Tackling Elmer Rice's "Street Scene" is like doing a show with the population of a Polynesian island. It's not just that the 60 or so characters are more than most theaters have in an entire season. The challenge is to meet the epic ambition of a work that is both symbolic and real.
"Scene" is peopled by metaphors, with poor, struggling immigrants who are still considered ethnic in its 1929 setting, including the Scandinavian Olsens, the Italian Fierentinos and the Jewish Kaplans. It's also a domestic drama that plays out in the streets and front stoops of New York walk-ups.
The main story line concerns Anna Maurrant (Kirby Bennett), whose distant husband, Frank (Bob Malos), is a brute. Anna wants affection. Frank does not provide it. She seeks warmth from milkman Steve Sankey (blithe Dan Hopman), to tragic effect.
Meanwhile, the Maurrants' daughter, Rose (Anna Sundberg in a gorgeous turn), and their Jewish neighbor Sam (Logan Verdoorn, with a studious passion) have a mutual attraction. Their relationship is complicated by religious differences and the fact that Rose's boss has taken an interest in her.
In some ways, director Craig Johnson, whose freeze-framed scenes come to life, succeeds. His production of this Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opened over the weekend at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, is often poignant.
You can see how "Street Scene," which Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes turned into an opera, prefigures much community-focused theatrical history, from "Fiddler on the Roof" (1964) to "In the Heights." As played by Malos, a leering Frank Maurrant is an ancestor to Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Bennett's long-suffering Anna is so Stella.
The 24-member cast includes a funny Ellen Apel as nosy neighbor Emma Jones.
"Scene" has a major omission in the American narrative, which Johnson fills in by introducing a black couple in Muslim garb (Byron Adams and Indira Addington).
Johnson's often nimble staging, for Girl Friday productions, uses the Theatre Garage to good effect. The second-act climax, with all its sturm und drang, is well-executed.
Still, the third act feels coda-like, and could be eliminated. Also, the New York immigrant accents wax and wane. On Friday, when I saw it, an Italian character suddenly lapsed into a Southern accent. I watched the other actors around him to see if they could stay composed. They did, maintaining the air of a colorful and see-worthy "Street Scene."
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390