Kevin Kling wasn’t ready to call “On Stage With Kevin Kling” a final testament of his work for future generations.
“I know what you mean, because it feels like this is a mature point in my journey, but I have a lot of work ahead of me,” Kling said.
In fact, as Kling spoke by phone about this new book from Minnesota Historical Society Press, he was also cranking out pages for “Gulliver Unraveled,” a new show that will be presented next weekend at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.
“Have you seen who I’ve got working in this one?” Kling said, ticking off the names of actor/singers Christina Baldwin and Bradley Greenwald, singer/songwriter Chastity Brown and Dan Chouinard, who does some of all that.
“Man, I’m so excited,” he said.
Kling has been excited for 30 years, just as his audiences have been for this favorite Twin Cities storyteller, playwright and actor. He has two new books out this fall — “Big Little Mother,” a picture book with artist Chris Monroe, and “On Stage,” which collects three plays, plus excerpts from other works and poems.
With lots of photos and commentary from Kling, the book feels like an essential deposit of his work. (Dramatic pause.) Or maybe it’s just a way to recycle old work and squeeze out some more value.
“That’s pretty much what I did with my other books,” Kling said, amused at the suggestion. “I like that method.”
Kling has been an artist in residence at the Fitzgerald for three years. His first creation in that capacity, “Scarecrow on Fire” from 2010, is included in this book. The other two are “21A,” which he first performed in 1984 as an homage to the quirky characters he observed on the Selby-Lake MTC bus route, and “The Ice Fishing Play,” a meditation on what it means to be alone on a sheet of ice with the cold and the gray sky as companions. The plays represent Kling in three different decades and in three different dramatic voices.
“21A, that bus got me around the world,” he said. “It’s a form people recognize now, but at the time, it was pretty rare.”
Spalding Gray and Lily Tomlin were doing dramatic monologues in the 1980s but “21A” is intended as a play, eight monologues in a row, about a specific 10-minute ride down Lake Street. Talking about the play got Kling in a nostalgic mood.
“I was at the Playwrights’ Center at the time, with Steve Dietz, August Wilson, Lee Blessing, John Olive,” he said. “I played softball with those guys. August would always show up in his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. Boy, he could hit the ball.”
“The Ice Fishing Play” comes from 1994 and shows Kling embracing the mythology of this Minnesota pastime. “That was a voyage to a bit of a darker world, sort of letting the ghosts in the closet get to work,” he said.
“Scarecrow” comes from a new era in Kling’s career, the residency at the Fitzgerald with larger-scale music accompaniment and the producing muscle of Minnesota Public Radio behind him. It also is the one play in the book that was written after a 2001 motorcycle accident that left Kling without the use of his right arm.
“I’m as proud of ‘Scarecrow’ as I am the other ones,” he said. “It was about trauma and loss. Dorothy’s head injury when she propellers into Oz changes her, and when you sustain a head injury, it can come back later in life.
“For her, Oz wants her back, so I used these familiar characters to explore this girl’s journey. It doesn’t have to do with disability, but it’s about loss and what you go through. That was a struggle.”
Graydon Royce writes about theater and culture for the Star Tribune.