A friend occasionally likes to shift her voice into a register of Miss America-esque piety to offer an important sentiment: “I long for the day when all the people of the world — Chinese, Peruvian, American — can join together,” she says, pausing. “And get those Norwegians!”
The joke, I have always thought, is about the ridiculousness of anyone wanting to go after mild, peace-loving Norwegians. Something similar is afoot in Dark & Stormy Productions’ absurdist comedy “The Norwegians,” which has been updated since the company presented it in 2016. Olive (Jane Froiland) meets Betty (Sara Marsh) in a bar and quickly discovers that Betty may know some hit men who can help her deal with an infuriating ex, no big whoop. Those hit men are the title characters. “We are the Norwegians,” they keep saying and adding, as if to up the absurdity, “From Minnesota!”
The biggest pleasure of C. Denby Swanson’s play is that its weirdness gives the magnetic Luverne Seifert plenty to chew on. Seifert makes his character, Tor, deliciously impossible to figure out, his merry eyes twinkling while his laconic words channel someone in a Raymond Chandler novel who’d just as soon run you over as stop at a crosswalk. It’s a performance of tenderness and danger and it made me shift between wondering, “Is Tor the mastermind behind everything we’re seeing?” and “Is Tor baffled by everything we’re seeing?” I’m sure Seifert knows the answer because it’s a very confident performance, especially in scenes when he addresses the audience directly about subjects such as the Twins and assassination.
Swanson’s play leaves room for multiple interpretations, in part because it’s constructed that way and in part because it’s a mite unwieldy, combining the metaphor of spurned lovers as violent murderers with jabs at what’s beneath Minnesotans’ supposed niceness — all in a play that is cinematic in both its nonchronological structure and its editing-like “crosscutting” between scenes in two different locations. Although director Matthew G. Anderson and the cast handle the many scene changes as swiftly as humanly possible, they and the accompanying blackouts weigh down a play that feels like it wants to be zippy and fleet.
The cast is both of those things. Froiland’s bright, nervous energy contrasts smartly with Marsh’s cynicism and, as Tor’s colleague Gus, Avi Aharoni’s vulnerability helps establish the central idea that, on a metaphoric and maybe even literal level, relationships are murder. Dark & Stormy’s unique warehouse space also helps in that regard. I’d recommend sitting with a view out its windows, where the snowy trees along the river help give “The Norwegians” the most atmospheric set now on view in the Twin Cities. As the characters struggle with relationships and rub-outs, that snow really helps conversations like this one hit home:
Olive: “When does spring come?”