That's the image that sticks after seeing Beaverdance: a half-dozen actors in beaver costumes doing the virtual nasty with a burly voyageur. Throw in a pair of gay fur-trading bosses — and Karl Marx disguised as Santa Claus — and you have Bedlam Theatre's version of a Christmas dinner theater musical.[jump]
Our setting is the turn of the 19th century. Minnesota is still wild, with fur trappers and the native Ojibwe working to feed the insatiable need for beaver pelts, which will be converted to hats for European fashionistas.
The beavers are in trouble. They're being trapped faster than they can reproduce. But the heartless bosses only want more pelts. Hope arrives with the father of socialism, who convinces the beavers to unionize and take control of their fate.
This, naturally, doesn't sit well with land baron Robert Blaine and his new assistant, Loring Park, who have a don't-ask-don't-tell relationship on the side. Will the beavers take over the means of production? Will voyageur Jacques Brainerd and his Ojibwe girlfriend Bemidji make it to Paris and open a nightclub?
The piece, by Dan Pinkerton and Corrie Zoll (who also plays Santa Marx), dances deftly between the stridently serious and the deliciously deranged. Jokes about the "dialectic of musical theater" aside, the creators do have something to say about the overuse of natural resources and worker exploitation. And many beaver jokes, of course.
Despite some rough edges, Beaverdance mostly works due to a script that makes its points while having fun, and a cast willing to go wherever the silliness takes them. It's as much Groucho Marx as Karl Marx.
The key is a cast willing to go as deep as the material. That's true of the half-dozen actors who put on brown furry vests, as well as the epically flamboyant Ryan Patrick as Blaine, who steals one scene decked out in thigh-high boots and a red-leather dress.
The only bum note comes from Andrea Fairbanks as Bemidji, who often looks disinterested and embarrassed on stage, as if she's been forced into a regrettably wild night on the town.
That's too bad, because Bemidji could be a funny character, one with an important perspective on the serious issues that underpin the play.
IF YOU GO:
Beaverdance Bedlam Theatre 213 E. Fourth St., St. Paul; 651.209.0597 $18 for show; $35 for show and dinner 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday, plus Thursdays in December Through December 21