Sunday, May 12, 2024

"Rasputin" by Four Humors Theater

Other than their participation in last year's Minnesota Fringe Festival Five-Fifths fundraiser, I haven't seen a Four Humors Theater production since before the pandemic. Which is way too long to go without seeing their uniquely clever and ridiculous original work, often adaptations of literature or history. They debuted a new work at Twin Cities Horror Festival last fall, but I missed it, so I'm happy they're remounting Rasputin at Open Eye Theatre so I could see the show my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers raved about. It's just as smart and silly and hilarious as expected, with a bit more blood than usual for their shows. As a bonus, I caught one of two encore performances of their 2013 Minnesota Fringe hit Lolita, which made for a pretty great double-billing. They have a pretty loyal following, and lots of buzz from TCHF, so some shows in their short two-week run are already selling out. You can see Rasputin through May 18, with one final performance of Lolita following the Saturday night closing performance.

Rasputin is not so much about Rasputin himself (the enigmatic "mystic and faith healer" who ingratiated himself with the Russian royal family shortly before their downfall) as the three men who killed him. The story starts with their arrest and interrogation after he was found dead. Each one tells his version of the story, so we watch the night play out three times, each more absurd than the last. Politician Vladimir Purishkevich (Allison Vincent) insists they didn't kill him, he killed himself. Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (Brant Miller), the Tsar's cousin, fully admits that they killed him, but only to save Russia. Lastly, Prince Felix Yusupov (Ryan Lear), who is married to the Tsar's niece, claims that Rasputin cannot be killed, and his story devolves into hypnosis and possession, with Rasputin wanting to be released to move on to his next devious mission. In each version of the story, Rasputin (a brilliantly mad Matt Spring) becomes more and more unhinged, and we watch him die multiple times in various gory ways, until he's finally, sincerely, dead. (Or is he?)

Matt Spring, Brant Miller, Allision Vincent, and Ryan Lear
(photo of the TCHF production by Dan Norman)
Written and staged by the ensemble, Rasputin is a clever, cringey, and wickedly funny romp through an already absurd chapter of history. It's written with modern dialogue and sensibility, and moves along at a rapid pace, while still allowing for some awkward and pointed pauses. Everyone in the cast is so funny and so specific in their characterizations. The story is accompanied by musician Christa Rübsam creating a live soundscape on cello, who I at first I didn't realize was there, so organic to the story is the music. 

Open Eye's charming brick arch is covered with a tarp (to protect it from blood), the only set pieces a dining table and chairs, with real food that gets eaten. Characters are dressed in period costumes - military garb, or the fancy clothing of the wealthy, or Rasputin's black robe. The lighting design creates moments of utter darkness, bright interrogations spotlights, and everything in between, with a minimal but effective use of projections (costumes by Mandi Johnson, lighting by Jon Kirchhofer, projections by Brant Miller).

If you can get a ticket to Lolita, I do recommend it as a great double-feature to showcase what this company does best - original, modern, absurdly funny adaptations. Ryan, Brant, and Matt reprise their roles in the show directed by Jason Ballweber, and created by these four along with Nick Ryan, staged with just two folding chairs, a few props, and some excellently chosen songs. It's perhaps my favorite work of theirs, with some fun fourth-wall breaking that allows them to comment on the work in a delightfully meta way, and maybe give us a peek into their process.