A harsh wind sweeps across the plains, kicking up dust that gets in the eyes of drought-weary farmers. The pain they feel, both from the storm and their circumstances, is palpable.
For one family, the Stones, it all seems like more than they can bear. The mother (Isabel Nelson) dies, leaving behind her daughter, Ellie (Adelin Phelps), and husband, John (Derek Lee Miller). The dead woman’s sister, Abigail (Heather Bunch), who is always dragging on a cigarette, moves in with John and Ellie to try to make the family whole again even as the bank forecloses on neighbors all around them.
Everything will be lost, unless the rain comes.
This simple, straightforward narrative drives “Ash Land,” a company-devised work that opened over the weekend at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis. The show, by Transatlantic Love Affair, combines “Cinderella” with “The Rainmaker.” This 90-minute version is expanded by 50 percent from a popular Fringe Festival work.
What’s notable about “Ash Land” is that it is all told with just human bodies. The company does not use built sets or props. There is live musical accompaniment by steel guitarist Harper Zwicky that helps to set various moods for the actors, who work under the guidance of director Diogo Lopes. Using techniques from mime and dance, they shape their physical instruments into rocking chairs, a house, winds, doors, a vault, a refrigerator, farm implements, crops and most everything else. About the only thing, it seems, that they didn’t form in “Ash Land” is tumbling tumbleweeds.
And we, as engaged audience members, see it all vividly because the company plugs into our imaginations. Some theatergoers may feel cheated if they go to a show and it does not have a big set. After all, many have come to expect a honking set for the honking prices they have to pay to see shows.
But like Live Action Set and others before, Transatlantic Love Affair shows that you can tell a compelling tale with nothing more than harmonized voices and bodies. “Ash Land” recalls the thrills of campfire storytelling, where all manner of figments and dreams rise around the flames.