A recent trip to the inspiration of Willa Cather's My Antonia has given director Michael Robins a new perspective on the novel, and the stage adaptation that he helped create for Illusion Theater in 2010.
"We stopped at the sites of the places she used in the book. The area around Red Cloud is full of the family farms. We'll be able to get it right into the performance," Robins said last week as the company prepared to present My Antonia at the Red Cloud Opera House for the 2014 Willa Cather Spring Conference in Nebraska.
The remounted production returns to the Twin Cities this weekend, with a special run at the the Lab at the Lowry Building in St. Paul.
Bringing the show to Nebraska, and making a return engagement in Minnesota, was a natural fit for the production. "When we first did it, several people from the Willa Cather Foundation had seen it, and we've been trying to figure out how to get it [to Nebraska]," Robins says.
The conference performance allowed Illusion to completely remount the work for a smaller, black-box space. "We did a few minor edits in the script, and the cast is a completely new company," Robins says.
Cather's novel centers on Jim, a now-middle-aged man returning to his hometown for the first time in decades. The story is told through his boyhood memories, especially those of Antonia, a Czech immigrant who was his constant companion growing up.
The original production was a hit, and earned Illusion a pair of Ivey Awards. The company for the 2014 edition includes Delta Giordano, Anna Hickey, Dan Hopman, Zach Keenan, Rebecca Leiner, Ryan Patrick, and Andrea San Miguel.
"It's a new production with different energy and different people," Robins says. And the new location is also important. "It's a much more intimate space. You are part of the show in a much more connected way."
Music, composed by Roberta Carlson, is also an important element for My Antonia. "It's a beautiful score," Robins says. "It evokes the prairie and the land as it is so present in the book. The narrator and the music will help you feel like you are on the prairie."
IF YOU GO:
Friday through June 28
The Lab at the Lowry Building
350 Saint Peter St., St. Paul
For tickets and more information, call 612.339.4944 or visit online.