"WELL. I FOUND A SHOW TO COMPLETELY BLOW ME AWAY ON THE FIRST NIGHT." I wrote that, almost two years ago to the day, about the first show the Shelby Company brought to Minnesota. I'm pleased to report that Sousepaw, their endeavor this year, once again seems to me to be the one to beat.
This show returns to what seems to be a bizarrely recurring theme for them -- a man having a crisis of faith in a seedy motel room. Here we have a washed-up, turn-of-the-century baseball player (based on a historical figure but with copious liberties taken, I'm told) and an evening he spends with the reptile girl from the circus.
An aside: I fell a little in love with the latter, which may be nothing more than a kind of white-knight syndrome -- that twisted male compulsion to protect attractive, vulnerable women.
If there's one aspect of this fine production that springs rather dynamically to mind, it's the fascination this company seems to have with the poetry of colloquial language. The language is far from flowery -- it's more than that. Actually, the writing seems, in places, almost stubbornly minimalistic, not shying away from the complicated inner lives of both of the protagonists, but articulating them with as little embellishment as possible.
If you'd asked me (for whatever insane reason) to express some kind of mission statement for the group last year, I might have offered this: "People are fucked up." ... but after tonight's show, I would have to modify that to: "People are fucked up, and that's okay."
By this, I mean the company consistently gives a clear-eyed acknowledgement of the weird shit that we fixate on, without the need to apply any narrative judgment to it. To say they declare it to be "okay" doesn't even quite capture it though. Maybe it's more accurate to say that their shows simply posit that the weird shit is. Beyond that -- and I admit this could simply be a case of my projecting the fact that the first of their shows I saw was based on a religious text -- there's a sense of yearning, of longing for there to be something more than this, whatever that might be.
In short, Sousepaw is my first five-kitty review of the year -- and that's counting all the shows I saw in Kansas City's recent Fringe Festival.
Related performance details:
Shelby Company's Sousepaw: A Baseball Story is on stage at HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis. Shows are Thursday, 8/4 (10:00 p.m.); Saturday, 8/6 (10:00 p.m.); Sunday, 8/7 (8:30 p.m.); Tuesday, 8/9 (8:30 p.m.); Sunday, 8/14 (2:30 p.m.).
Check back regularly throughout the Fringe Festival for more short reviews on mnartists.org, sent in from our intrepid performance critics on the scene.
About the author: phillip low is a playwright and poet, storyteller and mime, theatre critic and libertarian activist. He has won acclaim at such varied venues as the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, Spirit in the House, FoolFest, and the DC, Indianapolis, Iowa, and Kansas City Fringe Festivals -- even as far as Melbourne, Australia. At the 2007 Minnesota Fringe, his one-man show Descendant of Dragons was the bestselling show in its venue and awarded a coveted Fringe Encore slot, while in 2009 The Rise of General Arthur was nominated for Best Spoken Word Performance by FringeFamous. He is a co-founder of the Rockstar Storytellers and founder and producer of Maximum Verbosity. He has his own show in the Fringe Festival this year, Camelot is Crumbling; he's also assisting with the writing and direction of Minnesota Middle Finger with Ben San Del, as well as performing in Macbeth: The Video Game Remix with Theatre Arlo.