Crane Theater opens with a flawed piece from Nimbus

'The Kalevala'

'The Kalevala' Matthieu Lindquist

Nimbus Theatre's impressive new venue in northeast Minneapolis is now officially open for business. It's an exciting moment for the company, and for the entire theater scene.

The Crane Theater

Unfortunately, the first work presented at the Crane Theater does not represent Nimbus at its best.

The Kalevala is an original adaptation of the classic collection of Finnish folklore. Liz Neerland's script starts with Väinämöinen (Jim Ahrens), who runs into trouble in the territory of northland witch Louhi (Kat Bix). To extract himself, Väinämöinen promises that metal maven Ilmarinen (Heidi Berg) will build the all-powerful Sampo for Louhi.

That leads to the smith befriending Louhi's daughter Ansa (Nissa Nordland Morgan), whose mom doesn't appreciate her running away from home. The witch and her minion Soppy Hat (Brian Hesser) set out to retrieve Ansa, after delivering a blow to the questing Lemminkäinen (Nicholas Nelson). A battle at sea will determine the fate of the world -- whatever world this story is set in.

Inspired by Neil Gaiman's American Gods (according to a program note), Neerland and director Josh Cragun transport these mythic tales to a new land, where the epic heroes seem uneasy. There's a frustrating lack of specificity, though. For all we can tell, the setting is just a steampunk Finland.

The obscene, irreverent dialogue seems to be aiming for Tarantino, but the outrageous exchanges in movies like Pulp Fiction work because they're grounded in closely observed characters. Here, Kalevala cast members fail to establish distinctive personalities. They're not tortured, they're testy. Everyone's just stomping around swearing. Before getting started on the Sampo, Ilmarinen should have forged a coffeemaker.

The most fully realized aspect of the production is its design. The new space already houses a full-fledged stage, which scenic designer Zach Morgan fills with a forest of twisted metal. A mountain-range backdrop has topography that can be rearranged by cast members between scenes, indicating changes of milieu.

There's also an assortment of striking inventions by property designer Ursula K. Bowden and puppeteer Rob Roberts III. They're awkwardly introduced, though, in a production that relies heavily on blackouts that sap the story's momentum. The necessity of having onstage, costumed actors alternate between playing their characters and operating the props adds to the production's unfocused quality, as do decisions like having one actor whose character dies quickly return to play a different character, with only a very slight costume change.

Music is part of the mix, with Luke Tromiczak contributing an appropriately sweeping score. The characters occasionally express themselves in resonant song, leading to the show's best moment, one that shows what this Kalevala might have been. With the sun having been plucked from the sky, Ahrens tries to call it back with a few stirring verses delivered in a voice that makes the bleachers shake. When the song ends, though, the sun has failed to appear. The Nordic superman pauses for a beat, and then vents his frustration: "Fuck!"