Friday, May 5, 2017

"Redemption" by nimbus theater at the Crane Theater

nimbus theatre's latest original work, Redemption, deals with the tricky issue of reentry into civilian life after time spent in prison. Playwright Josh Cragun and director Mitchell Frazier researched the topic extensively and talked with people affected by the issue. The result is a thoughtful look at the lives of two recently released prisoners and how their release affects their family and their victims (sometime one in the same). We're facing so many problems in this country right now that our flawed prison system (nimbus quotes a few statistics in their program, including "the US holds only 4.4% of the world's population, but we have 22% of the world's prisoners" and "we incarcerate at a higher rate than any other country in the world") seems to have taken a back burner. Not at nimbus, where Redemption doesn't offer any answers, but rather calls for compassion and understanding on all sides.

A strong eight-person cast tells the story of two tangentially related recently released prisoners. These are not wrongly convicted innocents, or victims of too strict laws for minor crimes. Shawn (Ernest Briggs) has served a 14-year term for 2nd degree murder, Sandra (Dana Lee Thompson) about half that for neglect that resulted in the death of her son. Both take responsibility for their crimes, and are now trying to move past them and make a new life for themselves, to find "redemption." Shawn wants to help kids not turn out like him; Sandra wants to reconnect with her daughter Dee (Ashe Jaafaru). Both find obstacles at every turn and a system that seems to be rigged against them.

Shawn (Ernest Briggs) paying respect to his mother,
whose funeral he wasn't allowed to attend while in prison
(photo by Mathieu Lindquist)
An effective storytelling device used in this play is that when a character reminisces or talks about a moment from their past, we see the scene played out with the ensemble playing younger versions of the characters and any other characters in the tale. In a play with a lot of important backstory, this helps keep the story alive and present. (Ensemble also includes Callie Kunz, David Tufford, Julie Phillips, Richard D. Brooks, William L. PanKratz II.)

The set nicely delineates the various locations around the spacious Crane Theater stage, with a living room on warm wood floor off to one side, the sterile prison/parole meeting room elevated in the back, and a flower-filled shop on the other side. Video and images are projected onto the set to further define location (set design by Brian Hesser, video design by Caitlin Hammel).

I always appreciate nimbus not just because their theater is the closest to my house, but also because they often do original work that deals with a current issue, or a relevant time in history, or an interesting topic I'd never thought much about. I definitely recommend checking them out if you haven't yet, and Redemption is a good place to start - a compelling story that humanizes an "other" group - people who have committed violent crimes, done their time, and are now trying to be productive members of society. Continuing through May 14 at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.

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