Live theater is one of the most intimate forms of art. Actors must rely and trust each other to act and react appropriately to each other’s performances, and to audience reactions. There are no re-shoots, no second chances. For me, this is what makes theater so compelling. Even if you see the same production five times, you’re seeing a different performance each time. Audience reactions, the mood of the actors, and more all contribute to that unique performance that is only be shared with the other people in the room. So I was a bit nervous when I walked into Osseo’s Yellow Tree Theatre Sunday afternoon for a performance of The Sweet Stuff and was one of only 15 attendees. Luckily, the small audience did not distract from the intense performance; instead, it highlighted the talent and commitment of the company.
Don’t be fooled by the play’s title. The show isn’t all about rose petals and puppies (actually, it isn’t about those things at all) and that fact is quite clear from the play’s somber first scene. The show opens in a hospital waiting room, where the upper-class Walter (Carl Lindberg) anxiously awaits any news regarding his son’s hemophiliac condition, and the blue-collar Jerry (Colin R. Wasmund) deals with the loss of his wife. The two men bond over their situations and a cup of coffee, but the stakes are raised when Walter learns of Jerry’s very rare blood type that could save his son’s life.
Written by Minneapolis playwright Jayme McGahn and presented by Chased by an Elephant Theatre Co., The Sweet Stuff is currently enjoying its world premiere while on a three-city tour this summer. Minneapolis is the second stop of the tour, preceded by Grand Forks and followed by Chicago.
|the sweet stuff, presented through july 18 at the yellow tree theatre. for information and tickets ($17-$20), see yellowtreetheatre.com|
The play is being billed as an intense “cat and mouse game” between these two men. And while that’s the focus of most of the second act—Walter eventually goes to extreme measures to get Jerry to share his blood—I was most engaged with earlier scenes focusing on the commonalities between these two seemingly different men, rather than the later scenes in which they slowly self-destruct. Still, McGahn and director Emily Cherry consistently make the characters’ motivations clear, so even some over-the-top actions seem justified. In a nice touch, the play’s final moments casually mirror the opening scene, underscoring the damage done by both parties, which is visible and palpable as the lights go out.
Even a strong script—which The Sweet Stuff has—can only go so far without the right talent to bring it to life. But even there it doesn’t disappoint. The small cast of four puts forward some of the more compelling acting I’ve seen in awhile, clearly committed to telling the story despite the audience’s small size. Lindberg’s Walter is slick and confident. The character risks being unlikable, but Lindberg grounds him with his obvious affection for his sick son. As Jerry, Wasmund is remarkably convincing as the blue-collar worker with a tortured past. Ashlee Edgemon and Jessica Snyder round out the cast, playing multiple female roles, including Dr. Sirsi (Edgemon), who finds herself caught in the middle of the men’s’ drama.
The set, designed by Peter Schmidt, is simple. Without representing an obvious location, it easily substitutes for a hospital, bar, and jail, among other settings. And, infusing the play with some local talent, Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles provide the show’s (recorded) music, underscoring it with a bit of quirkiness. In all, it adds up to a satisfying, stylized, and polished production that hasn’t been jaded by over-production.
I wish more people were able to catch this show during its short run, but it’s encouraging to know that the piece is not at risk of suffering artistically due to audience size. One audience member summarized his take on the company’s commitment quite succinctly as we were exiting. “Wow, they must be exhausted,” he said.