Tuesday, February 6, 2024

"Handprints" at History Theatre

Greta Oglesby has been a mainstay in #TCTheater for some 20 years, appearing on stages all over town. But now, for the first time, she's telling her own story. In a project that was first developed with Ten Thousand Things (who produced a film version of it), Greta shares all of the people who shaped her and made her into the person and artist she is today. It's a funny, touching, relatable a story, that reminds us of the people in our lives who teach us things that we carry with us all of our lives, like handprints on our hearts. I loved getting some insight into this artist I've long admired from afar, and learn about what brought her to this place. With music, puppets, and imagery, Greta brings us all on the journey with her. Handprints continues at the History Theatre in downtown St. Paul through February 18.

Greta Oglesby and puppets
(photo by Rick Spaulding)
Handprints is almost a solo play, with Greta playing multiple characters including her teacher mother, her preacher father, and childhood friends. But they've also added Dennis Spears to play some of the characters, because Dennis makes everything better. He brings an extra energy and life to the stories, and gives Greta someone to interact with, in addition to the adorable child puppets she manipulates and talks to. She begins her story in childhood, growing up with a strict but loving (if not expressive) father. Just everyday stories of bullies, and dancing with her siblings (a no-no in their strict household), and talking about boys with her friends. But she tells them in such an endearing and entertaining way. We follow Greta to college, where she meets her husband, and to her dream job - being an accountant for the City of Chicago, natch. Lucky for us, Greta eventually leaves this career to pursue a career in theater. She does a few speeches from some of her pivotal roles - originating the role of Aunt Esther in the premiere of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean, and in Caroline or Change at the Guthrie. All of these stories are so personal and endearing, told by the woman who lived them.

Dennis Spears and Greta Oglesby
(photo by Rick Spaulding)
And of course, Greta sings. This isn't a musical, but she's written a few songs to encapsulate some of the more meaningful moments in her life. She's accompanied on the piano by music director Sanford Moore, who also provides a subtle underscore throughout the show (he told us in a talkback that it varies from show to show, depending on the vibe). The beautiful set reflects the blue patchwork quilt she receives for her wedding, with specific props and set pieces, like the much loved hope chest. Images like impressionist paintings are projected on the back walls, adding a sense of place. Greta is dressed in a full skirt that's both timeless and ageless, allowing her to transform into any age or era. (Scenic and properties design by Kirby Moore, costume design by Jacourtney Mountain-Bluhm, video design by Leslie Ritenour.)

Handprints would be the perfect 90-minute play with music, if not for the intermission about half hour into the show. They use it to bring on a working kitchen set to cook some eggs, but it didn't really add enough to justify breaking the spell of the story in this way.

Experience the life of one of #TCTheater's best performers, as told by the woman herself. It'll make you laugh, touch your heart, and maybe even get you thinking about the people in your life whose handprints you carry.