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H2O Heads to the Cultural Divide

Ashley Rose Montondo and Peter Christian Hansen

Ashley Rose Montondo and Peter Christian Hansen

Over the past couple of decades, one of the more intriguing questions in theater has been: Who is Jane Martin?

The mysterious playwright offers her (or his, or their) plays anonymously, all the while poking at the tender parts of the American psyche.

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"I prefer not to guess," says Gremlin Theatre's Peter Christian Hansen when asked about the playwright's identity. Hansen co-stars with Ashley Rose Montondo in Martin's H2O, which opens Friday at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.

"It's really not important to me who she really is," adds director Ellen Fenster. "It's kind of a fun mystery."

"The world needs more fun mysteries, so I'll be sad if this one ever gets cracked," Hansen says.

The play looks at the relationship between Jake, a wild-living Hollywood actor about to make his Broadway debut in Hamlet, and Deborah. She would be a perfect Ophelia, but her conservative Christian values cut right across Jake.

Hansen learned of the play from Mixed Blood's Jack Reuler, who has produced a number of Martin plays in the past. "He had worked on it, and thought it would be great for Gremlin to do. I read it and it was challenging and relevant and fun. I sent it off to Ellen to see if she would like it," he says.

"I read it on the beach in Wisconsin. For the first third I thought, 'What is going on here? Is this play trying to offend us?' As I read it, I saw that the play was really talking about two different value systems that are on the extreme ends of our culture," Fenster says.

While the play looks at the divide between left and right, religious and not, the company stresses it is not an "issue" play. "I hate issue plays. I am instantly turned off. This play brings us into the fold of these two fascinating people. The heat happens when they rub against each other," Hansen says.

"[Martin's play] cleverly sets up the audience so they are going to want to take sides. They will want to relate more to one of the value systems," Fenster says. The play, however, offers a much more complex portrait of each character. That means one person you may side with early on doesn't look nearly as good later in the show.

"It's a challenging play. Two-handers are exciting, but it is hard to stay fresh and engaging all the way through," Hansen says.

As most of the rehearsals have only involved the two actors and directors, "there isn't a buffer. It has made it awkward during the kissing scenes," Fenster says.

Montondo found pieces within Deborah to start her character. "At first, it was easy to think of her as being one-dimensional, because her faith is so strong. She has as much doubt about her life as Jake. I could relate to her because she is a woman who just needs to persevere," she says.

"I think they are both after something, and they can both be their own worst enemy," Hansen says. "They are ultimately looking for something that is beyond themselves."

IF YOU GO:

H2O Friday through June 27 Minneapolis Theatre Garage 711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis $25-$30 For tickets and more information, visit online.