When Alcina's Island: A Picnic Operetta kicked off last Saturday afternoon at Eat Street Gardens just off of Nicollet Avenue, it attracted more than just the 100-plus folks waiting to get into the show. Neighbors peeked outside or stood across the street to watch the hubbub, and a few passing cars even stopped to watch.
That's no surprise, as the players from Mixed Precipitation took over the street for a few minutes, setting the stage with bright costumes, homemade props, and a bright mix of traditional opera and country-western music. That continued inside the garden proper, as the company presented a delightful blending of music, theater, and food for the packed-to-the-gills house.
The piece takes its cues from Handel's 1735 opera, which is based on Ludovico Ariosto's epic poem. Scotty Reynolds's adaptation remixes all of this with country music, moves the action to an Oasis truck stop, and turns the hero from a questing knight into a long-haul trucker.
On the island, Alcina has trapped the souls of many travelers, transforming them into the plants, animals, and even stones that make up the lush environs. It doesn't take long for our hero to fall under Alcina's thrall, but it takes his questing lover to finally make it all right.
The free mixing of different musical styles works remarkably well, as Handel's outsized emotions twin excellently with country classics from the likes of George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
The performers are up to the tasks as well, including Jameson Jon Baxter's Ruddy, a man of the road who is captured by Alcina's charms. Molly Pan proves to be the real hero as Bradamante, whose search for Ruddy leads her to rescue all of the poor souls of the island. The most remarkable performance comes from Laura Hynes Smith, who is terrific as Alinca, with her late-show aria the real highlight of the play.
The staging isn't the only attraction here. The show is subtitled as an "edible opera," and a five-course sampling menu was available. Chef Nick Schneider provided an intriguing mix of Mediterranean and American styles, starting with an tasty open-faced tomato-and-cheese sandwich and running through a couple of fruit-based dishes (a watermelon/feta/mint combo was my favorite), and a hot-pepper jerky. Add in a beautiful Saturday (some things are out of everyone's control), and you have a great afternoon of theater and food.
Alcina's Island continues through October 1 at various outside locations throughout the Twin Cities' area. Visit www.mixedprecipitation.org for locations and times or call 612.619.2112 for more info.