Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Nature" by TigerLion Arts at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

I went for a walk today. The sky through the trees caught my eye. The sound of music floated in and out between the calling of the birds, and the smell of the late summer prairie was all around me. I followed Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau through their lives, studies, and friendship. I thought about nature not as something to be visited occasionally, but as something we live in the midst of daily, whether we're aware of it or not. Sometimes her voice is obscured by the busyness of modern life, but she's always there if we take the time and listen hard enough.

TigerLion Arts' outdoor walking play, Nature, is more than just theater, it's an experience. The story of the life of writers, philosophers, scholars, and friends Emerson and Thoreau would make for an interesting piece of theater if presented in a traditional indoor setting, but it would not be nearly as effective without the most important character in the play - nature. The beautiful grounds of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen is the perfect setting for this site-specific work of theater, music, and storytelling.

The experience takes place at four sites on the vast grounds of the Arboretum, far away from the busy main buildings. We follow our characters from a church, to the cabin on Walden Pond, to a grassy hill, to the fields, and back again. We learn about Waldo and Henry's early lives, their meeting, and their deep but tumultuous friendship. This is one of those plays that will inspire you to do further reading, so I won't begin to try to describe these two great men's work, but suffice it to say that they found common ground in their reverence for nature. This work of theater beautiful expresses that reverence.

friends Waldo and Henry on a walk
(Tyson Forbes and John Catron)
The eleven-person cast and community chorus lead us through the experience, dressed in authentic looking period clothing (costumes by Christine A. Richardson). Waldo and Henry are perfectly personified by Tyson Forbes (who also created and co-wrote the piece) as the tall, elegant, well-dressed minister and lecturer, and John Catron as the bearded and unruly-haired nature-lover who eschews the trappings of modern society. They're like yin and yang, two different expressions of the same idea. Norah Long beautifully embodies Nature herself, golden flowers in her shining curls, a glowing expression on her face as she lovingly looks upon her boys, her pure clear voice singing the songs of nature ringing out across the prairie. The rest of the ensemble portrays all of the other characters as well as inanimate objects in a very physical style of theater. Perhaps the most charming moment is when the audience watches Waldo and Henry far across a grassy hill as they exaggeratedly pantomime their actions and words while the ensemble provides their voices and sound effects.

It may be a bit of a hike to get to the west side of town, but it's well worth the trip. Pick one of these beautiful Minnesota fall days, bring your family, and spend the day at the Arboretum. Walk the grounds, take a deep breath, visit the exhibits and gift shop, have a bite to eat at the cafe, and let these wonderful actors lead you on an experience with nature. And then continue that experience on your own, either at the Arboretum, or in the mountains of New Zealand, or in your own backyard. For the song of nature is everywhere if we take the time and listen hard enough.

the cast of Nature in the open air cabin where several of the scenes take place