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Mu Performing Arts’ nonlinear story hinders character development

Photo by Rich Ryan

Photo by Rich Ryan

The program for The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up comes with a guide to the characters’ ages in each of the 14 different scenes: 38, 9, 24, 15, 28, and so on. It would also have been useful for Mu Performing Arts to have included a scorecard, so we could keep track of all the good and the bad things Di and Max do to, for, and with each other over the course of the play’s 29-year time span.

While the fractured timeline keeps things hopping throughout Carla Ching’s new play, it makes it hard for us to really get to know these characters. The scenes average only five or six minutes apiece, which means that by the time Ching establishes the setting for each and delivers a dose of exposition, it’s time to whisk everyone back into the time machine.

As an audience member, you start to feel a little like Kurt Vonnegut’s George Bergeron, whose society handicaps his intelligence by sounding a loud noise in his ears every time he starts to have a complex thought. It’s unfortunate, because Ching has created two sympathetic characters you’d like to understand better.

In director Randy Reyes’ production, they’re charmingly embodied by Sun Mee Chomet (Di) and Sherwin Resurreccion (Max). The two actors have a warm rapport that easily slides back and forth between friendship and romance, as the characters’ relationship evolves over the decades.

Chronologically, we first meet Max and Di at age nine, playing together while their parents canoodle. They’re not siblings, though, and their parents aren’t married — at least, not to each other. Their parents’ relationship continues on and off for years, as the children’s does in tandem.

Set designer Sarah Brandner has filled the Rarig Center’s arena stage with piles of cardboard boxes. They alternately serve as bars, snowbanks, restaurant tables, and, yes, cardboard boxes, as we ricochet through the years. We learn about Di’s bursts of artistic creativity, and Max’s gambling problem. We hear about the characters’ romantic relationships with others, which are so much less salient than the bond they share together that at one point Max gives Di a passionate kiss by way of sending her down the aisle to wed another man.

There’s a lot of territory to explore here, but the play’s structure makes it impossible to peg these two. Is Max an anxious introvert, or a confident extrovert? Is Di an impetuous free spirit, or the rock who supports her friend both emotionally and financially? The answers, it seems, are yes, yes, yes, and yes: Di and Max, like all of us, are different people at different times. The lack of consistency, though, makes it hard to settle in and relate to these characters.

The unseen parents have given these Kids That Blow Shit Up a bumpy ride through life, and the kids turn right around and do the same to the audience. There’s a certain poetry to that.

IF YOU GO:

The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up
Mu Performing Arts at Rarig Center
330 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis
651-789-1012; through September 18