Two small companies open shows this weekend: One features a young, rising playwright, and the other goes back to a familiar American voice.
One of the newest small theater companies in the Twin Cities, and one of the oldest, are each in new venues this weekend as they open productions. Dark & Stormy Productions has found a space in a big residential complex on University Avenue in St. Paul for its staging of Adam Bock’s “The Drunken City.” Ironically, the space is just a few blocks from Gremlin Theatre’s former home. That troupe will bring Clifford Odets’ “Rocket to the Moon” to the New Century Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.
The Drunken City
This is Dark & Stormy’s second straight dance with playwright Adam Bock. The little company sold to standing room only (60 seats) with “The Receptionist” last December. It was a sharp little play with a veneer of ominous mystery and a finely observed performance by Sally Wingert.
“The Drunken City” has a six-person cast, with troupe founder Sara Marsh joined by Tracey Maloney, Adelin Phelps, Kris L. Nelson, Ben McGovern and Paul de Cordova. Bill McCallum, the longtime Guthrie actor, makes his directing debut. Like “The Receptionist,” it’s a slip of a play, just 75 minutes long. Three women out on the town for a bachelorette party hurtle through bars and streets, where they meet a couple of guys from their hometown. High jinks ensue.
“Drunken City” actually was in the Dark & Stormy pipeline before “The Receptionist” got on stage. Audiences gave it some love at a reading last November, and Marsh decided to produce it next.
“It’s sweet and funny, and it really appeals to all our age demographics,” she said. “What I like about him as a playwright is that he writes like people talk. Even as I read the speeches, I thought, ‘That’s how I talk.’ It rings so true.”
Dark & Stormy has been around for a little more than two years. Marsh and McCallum, who is the troupe’s associate artistic director, have stayed light on their feet, producing a couple of shows per year, usually with short lead times. Marsh said that’s helped them find name talent.
“If you cast too far in advance, you are going to lose people, at what we pay right now,” Marsh said. “At any given time, there are a number of great actors in between projects.”
Marsh said it was not her career plan to start a small company. Good audience response has encouraged her to keep it going on a low-key basis. “The Receptionist” was produced in an office that recently was abandoned. “Drunken City” will be staged at the Lyric at Carleton Place, part of the Carleton Artists Lofts.
“It’s not quite a theater and not a party room, but it has a sleek bar area and an open feel that lets the play move all over the place,” Marsh said. “It’s a twisty, turny kind of play.”
(7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., Mon., Thu. Ends June 7, the Lyric at Carleton Place, 765 N. Hampden Av., St. Paul, $25, 612-724-5685 or darkstormy.org.)
Rocket to the Moon
Gremlin Theatre is still standing. Artistic director Peter Hansen has been the steady presence, guiding his company into its latest iteration as a traveling band. For years, Gremlin was anchored in small theaters in St. Paul. About 15 months ago, Gremlin was edged out of its 115-seat home on University Avenue. Hansen vowed to continue producing while he searched for new digs. Last winter, Gremlin did “A Lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur” in a large studio apartment next to Open Eye Figure Theatre. That was consistent with the company’s image and aesthetic.
This time out, Gremlin has gone to the New Century Theatre, the small space carved out of offices next to Hennepin Theatre Trust. It’s an odd choice — not that there’s anything wrong with that — given the prevalence of musicals and light shows that the trust has produced in the New Century.
“They’ve been wondering how to use that space to help the cultural district they’re trying to build on Hennepin Avenue,” said Hansen, who didn’t say whether he has a long-term address in mind. “We’d be a completely different offering. That appealed to me.”
As for “Rocket,” Hansen said he’s been thinking about Odets for a while. The playwright, a prominent progressive voice in the 1930s, is produced infrequently these days. Some of that is because his work often requires large casts but also because he wrote so specifically for the politics of his time. He can tend to feel dated.
“This is not a social-message play,” Hansen said. “It’s just a play about these seven people who he fell in love with as he was writing it.”
Hansen, last seen in “Freud’s Last Session” at the Guthrie, will play a dentist who starts an affair with his assistant (Jane Froiland). Others in the cast are Craig Johnson, Daisy Macklin Skarning and Edwin Strout.
“These characters face that thing where you fall into sleeping through life,” Hansen said. “They take a look their lives and try to see them differently.”
Gremlin will rearrange the New Century to create a tight 120-seat thrust stage. Ellen Fenster will direct, and Carl Schoenborn is doing sets and lights. Both are longtime Gremlin collaborators.
“Yeah, we’re getting the band back together again,” Hansen said.
7:30 p.m. Sat., Mon., Wed.-Thu., 4 p.m. Sun. Ends June 1, New Century Theatre in City Center, 615 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., $22-$25, 612-455-9501 or www.gremlin-theatre.org.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299