Saturday, February 18, 2012
"My Antonia" by Illusion Theater at the Cowles Center
My Antonia tells the story of a young immigrant girl in late 19th century Nebraska, through the eyes of her childhood friend Jim. The adult Jim narrates the story as he's returning home to visit, and his memories of his time on the frontier and the girl that he loves come to life on stage. Joel Liestman is a wonderful narrator who seamlessly steps into the action to play various characters, from Antonia's father, to Jim's teacher, to Jim himself at the end of the play. Dustin Bronson portrays the young Jim from the age of ten through his college years, hopelessly in love with the older girl but meant for a life that's bigger than the small town they live in. There's a continuity between Joel and Dustin's performances; it's easy to believe they're the same person at different stages in their life. Emily Gunyou Halaas (who starred in another story of pioneer life, The Master Butchers Singing Club) beautifully portrays Antonia in her journey from young immigrant girl, enthusiastic about everything, to a hard-working pioneer woman who still retains that love of life, but in a quieter way. Jim and Antonia are two people who love each other deeply and have a great effect on each other's lives, even though they end up on vastly different paths. The Nebraska prairie will always join them together. (To quote one of my favorite musicals Wicked, "So much of me is made from what I learned from you, you'll be with me, like a handprint on my heart.") The rest of the cast fills in the story playing various roles, changing from one to another just by donning a different hat or accent. The accents, by the way, are excellent - Czech, German, Norwegian, a cacophony of voices from the past.
I've been told I need to check out Illusion Theater, but this is my first time seeing one of their productions. Judging by this beautiful piece I will be seeing them again. There are only two more performances on this stop of the tour - tonight (Saturday) and Sunday. There were plenty of empty seats in the Goodale Theater at the Cowles Center last night, so if you're looking for something to do this weekend, I would highly recommend this. Click here to find more information on this weekend's performances, as well as future stops on their tour around the Minnesota. It's a show that will make your heart ache, in the best possibly way.