The history of Walking Shadow Theatre, one of the best of the small companies, runs through the hearts of co-founders Amy Rummenie and John Heimbuch, who first met at Richfield High School. The pair, who reconnected at Mankato State University and later married, joined up with David Pisa in 2004 for an entry in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. That inaugural show was “The Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen,” a costume drama set in 1720 London and written by Heimbuch.
It served as an announcement of the ambition of a company whose name comes from a fatalistic lament by Shakespeare’s guilt-wracked king, Macbeth: “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more.”
The company has honored the sober intelligence in those lines by doing provocative, morally ambiguous fare. Its list of high-caliber shows includes such caustic Neil LaBute dramas as “reasons to be pretty,” “Some Girl(s)” and “Fat Pig.”
Like most small companies, it has extended its meager resources — the company produces several plays annually on a $95,000 budget — by ingenuity and grunt work.
Its efforts have not gone unnoticed. The 2012 production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” which was directed by Heimbuch, won an Ivey Award for overall excellence. Rummenie directed a “nearly perfect” version of “Eurydice” last fall, per Star Tribune critic Graydon Royce.
“We see ourselves as a mini-Jungle — we look longingly at their seasons,” said Rummenie before a recent rehearsal of “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” that she is directing at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.
Moisés Kaufman’s play, about Wilde’s trials over his sexual orientation, is opening just as the Supreme Court is weighing marriage equality.
“Timing, eh?” said Rummenie.
During a recent rehearsal, the arguments in the play, which premiered in 1997, seemed quaint. “No one could have imagined the speed with which things would change,” she continued.
“Starting a small theater company allows us to use every theater muscle that we have,” Rummenie said. “And for us, that’s a little bit of heaven.”
And, sometimes that opposite place as well.