to realize, if they don’t already, that the future is now: small companies inspired by the experimental, multidisciplinary, and darkly humorous vision of Serrand and his colleagues are blooming all over the Twin Cities. Off-Leash Area’s latest work of dance/theater, The Jury, is currently playing in a Minneapolis garage; Jon Ferguson’s adaptation of Animal Farm opens at the Southern Theater on Halloween; and Jeune Lune alumna Sarah Agnew is currently onstage with Jim Lichtschiedl at the Open Eye Figure Theatre, performing an original—very original—show called archy and mehitabel…life in lower case.
The lower-case imperative comes from the fact that Archy (Lichtscheidl) is a cockroach who communicates via typewriter but cannot manage the shift key. His companion and sometime antagonist Mehitabel (Agnew) is a vain alley cat who believes she is the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Both characters were the creation of American humorist Don Marquis (1878-1937), who featured the characters in hundreds of prose and verse sketches.
Agnew and Lichtsheidl bring several of Marquis’s sketches to life, morphing among “lower case” characters (a moth, a firefly, a pair of fleas on a dog’s back) in a deftly managed sequence. The two actors, with the enthusiastic assistance of Elise Langer, conspicuously enjoy themselves as they cavort about the stage performing Marquis’s verse to the live accompaniment of original music by Eric Jensen. All three performers are talented singers, and the dance duets between Agnew and Lichtsheidl are great fun to watch—particularly the scene where Lichtsheidl trades his cockroach antennae for the dangling bell of a pampered pussy who seduces Mehitabel on twinkling toes. The cozy, vintage Open Eye is a perfect venue for the show, and the set (dominated by oversized, cast-off, scribbled-upon pieces of paper) and props are simple but wonderfully suggestive.
There were no children in the audience the night I attended, which seemed a shame. The show has thematic and historical layers that you probably need to have been alive for a while to fully appreciate, but it will amply reward any viewer with an ear, an eye, and a little imagination.
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.