After presenting December shows about torture and power plays, Dark & Stormy has a show partially set in a sex shop and centered on a performer who plies her trade in a glass-sided booth.
“It is surprisingly funny,” says Dark & Stormy’s Sara Marsh, who plays the title character in Sunshine. “I really loved the script, and the role is great. It is a real challenge for me. I really love all of the characters, and it has an ambiguous ending, which I like. It’s something you will think about afterward. It’s not what you would think based on the description.”
Sunshine is the second time Dark & Stormy has tackled the work of William Mastrosimone this year, following Extremities. That is not coincidental.
“It is a different side of Bill Mastrosimone than in Extremities,” Marsh says. “Bill sent this play to me when we were doing Extremities. He sent it thinking it would be up our alley.”
Marsh got in touch with Nels Lennes. The pair had worked together at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and Marsh thought one of the roles would fit in well with Lennes skills.
The bulk of the play features Sunshine and a paramedic, Nelson. “I feel like he is someone who helps people. He doesn’t turn inward as much as he should. He keeps people at arms length emotionally, but also doesn’t let them be further than an arm’s length away. He is having a hard time at this particular time in his life,” Lennes says.
The role offers Lennes a fresh challenge. The actor is best known for improv — he is the artistic director at HUGE Improv Theater — and for his film and commercial work.
“It allows me to explore somebody who has an intensity to him, but at the same time it is funny. When you do improv, to be funny you have to be real underneath it. There are funny moments, but they are driven by very real moments,” Lennes says.
Tony Sarnicki fills out the cast as one of Sunshine’s young regular customers. His scenes serve as bookends to the show.
“My roles fits into the consumption of young people in sex and the sex world. There are young women who are involved, and there are the young men who want to consume it. They are culturally expected to consume it. What happens to them when it is their earliest exposure [to sex]? Rather than dealing with realities, they are dealing with fantasies,” Sarnicki says. “Robbie fits into this category. He is a young person who is naive and doesn’t have a good ability to cope with relationships.”
These topics, along with what Sarnicki calls the “nuts and bolts of sexuality,” are ones that people aren’t comfortable talking about. “You get this puritanical reaction from people. In doing this show we are looking at something that is sort of behind the curtain. We are actively pursuing it.”
The playwright, “has done a good job in the work itself. From the first read-through, it was clear where the comedy works and where we need to be more grounded and down to earth with the issues that come up,” says director Mel Day.
For Marsh, Sunshine is a vastly different role than the one she played in Extremities — one that offers fresh, intriguing challenges.
“She works in a porn house, but she doesn’t think she has a bad job,” Marsh says. “She’s not a dancer and not a stripper, though she does strip for some men. I would describe her as a conversationalist and a therapist. She really believes she is offering an important service. When someone comes into her booth, it is a not a raunchy, nasty, gross experience. She is like a psychiatrist. She talks about eyeballing a man and how to make them feel good. The scenes in the booth are not what you would expect from ‘she works in a porn house.’”
There is no nudity in these scenes. “It protects the audience enough that they are willing to consider what is going on. People are delicate when it comes to this, so it is very specific,” Marsh says.
IF YOU GO:
Through Jan. 9
Artspace Grain Belt Warehouse, Suite 202
77 13th AVe. NE., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-401-4506 or visit online.