Sometimes, you just have to laugh at the mess you're in. "The War Within/All's Fair" offers 80 minutes of clowning, burlesque and crazy talk about the turmoil and polarization of our society. The show, produced by the Moving Company, opened Friday at the Southern Theater.
Company principals Dominique Serrand, Steve Epp and Nathan Keepers first developed this work with University of Minnesota students last year. This version adds new material derived from workshops and scripted material by playwright Cory Hinkle.
The show draws its strength from buffoonery. Keepers fiddles around the stage as a blue-collar laborer who irritates his co-workers and occasionally gets up on his soapbox. Jon Ferguson plays a boss out of the "Dilbert" genre. He wears a large therapeutic neck collar (those collars are funny!) and a mismatched set of clothes. Suzanne Warmanen goes ditzy, with a spiky tiara made of pencils stuck in her bun. Four young performers pitch in with great physical quirkiness.
"War Within" offers nothing revelatory -- no deep, biting satire or profound ideological critique on the world's sorry state of affairs. Perhaps there is deeper symbolism in the phony accents and rants about this or that, but to take a stab at what it all means would be useless. And it would miss the point.
The commentary is in the pure enjoyment of performance. Dance breaks and songs jump to life; the clowning pantomimes have the precision and absurdity of the old Ernie Kovacs stuff. A dead-guy "Weekend at Bernie's" bit with string-bean actor Sam Kruger is hilariously wrought. Christian Bardin, Haley Carneol and Peter Lincoln Rusk each bring distinct gifts to the party.
Ferguson, who has made his mark as a director in the Twin Cities, shows off a keen physical awareness of himself. How he cocks his head, peers through thick glasses and officiously snaps his fingers are all part of a carefully wrought characterization. Keepers' stage persona has that simple-man charm -- the uniformed and opinionated dolt whom you just can't dislike. Warmanen stays ridiculous but never gets out over her skis too far.
Part of the joy here is to see Serrand, Epp and Keepers instilling the old Jeune Lune spirit into a new generation of actors. That certainly elevates us out of the current muck.