Friday, August 25, 2023

"Village Wooing" by The Orchard Theater Collective at the Germanic-American Institute

The Minnesota Fringe Festival is over, and the 2023-2024 #TCTheater season is still a couple of weeks away (watch for an episode of Twin Cities Theater Chat about that). But if you need a theater fix in this quiet time, have I got a show for you! Newish theater company The Orchard Theater Collective began a few years before the pandemic, started by some Guthrie/U of M BFA grads. They've mostly done small cast classics in non-traditional spaces. In the first show I've seen of theirs post-pan, they're doing another small cast classic in a non-traditional space. Specifically the two-hander Village Wooing by George Bernard Shaw outside and inside of the Germanic-American Institute on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. Everything about this show is charming - the classic but unexpected rom-com script, the intimate setting, the lovely and natural performances by the cast, even the snacks at intermission! But there are only 5 performances left, with 40 seats per show, so get your tickets now!

The 65 (or so) minute show begins outside of the historic Summit Avenue home that has served as the Germanic-American Institute since 1965, in a lovely garden patio with the scent of flowers and a gentle breeze relieving us from this week's record-breaking heat. Into the space walk a man and a woman, never referred to by name, dressed in early 20th century clothing. We soon learn that they're on a cruise around the world, the man writing a travel guide, the woman having won the trip in a contest. He's trying to work, she annoys him by continuing to talk to him, with some clever and funny banter. The scene ends and we move inside the house, into the rathskeller (a traditional German name for a basement bar), after getting some free snacks and drinks. The next two scenes take place in a shop that sells some of the items we were just served - cheese, almonds, ginger beer. It's a few months after the cruise, when the man walks into the shop where the woman works, and he doesn't recognize her. What follows is more clever and funny banter, as she tries to convince him to give up his world travels and join her in the simple village life.

in the shop (Anna Leverett and Ben Shaw)
(photo courtesy of Orchard Theater)
The play is directed by one of the four members of the Collective, Damian Leverett, and performed by two others, Anna Leverett and Ben Shaw. It strikes just the right light-hearted tone, the sweet mixed with the sassy. They use this non-traditional space wonderfully, with both locations having one or two rows of chairs arranged on three sides of a small square. This allows the audience to be up close and personal to the actors, especially in the tiny rathskeller, making us feel like we're eavesdropping on this charming extended conversation. Both actors give very believable performances, simply becoming these people in this space, Ben the curmudgeonly widower who reluctantly opens up, Anna the chatty and lively woman determined to get what she wants.

You don't need much for additional set decoration when you have a location like this Summit Avenue mansion, but little touches add to it and make it more specific to our story. The outdoor set consists only of two old-timey lounge chairs like you might see on a ship's deck. The indoor set is more elaborate, with the shop's counter and shelves full of food props, that get used and eaten! Three scenes at different times means three sets of costumes, and all of them are perfectly appropriate to the characters and period and fun to observe at close range (props and set dressing by Terri Ristow, costumes by Jorie Kosel).

I love a two-hander. I love outdoor theater (when it's <90 degrees). I love non-traditional spaces. I love a classic rom-com. I love free snacks. The Orchard Theater Collective combines all of these in Village Wooing, with great thoughtfulness and attention to detail. It's all very sweet (but not too sweet), and really the perfect show to see at this time of the year. Click here for more info and tickets.