Saturday, December 7, 2019

"The Norwegians" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Grain Belt Warehouse

Seven years after their debut, during which time they've brought us a couple of dark and stormy little plays every year, Dark and Stormy Productions is doing their first remount. If you're going to remount a show, the hilarious and very Minnesotan dark comedy The Norwegians, first presented in 2016, is a great choice. This story of two Southern women so beaten down by Minnesota winters and bad relationships that they hire Norwegian gangsters to kill their exes is worth seeing again. In 2016 I called the play "a cross between a Prairie Home Companion sketch and an episode of Fargo, with more edge than the former but without the latter's ominous cloud of despair." They've reunited most of the original cast and creative team, with a few new faces, for what is once again is a very funny, entertaining, and intimate anti-holiday* #TCTheater choice.

Playwrights' Center affiliated writer C. Denby Swanson is an Austin (TX not MN) native who's spent time in Minnesota, which is obvious from the many Minnesota and Norwegian references she's stuffed into 90 minutes (including a long monologue about why the Twins haven't been successful in the playoffs since 1991, which is particularly bittersweet after this heart-breaking season #gotwins). The play switches back and forth between two timelines - the present, Olive's initial meeting with Norwegian hit men Tor and Gus, and the very recent past, Olive meeting Betty at a bar and commiserating about their horrible exes and the desire to kill them. But unlike most people after a break-up, Olive and Betty mean that literally. Olive gets the Norwegians' number from Betty, and as the two timelines progress they eventually meet up and come to the surprising, disturbing, ironic conclusion.**

Olive (Jane Froiland) is interrogated by the Norwegians
(Luverne Seifert and Avi Aharoni, photo by Rick Spaulding)
The Norwegians plays with time in a way that keeps the audience on our toes, but isn't confusing. The time shifts don't feel like a gimmick, but rather are an efficient and interesting way to tell the story. Some really clever effects of sound, lighting, and movement make it clear where we are in time (sound design by Aaron Newman, lighting design by Mary Shabatura). In the intimate studio space, audience members are seated in two rows along two sides, slightly tilted towards the windows where a vintage jukebox is perched against the wall. The only other set pieces are a table and chairs, but there's not much room for anything else as the actors pace the small space in front of us and often speak their monologues directly to us. Fake snow covering the ground and the Minnesota winter-chic wardrobe provided by Lisa Jones complete the look.**

Tor (Luverne Seifert) watches over Betty (Sara Marsh) and
Olive (Jane Froiland, photo by Rick Spaulding)
Director Matthew G. Anderson (creator of the award winning web series Theater People which I need to watch again) makes his Dark and Stormy debut here. Three quarters of the cast return - Artistic Director Sara Marsh as the jaded Betty, delightfully delivering a monologue while laying on the floor making a snow angel; Jane Froiland as the wide-eyed innocent Olive drawn into the crime world (watching her facial expressions during the interrogation scenes is a joy); and Luverne Seifert as the proud Norwegian Tor (god of thunder), repeatedly uttering "uff-da" and commenting on how Norwegians invented everything from baseball to the Kama Sutra. New to the cast this year (because original cast member James Rodriguez is once again hosting Christmas at Pemberley) is Avi Aharoni, a great addition as the lovelorn hit man Gus. It's really fun to watch these actors up close and personal.

The Norwegians continues through January 5 in Dark and Stormy's (very warm - dress in layers) studio space in the Grain Belt Warehouse in Northeast Minneapolis. Tickets are just $15 for those under 30.

*Click here to read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year.
**Some text borrowed from what I wrote about the show three years ago.