Monday, November 1, 2021

"The Most Beautiful Home... Maybe" by Mixed Blood Theatre Company at Springboard for the Arts

Mixed Blood Theatre's second production of their 2021-2022 season, The Most Beautiful Home... Maybe, delivers an important message about the housing crisis in an unconventional performance style. The audience participation was too much for this extreme introvert; it just makes me uncomfortable and further distances me from the subject matter, as opposed to drawing me in with non-participatory storytelling. But for those who don't mind some pretty significant audience participation, it might be a good way to start imagining a better world in the future, where everyone has safe affordable housing.

Written and directed by ashley sparks and Mark Valdez, the show, or rather experience, takes place at the new home of Springboard for the Arts in St. Paul. It all happens in one large room, with a stage in the middle, and a bit of moving around the space. Our hosts are zebras (why? I'm not sure, because zebras are almost extinct like affordable housing?), who tell stories, sing songs, and invite us to dance and talk (audience members are given nametags so they can be called by name, appropriately terrifying for a Halloween show). We're asked to imagine a better future of housing, but first, we have to remember the past. Both the recent past (the recession of 2008), and more distant (the audience was split into two groups, one "time traveled" to the 1830s, one to the 1940s, and unfortunately we never swapped so we could see the other time period). There's also time for group discussion (my least favorite thing) around what we want the future of housing to look like.

Karla Mosley (photo courtesy of MBT)
The lead zebra, named Zébra, is played by the uber talented Karla Mosley, best known to TV viewers as Maya on the CBS daytime soap The Bold and the Beautiful. After her groundbreaking transgender storyline a few years ago, they stopped writing for Maya, but B&B's loss is #TCTheater's gain. This show allows her to use much more of her talent than B&B ever did - singing, dancing, vamping, performing for a crowd. The songs aren't noted in the program so I'm not sure if any of them were original, but I did recognize a few, including "Home" from the Wiz, and Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddamn" (including the new and relevant lyric "everyone knows about Minnesota"). Karla's a fantastic performer and really gave her all to each number, never losing sight of either the almost-campy nature of the performance, or the importance of the message. 

I have to give Karla and the other zebra hosts, played by Bruce A. Young and Hannah Pepper-Cunningham, much credit for enthusiastically and courageously attempting to engage a Minnesota audience in the whole experience. Nephelie Andonyadis also deserves kudos for the set, prop, and costume design, including some pretty gorgeous zebra-inspired outfits. Musician Joe Strachan accompanies the singing on keyboard and guitar, as well as providing music and sound effects throughout the show.

The way to my heart is not participation, but statistics. I was startled, but maybe not surprised, to learn that 15% of Minnesota renters are behind on payments, and while Black and indigenous people make up 15% of Minnesota's population, they make up 65% of our homeless. Having lived a very privileged and solidly middle class life, I've never once worried about not being able to pay my rent or mortgage and becoming homeless. I honestly rarely think about housing, so while it wasn't in the most comfortable way for me, this show did get me to think about these issues, and what a big problem it really is, as well as some possible solutions (see also the Netflix series Maid, and John Oliver's piece on homelessness which aired the same day I saw this show).

The Most Beautiful Home... Maybe continues through November 7, with tickets free or pay as you will. Check it out if you're up for group discussions, dancing in public, and being called on to answer questions on the important topic of housing.