Playwright Heidi Arneson takes audiences to a 1865 Christmas celebration in Cold Enough to Freeze Your Shadow to the Ground. The piece follows a family of Scandinavian homesteaders living in a sod house on the Minnesota prairie. With ghosts and a real candle-lit Christmas tree featuring homemade ornaments, the show aims to find joy during the darkest time of year.
The play was first commissioned by the Science Museum in 1984. Arneson was working there as an actress, and she wrote the piece while pregnant with her daughter. “I gave birth to my daughter in November, and performed the play three weeks later with her in my arms,” she says.
The show was featured for many years at the Science Museum. Then, in 2007, she presented the play at the People’s Center Theatre. This turned out to be a good fit in that the piece’s themes struck a chord with the immigrant clientele that frequented the Cedar Riverside People’s Center, where the theater was based.
Now Arneson is bringing the work back, this time to HeidiHouse, a small performance space in the attic of her home. It’s the first full-cast production for the venue, and much of the original crew is part of the show. For instance, Richard Rousseau, who played Arneson’s husband in the first production, is back, as is Arneson’s daughter.
To write the play, Arneson used various historical resources to research life in sod houses. These were used during the era of the Homestead Act, in which the U.S. government would allow people to farm on 160 acres. If they stuck it out long enough, the land would be theirs.
“It was a very difficult time,” Arneson says. “There was a lot of death by sickness, fires by locusts, hardship on the land, and a lot of tragedy.” Yet despite all of that, “families made with their hands a way to celebrate.” The piece is a way to honor that hope and joy during such a dark time.
The impetus for bringing the play back came about because of the recent hubbub around immigration. “Most of us are immigrants,” she says. “We come from people who left their land due to hardship and came here.”
The piece is filled with “all the layers of emotions that happen during the holidays,” Arneson says. This includes quite a bit of humor. There are also some ghosts in the show. “I really feel the holidays are layered with ghosts of losses,” she says.
The play is under an hour, and there will be live music before and after by John Plomondon and Holiday.
IF YOU GO:
7 p.m. January 2, 3, 9, & 10
1916 S. Eighth St., Minneapolis
To make reservations, call 612.333.6816 or email [email protected]