This is what's great about Twin Cities theater. Yes, the downtown palaces can dazzle with Broadway tours and the Guthrie can attract national talent to produce the classics. But if you can afford a single ticket to either of those venues, you might consider grabbing two or three friends and spending the same amount of coin to sample a distinctly different flavor — the rich, old-world stew served by Open Eye Figure Theatre in south Minneapolis.
Company co-founder Michael Sommers has remounted his small 2012 jewel "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," and it remains as sweet and mythically charming as it ever was. Sommers and his collaborators have crafted an exquisite 60-minute show that uses a dozen tools from the toy box of figure theater.
Marionettes are crisply manipulated, shadow puppets dance across the stage, projections and lights create little cameos of mystery. Masked humans become giants in this miniature universe. It is such a cliché to say, but the images of these characters instantly convey a thousand words of exposition.
Wash away the memories of Mickey Mouse marching buckets and mops through Disney's animation. Nothing wrong with Walt's stuff, but this is a different piece of art that Sommers and his mates — fans of Middle European puppetry — have adorned with their imaginations.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 18th-century poem concerns a lad who loses control of a situation once he invokes his master's magical powers — powers he does not yet understand. If you want to get all heady about it, the apprentice represents youth's brash sense of its own immortality and also the intoxicating temptation to seize authority before studying and appreciating the responsibility of adulthood.
The message of this slim story, though, relies on the telling, and Open Eye's tiny production, which opened Friday, is huge in its creation of a comprehensive fairy tale world. Sommers and Kurt Hunter have built and engineered sharp little marionettes who dance to life through the work of Kalen Keir, Kat Luna, Rick Miller and Liz Schachterle. Eric Jensen wrote simple but terribly evocative music to accompany the show.
Michael Murnane's lighting and Sean Healey's sound design complete a stage vocabulary dependent on image more than any words.
The result can be delightful, yet so realistic that at times it might frighten a small child (in fact, it's recommended for ages 8 and up).
The apprentice's journey to knowledge and wisdom can be a dark affair. But the magic, the relish of play and the knowledge that this small work of art is part of our community can be most satisfying.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune theater critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.