Open Eye's 'Constance' is a gentle tale about hard truths

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Image courtesy event organizers

You can wish on the North Star — but good luck with that, since it's a self-immolating ball of gas 433 light years away. That's one of the many inconvenient truths Constance is too honest with herself to ignore, much as she might like to, in Constance in the Darkness.

Constance In the Darkness: A Musical in Miniature

Open Eye Figure Theatre
$15-$20; $12 kids

Playwright/composer Josef Evans wrote Open Eye Figure Theatre's new musical, conceived in collaboration with the company's artist-in-residence Michael Sommers. Evans, known for past collaborations with Open Eye, the zAmya Theater Project, and Bedlam Theatre, could be called the Charlie Kaufman of Twin Cities theater: His consistently clever writing blends the poignant and the absurd.

Here, Evans takes the trope of the metaphorical fantasy quest and strips away the introductory exposition, so initially we're as curious about the nature of Constance's quest as we are about whether it will succeed. The character is played by the adult Emily Zimmer, but with a childlike reverie. Her mom is missing, and abbreviated phone calls somehow fail to solve the mystery. What's going on?

On the prowl through Sommers's cabinet-of-curiosities set, Constance finds four toy characters who ultimately spring to life (or, in the case of a plastic talking unicorn, at least to life-size). Maren Ward, quickly swapping costumes, plays both the wicked Queen Harmonica and the bumbling but faithful teddy bear Bobo. Jay Owen Eisenberg delights in the role of the Queen's twinkle-toed accomplice Lamby Lamb, with Anna Johnson and Rick Miller filling out the singing-and-dancing ensemble.

Ward, a veteran theater artist who runs zAmya and co-founded the now-defunct Bedlam, has recently been delivering some of the most fearless performances to be seen on local stages. She was a force of nature in Walking Shadow's Hatchet Lady (2017), and here, playing five different characters, she hits every note on a range from showboating villain to gentle naturalism. Her confused and self-deprecating Bobo is a macabre but empathetic creation, literally falling apart at the seams: imagine if Eeyore went into a downward spiral, and you'll have some idea of where Bobo's at.

The characters' offbeat exploits pause occasionally for Disney-pastiche songs by Evans, who simultaneously celebrates and mocks the notion that we can find relief in redemptive narratives. The show is amusing, but everything's a little scruffy and dark. The reason for that aesthetic becomes clear when a younger version of Constance appears (three child actors rotate in the role), and suddenly we discover her journey's heartbreaking destination.

It would hardly be Open Eye if there weren't a few trap doors and unexpected appearances, but this show's surprises don't hinge on things that go bump in the dark. The props and costumes, particularly an asymmetrical bear suit constructed by Marge Newman, are full of details that draw you into Constance's troubled world.

The show is appropriate for kids around age eight or nine and up: a couple of young audience members on Thursday night were doing a lot of delighted giggling. It will challenge them, though, both with the solvable puzzle of Constance's quest and with the unsolvable mystery of why a darkness falls over some lives sooner than others. It's in that darkness, this moving production reminds us, that the stars come out.

IF YOU GO:

Constance in the Darkness
Open Eye Figure Theatre
Through March 11

 


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