No-frills Ten Thousand Things succeeds again

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Luverne Seifert and Sha Cage

"There are six actors," production manager Nancy Waldoch told an audience last week. "Two of them play multiple characters. One plays the wind, and one plays a house." Okay, then.

The Changelings

Open Book
$30; pay-what-you-can for those under 30

Playwright Kira Obolensky wrote The Changelings for Ten Thousand Things, the third in a series of "Town Tales" she's crafted specifically for the no-frills company and its nontraditional audiences. She knows the group can pull this stuff off, and not everyone could.

The laser-like focus of Ten Thousand Things' actors — who perform in the round, with the house lights up, and just a few props to serve as a set — means that when the wind (Kimberly Richardson) whispers, you listen, and when the house (Kurt Kwan) talks, you take him seriously.

So does Goat (Sha Cage), who lives in the house in the fictional town of Threadsville with her husband Freshface (Luverne Seifert) and their adult daughter Sister (Joy Dolo). A fourth member of the family, son Otto, ran off 23 years ago, presumed dead until a man (Ricardo Vazquez) claiming to be the lost son presents himself at the betting club Freshface runs with his protégé Sharp (Kwan).

Goat embraces her prodigal son with open arms, but Freshface has his reservations — until the newcomer proves to have a knack for picking the winners of horse races. Sharp becomes jealous, and so does Freshface's mistress Trixie (Richardson). Is it true that "Otto" was held captive by goblins, or is he an imposter? If it's the latter, what does he want with this near-penniless family?

For all its deliberately messy edges, Obolensky's play is ultimately a tidy parable about the power of hope and forgiveness. It's a satisfying story, and the top-notch cast, in typical Ten Thousand Things fashion, doesn't miss a single opportunity to mine the material for humor and pathos.

Cage and Seifert send each other on flights of frustration, but know how to come back to earth. Kwan and Dolo, protectors of their elders, have a nice chemistry together. Vazquez keeps us guessing as to Otto's provenance, and Richardson just about steals the show as the seductive but pathetic Trixie. Director Michelle Hensley holds the production in perfect balance and the actors pay close attention to one another, so that we believe these odd archetypes all exist in the same universe together.

With a show like this, Ten Thousand Things has reached a point where the company's works are almost review-proof. Hensley and her team know how to do this so well that watching them work is like watching a veteran juggler: an artist who's learned how to do something enormously difficult, and to make it look effortless. The truth is, of course, that achieving this level of mastery takes years and years of enormous effort. Threadsville wasn't built in a day.

IF YOU GO:

The Changelings
Open Book
1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
Through June 5; 800.838.3006



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