For its latest show, Girl Friday Productions decided to go big. Real big.
The company, whose past work includes stellar productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, turn to Elmer Rice's 1929 epic Street Scene. The slice-of-New-York-City-life play features more than 60 characters, and Girl Friday has lined up 26 actors to take on the various roles. The set (designed by Joel Sass) fills the Minneapolis Theater Garage. "We were disappointed that we couldn't go up," says Kirby Bennett, Girl Friday's artistic director and the producer of this production. "But we have been able to wide."
While the sheer scale of the show has provided plenty of challenges, the rewards have been great, Bennett says.
Rice won the Pulitzer Prize for his drama, which traces the lives of the residents of a New York City tenement. It's scale has made it a rarely played piece, but the basic themes--making a new life far from your old home; of adjusting, or not, to a new situation--still resonate strongly today.
The street scenes could have been drawn from the New York of today, or north Minneapolis, Bennett adds.
Director Craig Johnson--who has helmed numerous productions in the Twin Cities, including Our Town--not only dealt with the scale of the cast, but also working with the actors to bring out the nuances of their characters. His skill at blocking scenes and his gentle touch with characters was much appreciated by the performers. "He never told me how to do it," says Anne Sundberg, who plays one of the central characters.
Sundberg has found the process of finding her character to be a challenge, but director Johnson and the rest of the company have been there aiding her on the journey. When speaking last week, she said that the character, Rose, has finally clarified in her mind and performance.
For the actors, making the characters distinct--almost all of them are double cast or more--is important not just for the clarity of the show, but for bringing the spirit and the sense of bustling 1920s New York alive.
"You don't want New York mayo, you want New York salsa," says actor John Middleton.
A veteran of many Twin Cities stages including Girl Friday, Middleton has taken up the challenge of several characters here, including a cantankerous elderly Jewish radical.
The sheer number of characters and length of the show is "asking something of the audience. There's a lot to keep track of," Middleton says.
"It's a straight play that has a cast the size of a musical," notes actor Amanda Whisner.