Sunday, August 29, 2021

"A Pickup Truck Opera; Volume One: The Odyssey" by Mixed Precipitation at Various Outdoor Locations

While Mixed Precipitation's annual tradition of the "picnic operetta" is on hold due to the pandemic, last year they premiered a new fun and accessible opera mash-up experience - the Pickup Truck Opera. Driving a 2011 royal blue Ford pickup to parks around and outside of the Twin Cities, and performing out of the bed of the truck (have opera - will travel), they mash up Monteverdi's 17th Century opera The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland with the songs of Dolly Parton. Last year they teased us with Episode 3, but this year they're presenting the full three-episode saga, and as always with this troupe, it's sheer delight. I caught them near the end of their two-month run in a nearby park, but you can still see them today at Cedar Lake, next weekend in Hastings, or their closing weekend September 11-12 in St. Paul and Minneapolis (see details and schedule here).

Adapted by Scotty Reynolds (co-director with Jacob "Jäc" Miller), Gary Ruschman (music director), and the team, this Pickup Truck Opera tells the familiar story of The Odyssey in a playful and easy to follow way. Members of the cast and band provide narration as they act out scenes in the story, with Monteverdi's songs sung in Italian with translations charmingly displayed on scrolls, banners, and other creative places, and some well-chosen Dolly Parton songs scattered throughout. Episode 1 features Penelope, waiting on Ithaca for her husband Ulysses' return from war, fighting off suitors. Episode 2 tells of Ulysses' voyage home, and the Cyclops and Sirens of it all. Finally we get to Episode 3, in which Ulysses finally returns home and is reunited with his wife and son.

photo courtesy of Mixed Precipitation
There's no clear delineation between cast and band, with musicians playing parts and singers playing
instruments, so that it's one big cohesive storytelling party. In addition to the creative team mentioned above, the storytellers include Momoko Tanno, Rodolfo Nieto, Akene Niemi, Andrew Niemi, Joni Griffith (violin), Jason Kornelis (cello), and Sarina Partridge (banjo), all dressed in denim, fringe, and cowboy boots (costumes designed by Rhiannon Fiskradatz). Also playing characters are a bunch of really cute and expressive puppets, including a giant Cyclops head that drew an audible gasp from the crowd. Clever, bold, and cartoonish props also aid in the storytelling (props and puppets designed by Duane Tougas). 

In addition to being fun and playful, these are some really talented instrumentalists and vocalists, so that both the Italian opera and country songs sound amazing, especially in such close quarters with no amplification. And somehow these two seemingly diverse musical styles blend together well. 

While this isn't a full picnic operetta with passed treats throughout the show, we did get a delicious orange and olive oil cookie between Episodes 1 and 2. And a singalong to an original song by Sarina between Episodes 2 and 3:

I believe if we keep singing
We just might get out of here alive
It's a wild rid trying to survive
And get back home to the other side

As always with Mixed Precipitation, the whole production is put together in a way that makes it so fun and accessible for all ages. If opera makes you think stodgy and boring, think again. Companies like this make opera feel exciting and alive. And this show's theme of returning home after a long period of trials and tribulations couldn't feel more relevant than it does right now.

Enjoy this new version of a #TCTheater summer tradition at various locations through September 12.