Tuesday, February 7, 2023

"These Old Shoes" by Transatlantic Love Affair at Illusion Theater

I didn't realize how much I've missed Transatlantic Love Affair until I saw their remount of These Old Shoes last weekend, one of my favorite shows of theirs. There's simply no one like them. An ensemble of seven people plus one musician creates an entire rich world using only their bodies, voices, and souls. It's simply exquisite. With origins in the Minnesota Fringe Festival (like many of our great small companies), TLA is a physical theater company that often adapts fairy tales or myths with their unique brand of storytelling. But this show, their first in three years, is an original story about a man moving into a retirement community, which allows for an exploration of aging, memory, relationships, and loss. It premiered at the 2013 Fringe Festival and was produced by Illusion theater in 2015, when it won Twin Cities Theater Blogger Awards for Favorite Play and Favorite Actor in a Play (Derek Lee Miller). I've always loved this show, but having spent some time in a nursing home recently, it was particularly resonant for me this time. It's heart-breakingly beautiful, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. See it at Illusion Theater in their new home in the Center for Performing Arts in South Minneapolis, Wednesdays through Sundays for the next two weeks only.

Marjorie and Jim in their younger days
(photo by Lauren B. Photography)
In an original story conceived and directed by TLA co-founder Diogo Lopes, with much of the original cast returning, These Old Shoes introduces us to a group of people living at a retirement community, and a man named Jim (Derek Lee Miller) who is reluctantly moving in. Jim's granddaughter Beatrice (understudy Leslie Vincent ably filling in for original cast-member Adelin Phelps) comes to town to help him pack up his house and move into the community. As Jim goes through his things, memories of days and people long past are stirred up. He remembers a young woman named Marjorie (Peyton McCandless) whom he once loved and planned to spend his life with, until his experience in the Korean War changed him and came between them. They both went on to live seemingly happy lives apart, but never forgot each other. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Marjorie lives in the community that Jim is joining; the true beauty of the piece is watching the two stories unfold - past and present - and how they come together again.*

the ensemble (photo by Lauren B. Photography)
In typical TLA style, there are no props or set pieces on stage. Barefoot actors in simple clothing create everything in this world - furniture, a grandfather clock, trees, doors, gravestones. They mime with invisible props. Sometimes you don't quite know what action they're miming or inanimate object they're embodying, but at other times, it's so clear you can almost see it. As we move from the past to the present, each of the ensemble members (also including Heather Bunch, Eric Nelson, Chasya Hill, and Allison Vincent) physically transforms from a young person to an old person, each in their own unique and specific way, whether it's the subtle droop of the shoulders and sinking inward, or a back that's fully bent over, or a slower less stable way of walking. Age affects people differently, and this cast allows you to see those differences. In addition to the main story, we also get to see each of the members of the retirement community in their past, whether as an actor, or a secretary, or a doctor. This glimpse into the past helps to flesh out each of these characters and inform who they are in the present story. This is truly an ensemble work and this group works together so well, with one scene blending seamlessly into the next, from past to present and back again.*

The story is almost constantly underscored by Jeff A. Miller on electric guitar, playing his own compositions that are at times mournful, at times upbeat, but always setting the perfect tone for the story. He also accompanies the cast on a lovely and plaintive song called "Echoes and Memories" written by The Champagne Drops (of which the aforementioned Leslie Vincent is one half, along with Emily Dussault).

Transatlantic Love affair truly holds a unique space in #TCTheater - ensemble created physical theater, telling stories beautifully without the use of props, sets, or costumes. I heard some mutterings in the audience about not understanding what was going on, but if you go into it knowing that not everything is going to be clearly spelled out for you, and just let your imagination fill in the lines of what the ensemble creates, it will be a magical experience. These Old Shoes is a lovely, melancholic, heart-breaking and heart-warming story uniquely and gorgeously told by this group of artists.


Join me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers for a special event at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres! Get $20 off the ticket price for the March 4 matinee performance of the regional premiere of the super fun and heart-warming musical THE PROM, and stick around after the show for a talk-back with some of the cast. Find more info in the Facebook event here, and purchase discount tickets using code TCTB1 or by clicking on this link (discount valid for March 4 1pm performance only).