Photos courtesy Open Eye Figure Theatre
For his latest project, To The Moon, Open Eye Figure Theatre's Michael Sommers will be stepping away from puppets.
That doesn't mean the heightened sense of reality -- and unreality -- that marks his work has gone away. As those with a knowledge of 1950s television may guess, the show is a riff on The Honeymooners, though one seen through a distinct Open Eye lens.
"This is a great opportunity to do theater with a capital 'T.' We have gun shots. Theater should be all these things you don't see every day," Sommers says.
Sommers stresses that The Honeymooners is just the starting point for the show. "It's not a mimic. It's drawn from the archetypes and stereotypes of the characters," he says. "How do you make a comedy into a tragedy? I looked at a lot of the Greeks. What happens after everyone comes back from exile?"
Sommers has worked with playwright Josef Evans on the show. "I had the idea for the project, and got the cast together. I knew Joe's work from Bedlam and I wanted a playwright in the room," Sommers says.
"We just talked about the concept and ideas. We were looking through these Greek plays and finding parallels that we could explore deeper. We kind of developed a framework, and then came into the rehearsal process and let it take off from there. Everyone in the cast is so exceptional, so we let it have room to be built," Evans says.
Four women take on the roles from the show: Maren Ward, Kimberly Richardson, Annie Enneking, and Emily Zimmer. As with the staging and script, the idea for the actors was not to do a copy of the likes of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, but inhabit a similar world.
"We had a strong backbone of the play, but what they bring to it physically and character-wise has been amazing," Sommers says.
"It's been an interesting challenge for the actors. It's a clash between comedy and tragedy and the styles coming right up against each other in the piece. We do have some of the language that is directly from the Greek plays," Evans says. "The interesting thing about these sitcom characters is that by nature they are kind of one dimensional. They are finding more weight behind the kinds of things that happen."
All of this has been a thrill for the playwright. "As a playwright, it has been a cool experience. Bedlam is so collaborative. The shows there have been built out of knowing who the actors were. It is nice to have a similar energy in terms of collaboration," Evans says.
How the last piece of the puzzle -- the audience -- will react is a thrill the creators can't wait to face.
"It will be interesting to see audience reactions. I think it will be different every night. There are things that are hilarious or horrifying. It may be that people react very differently to what they are seeing onstage," Evans says.
To The Moon
Open Eye Figure Theatre
506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis
Friday through March 10
For tickets and information, call 612-874-6338 or visit online.