Every person has their time
Every tale has an ending
Don't know yours
Don't know mine
Every end has a beginning
All beginnings have an end
In between come all the hours
We can barely comprehend
And we hope what came before us
Was a story born of love
Trust the earth
Trust the sun
Trust in god above
My sister's and my favorite movie (well, one of them) is the 2005 Minnesota-made film Sweet Land, written and directed by Ali Selim based on Will Weaver's short story A Gravestone Made of Wheat. We often watch it at the cabin as a way to transition out of our busy city lives and into a calmer more nature-focused time. When I told her about the lovely new musical adaptation, now making its official debut at the History Theatre after years of development, she asked me, somewhat skeptically, "how do they represent the beautiful sweeping landscapes of the film?" The answer, of course, is music. We may not see the endless waving fields of wheat and the flocks of ducks flying overhead, but thanks to lyrics like the above (by Laurie Flanigan-Hegge*) set to a gorgeous folk/Americana score by Dina Maccabee (arranged by Robert Elhai), strung together in a book by Laurie and director Perrin Post (whose brilliant idea it was to make this musical), you see the landscape in your mind's eye and feel it in your heart. Like the film but in a different way, Sweet Land, the Musical tells a beautiful story of love, community, and connection to the land, one that, as a descendant of German immigrant farmers, feels like my story.
For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, the story is a familiar and quintessentially Minnesotan one of immigration, building a community, and making a living off the land. Norwegian immigrant Olaf Torvik's parents send him a wife from Norway. But the catch is that Inge Altenberg is originally from Germany, and this is 1920, when Germans are seen as the enemy due to the recently ended WWI. The pastor of this primary Norwegian Lutheran community refuses to marry them, as does a judge, without further documentation that Inge is not a spy or a communist. Knowing very little English, Inge takes up residence with Olaf's neighbor Frandsen, his wife Brownie, and their many children. She eventually tires of this and, longing to be in her own home and begin the life she came here to live, moves in with Olaf. Even though Olaf sleeps in the barn, the arrangement is frowned upon by the pastor and the community, and Olaf and Inge are shunned, until a crisis brings them together. It's a simple story (bookended by the couple's present-day grandson trying to decide whether or not to sell the land), but one that feels true and is beautifully told.
|Robert Berdahl and Ann Michels against the|
Minnesota sky (photo by Rick Spaulding)
|when Inge met Olaf (Ann Michels and Robert Berdahl,|
photo by Rick Spaulding)
|taking a drive (photo by Rick Spaulding)|
Before experiencing the magical opening night of Sweet Land, the Musical, I had seen four readings of it. I couldn't be more thrilled for and proud of the all-female and mostly local creative team for making it to this new beginning for Sweet Land. And there's no better place for it to premiere than at the History Theatre, which throughout its history has been dedicated to developing new works, particularly those that tell the untold stories of all Minnesotans. It's so important to hear stories and histories that are different from our own, and learn that they really aren't that different in the ways matters. But it's also wonderful to experience what feels like your own history, your own family story, being told in such a beautiful and moving way. I think this is a story that many Minnesotans will relate to. And even if this isn't your specific story, most of us are descended from immigrants, with stories known and dear to us, or unknown and only imagined. We can only "hope what came before us, was a story born of love."
Sweet Land, the Musical continues through May 28 at the History Theatre in downtown St. Paul.
*Read my interview with playwright/lyricist Laurie Flanigan-Hegge here.