Recreating a chilly winter's night onstage at the Open Eye Figure Theatre wouldn't have been all that difficult last Friday, as the actual temperature outside plunged below zero. Convincing an audience that they were enjoying a warm afternoon in Mexico? That took skill.
And in Muy Very Authentico, the latest company-driven work from Jon Ferguson's Theater Forever, escapism is the name of the game. As the audience is transported, so are the characters.
Absurdist to the core, Muy Very Authentico tells the tale of a down-on-its-heels travel agency that doesn't actually take its customers anywhere. The rare customer comes in, is interviewed, and then drugged. Instead of something more nefarious, like, say, waking up in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney removed, these customers are taken to a dreamland to play out their fantasies.
MUY VERY AUTHENTICO Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis Through Dec. 15; 1-800-838-3006
The concept gives the company a loose framework to ply their trade, an arena where physical comedy rams into an examination of our expectations and dreams.
Each of the characters comes with a different quest: to find love, to experience an adventure, or to indulge in some soul-searching. Their dreams are big, and the operators of Dream Suevos aim to give them what they came for — or some approximation thereof. Alex Hathaway's character, for example, dreams of adventure, which his hosts provide via a throw-down with a bunch of lucha-libre-like masked fighters.
The plot takes a turn for the sincere with the introduction of a couple who took the Dream Suevos trip 20 years before — and have been hiding out in the fantasy ever since. This duo is there to gum up the works, by offering the tourists a simpler solution to their hopes: the realization that what they seek is already inside of them.
In Hathaway's case, for instance, the couple shows him how he — as a school nurse — is already a hero to legions of little kids. Somehow, moments like these make Muy Very Authentico among the most genuinely heartwarming shows in the current flurry of holiday productions.
Hathaway's performance is a real standout here. His lanky, loose-limbed look merges perfectly with a giddy, childlike joy in performing. The rest of the acting company is also up the task, from fellow tourists Lauren Ray Anderson and Charlotte Calvert and Dream Suevos guides Allison Witham and Jason Rojas to the wisdom-dispensing couple, Katie Kaufmann and Brant Miller.
The mood is accented by traditional and original music performed by several members of the cast, including Kalen Keir and Francisco Benavides. The two also get a chance to put on the wrestler masks and strip down to their briefs, showcasing just how much of an ensemble piece this is.
Absurdism is territory Ferguson has played with throughout his years in the Twin Cities, from work with his own theater to turns at the Guthrie, Live Action Set, and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Mix that with the talents of the company and you have a real cohesion and drive, all the way down to the show's final, simple, moving moments.
There are some serious issues at play here. But everything is handled with such a bright, winking vibe that these insights are more likely to strike you on the cold ride home rather than interrupt the warm fun in the theater.