Sunday, September 3, 2023

"Naive. Super" at Norway House

Last night I saw a play that was unlike anything I've ever seen before. That's an unusual occurrence for someone who's been writing about theater for 13 years. #TCTheater artist Kurt Engh's adaptation of the 1996 Norwegian novel Naive. Super is unique not just in the fact that it's a solo play in which a different actor performs the piece each night of the run, but also in its use of technology. Because a dozen people are not going to memorize a 90-minute solo play for a one-night-only performance, the entire script of the play is on stage in some form, either in video projections, or on transparancies on an overhead projector (remember those?), or in notecards or physical pages on the set. It's a fascinating, trippy, thought-provoking story told in a fascinating, trippy, thought-provoking way; I can think of no better way to adapt this work. Whenever you go to the theater, you're going to experience something different every night, but that's never been more true than here, where you have a different actor bringing their own perspective and background to the work for something truly unique every time. What's more exciting than that?! Naive. Super continues at Norway House* through September 17 (click here for a list of performances and performers and to purchase tickets).

The show opens with a statement along the lines of "I have a good friend, a bad friend, and a brother." The main character then proceeds to tell us about his life (or hers, or theirs, depending on that night's performer). He's experiencing a bit of an existential crisis, a quarter-life crisis if you will; he's dropped out of school and finds everything meaningless. He begins house-sitting for his brother, who's out of the country for a few months, checking his mail and faxing him anytime important (yes, faxing, this is 1996 remember). He makes lists, he talks to his bad friend on the phone, he faxes his good friend who's studying weather on an island in the North. To fill his time, he buys a ball, and throws it against a wall and catches it. Then he buys one of those hammer-and-peg boards I remember having as a child, deriving simple satisfaction from pounding the pegs flat, flipping the board over, and repeating the action. He makes friends with a neighbor boy, goes to buy a car for his brother, and meets someone he might want to date. All the while he's reading a book about time, how it's related to gravity, how it doesn't exist, causing him to ponder some pretty big ideas.

The night I saw the show, the performer was a young actor named Nathaniel TwoBears with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Despite reading the script (or maybe because he was), he gave an engaging, natural, and very present performance. I easily believed he was this young, troubled, searching Norwegian man. I'm tempted to go back and see the show again, because I think I would see a very different portrait of this character. 

Director/adaptor/producer Kurt Engh is feeding the performer stage directions from off-stage through an earbud, telling them where to go to find the next piece of the script. Sometimes the words (mostly in Comic Sans font) are projected on either side of the corridor style stage area, often accompanied by video or images (designed by Ian Olson), or the performer places transparencies on an overhead projector, or reads the lines from notes stashed in various parts of the set. There's also a camera trained on the center table that's sometimes projected on the walls, with props including toys and cards with charming pictures to illustrate the lists. There's even a TV that looks like it's from 1996, playing videos or more script pieces. There are many moving technical pieces and parts, and it's all very well choreographed and pulled off smoothly. And even when there's an awkward pause or hesitation or something doesn't go quite right, that's part of the fun and excitement of this kind of theater.

All of the big theaters are beginning their new seasons in the coming weeks, but what makes the #TCTheater community great is that there is also space for experimental work like this, for artists who think about things differently and do things differently than they've been done before. Naive. Super is very modern in the way it combines various forms of media to tell a story, but timeless in its exploration of the world and our place in it. If you're looking for forward-thinking experimental theater that's still very accessible and relatable, don't miss this one.

*Norway House occupies an entire block on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, just east of Chicago, along with Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church. There is ample parking in the lots. Inside the newly expanded space it's exactly what you'd expect from a Scandinavian building - all light and airy with clean lines and modern architecture. The play is performed in the unfinished basement which provides a perfect backdrop for this story.