Three small companies are opening some intriguing work this weekend. Two are welcome reprises and the third is a new take on the shaggy classic “Hair.” The diversity is appealing and again demonstrates that theater doesn’t have to be four characters and a single set.
Evel Knievel regularly put his life at risk for his own aggrandizement. Whether he was brave or stupid is a matter of perspective, but to many people Knievel was a hero. FTF Works puts Knievel under the theatrical magnifying glass in a show that is described as an “epic aerial musical.”
FTF Works did a workshop of the show at Red Eye in 2008 and put it up again at that year’s Fringe Festival. Creators Kym Longhi and Erik Hoover have set their work in Knievel’s psyche as he leaps into the great beyond. Longhi said they brought the work back with two specific intentions: to make it higher and deeper.
“We wanted a venue with higher ceilings for the aerial work, and we wanted to get the story deeper,” she said.
Old Arizona Studios provides the first requirement in spades. Longhi said that by “deeper,” she means to develop characters and the archetypal elements in Knievel’s psyche.
Hoover came up with the idea for “Herocycle” after Knievel died in 2007. At the same time, the notion of heroism was in the news, with returning Iraqi war veterans. Hoover said he chafed at the idea that heroes need to be perfect and placed on a pedestal. Knievel had his warts, but “he had absolute faith in himself.”
“When he jumped 13 buses at Wembley Stadium, he knew he didn’t have the right equipment to make it,” Hoover said. “He did it anyway and cleared the buses but he just missed the ramp. Six months later, he did it again with one more bus and he nailed it.”
Hoover and Longhi connect Knievel’s bravura with Joseph Campbell’s idea of “hero” being defined by someone who follows his or her bliss no matter what. The production includes aerial dance, music and the battle inside Knievel’s mind.
7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun., Tue.-Thu. Ends June 29, Old Arizona Theatre, 2821 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., $15-$20, www.ftfworks.org.
Off-Leash Area won an Ivey Award for this work in 2005 and it remains a signature piece for the company headed by Paul Herwig and Jennifer Ilse. Inspired by the cartoon work of Norwegian graphic novelist Jason (John Arne Sæterøy), “Psst!” wowed Ivey voters with an expressionism that reflects the film “Metropolis” and Herwig’s design.
The wordless story is told in mask and dance, accompanied by a full-length score.
“This is one of our two large shows we’ve always wanted to remount,” Herwig said. “The Cowles is perfect because it has that old vaudevillian look and it’s cinematic and both those things are at the core of what this show is.”
“Psst!” originally was performed in the big garage at Herwig’s and Ilse’s south Minneapolis home. Herwig said the scenery and masks have been stored up in the rafter in anticipation of a second production. Despite the Cowles being a larger stage, he said Off-Leash resisted the temptation to “explode the design” of the show.
“It’s really retained a human level and I think the masks play big,” he said. “That fills up the stage.”
Ilse wrote in an e-mail that the show is family-friendly, largely because it’s told in such a cartoon style.
“It was the show that gave us confidence that we can create artistically contemporary work that can be accessible for all ages,” she wrote.