Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"The Storms of November" at nimbus theatre

What I love about nimbus theatre is that they often present original work, usually based on history, that, while not always flawless, is always interesting and thought-provoking and sheds new light on their subject. Such is the case with their newest work The Storms of November (written and directed by Co-Artistic Directors Josh Cragun and Liz Neerland, respectively), about sailors, ships, and shipwrecks on Lake Superior. November is a notoriously dangerous month on Minnesota's great and mysterious inland sea, and this play explores the lives of fictional characters on and off the ships, inspired by real people and events.

The story takes place in three time periods (which are a little hard to keep track of, I was doing a lot of math in my head to figure out where we were in history and would have appreciated the timeline being made more clear). The play opens on an experienced sailor comforting a newbie during a storm by telling a story about their ship. We flash back to a similar storm years ago that sunk the ship, the only survivor being an immigrant girl. Some years later, that girl is a captain of her own ship, always searching for the mother that was lost in the lake while trying to teach her son about the family business. This story is really her story, although other characters have their arcs too, from the new deckhands to the hardened sailors ready to get off the seas for good. Lake Superior is the other main character in the show, which evokes an ominous feeling that the lake is always there, powerful, waiting, uncontrollable and with a mind of its own.

Alyssa Perau, Brian O'Neal, Heidi Berg,
and Zach Morgan (photo by Todd Craig)
Everyone in the nine-person cast pulls double or triple duty and does a great job bringing the shipping world to gritty life. Highlights include Heidi Berg as the stern and searching captain, Zach Morgan as the weary first mate who reluctantly leaves his family behind, Alyssa Perau as two very different newcomers to the ship, and Brian Hesser with a bit of comic relief as the tough-talking Dirty Dan.

The stage at nimbus is dominated by a massive ship that takes up two-thirds of the set. Characters are on the upper or lower decks, as it moves with the wind and waves. We also see a cozy little lakeside cafe where the land-bound see their loved ones off and wait for news. The rugged sea gear lends authenticity, although sailor fashion hasn't changed a whole lot over the years and the wardrobe doesn't do much to help identify the time period (set by Ursula K. Bowden and costumes by Andrea M. Gross).

The Storms of November continue to blow at nimbus theatre through the 22nd.