Theater review: The master storyteller in autumn

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2009 - 5:12 PM

It's nearly harvest time and Kevin Kling has brought a bushel of ripe tales for our enjoyment.

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Kevin Kling and friends (Clockwise from upper left, Kevin Kling, Michael Sommers, Simone Perrin, Michelle Kinney, and Jacqueline Ultan) return to Open Eye Figure Theatre.

Damn that Kevin Kling. Here in the coldest summer of our lives, on the cusp finally of a steamy weekend, he gets our heads turned to crisp fall evenings and ripe harvests. I don't want to give up my air mattress yet, or the hot energy of pretending we're still young. Kling chills all that with an autumnal reflection in his new show, "Flight." The inevitable tilt of the Earth's axis weighs on this work even as Kling and friends amuse with bittersweet stories, mournful tunes and spiritual understanding.

"Flight" took wing in poems that Kling wrote while recovering from a 2001 motorcycle accident. These "Bird Poems" have become songs performed by singer/accordion player Simone Perrin and cellists Jacqueline Ultan and Michelle Kinney. A red-winged blackbird becomes a swamp general with his orange epaulets ("there's something about a bird in uniform"). The music might find more texture and diversity within the minor-key melancholy of autumn, but Perrin charms with her adorable smile and a vocal style that belongs in a Parisian cabaret.

Occasionally during the evening, Michael Sommers appears to the side of the Open Eye stage like a mad scientist to tinker a scene with a marionette distinguished by a long winged arm.

Kling's tales, though, provide the spine (and heart) of this show and we are reminded again of how to tell a story. It's not about rhythms and cadences. It's about details -- bald eagles swooping upon a stringer of walleye, a tiny boy noticing his parents cry, a transient's toothless grin. The real work of Kling's stories was done years ago when his soul deeply understood how important it is to wonder why certain moments, regardless how mundane, have such meaning in our lives. Momentous things happen every day. Kling gets that.

His stories brim with mirth, and often conclude with devastating notes of sadness -- that is, reality.

So what does he talk about? Scrambling around boxcars on a rail ride to Seattle, where he learns Hobo Economics: When the cigarette butts you find on the ground are smoked short, there's a recession near. Then there is the society of misfits among disabled children at a Shriner's Hospital, where Kling spent his fourth birthday in quarantine. And he gushes with glee about flying with his father through the fog in a two-seat plane.

Kling says there are two kinds of ducks -- divers and dabblers. Dabblers cannot swim deeply but take flight easily. Divers go deep, but labor to take off. Kling says he was once a dabbler, flying at a moment's notice. It's tougher now for him to get airborne. But he can go much deeper.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

  • FLIGHT

    What: By Kevin Kling and friends.

    Where: Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Mpls.

    When: 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. today-Sun., 7:30 Mon. Tickets: $10-$15. 612-874-6338.

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