Dear World offers look at work by new Jungle Theater head

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Janet Paone and JuCoby Johnson .

A quirk of scheduling means that Sarah Rasmussen’s Twin Cities directorial debut after taking over the Jungle won’t be seen at the Lyn-Lake theater. Instead, it will perform for prison audiences, community centers, and eventually the public at Open Book and Bedlam Lowertown.

Rasmussen was contracted to direct Dear World for Ten Thousand Things before she had even interviewed for the Jungle job. "I was glad they made it work with my schedule. They are a company I just love, and I wanted to see through my commitment to work with them,” she says.

Dear World is a Jerry Herman musical based on The Madwoman of Chaillot, a French satire written during World War II about a group of eccentrics who fight off a mob of evil industrialists bent on exploiting an oil reserve located beneath a beloved Parisian cafe.

In casting, Rasmussen pushed the idea of outsiders. “The story has a character called the Mute, who magically talks at the end. But I didn’t want to have a ‘magical’ minority member that just serves the play without being authentic,” she says.

For the role, she hired deaf actor Shawn Vriezen. “It’s the first time Ten Thousand Things has worked with a deaf actor in the room. He worked with a couple of interpreters, and I learned so much. There is such a different way of communicating,” Rasmussen says.

Some of those differences were discovered on the very first day of rehearsals, where the rest of the group realized that their habit of talking all at once or on top of each other made it difficult for Vriezen and his two interpreters to keep up in the conversations.

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The company of Ten Thousand Things' Dear World, which opens for the public this weekend.

“One person had to talk at a time. It makes you more aware of what you want to say and to reflect and listen before you speak. We were chagrined to find out how much we talk over each other and pile in on each other,” Rasmussen says.

Another performer, Janet Paone, “is an incredible singer and improv artist. She has extreme vision impairment. She sees the world in a completely different way. That was great in the room too. It’s one thing to say this is a group of really eccentric people with different perspectives, but it is more interesting to watch a person navigate with challenges. I am hoping this is something audiences also see,” Rasmussen says.

While the play was chosen quite some time ago, the Paris attacks in December brought the issues to the fore. “It really looks at the question of whether good can triumph over evil,” Rasmussen says. “That being said, both the original play and the musical felt a little sunny and easy. I think today we can’t ask these questions and have it be a completely black and white question. We worked to complicate the ending. At what cost can good really try to make a dent in what is evil?”

Don’t forget this is a musical, with one of the great tunesmiths providing the score. Musically, it is up to Peter Vitale (with some assists from the ensemble). 

“It is very lush and romantic and it is very inventive and whimsical," Rasmussen says. "Personally for me, I think it is really fun to do a musical that is not really seen or done.” 

IF YOU GO:

Dear World

Friday through Feb. 7

Open Book (Friday-Jan. 24; Feb. 4-7)

1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis

Bedlam Lowertown (Jan. 28-31)

213 E. Fourth St., St. Paul

$30

For tickets and more information, call 1-800-838-3006 or visit online.


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