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Picnic Operetta returns with a tale of gentrification, politics, and pop songs

Jaffa Aharonov

Jaffa Aharonov

Philemon & Baucis has some beautiful music, an impenetrable plot, muddy social themes, and a lot of ridiculous costumes. In other words, it’s an opera. Specifically, it’s a “picnic operetta,” mixing the songs of Queen with a 1773 opera composed (for marionettes!) by Joseph Haydn.

Mixed Precipitation’s annual outing to the parks and gardens of Minnesota deploys a rough-and-ready portable production in the service of a maximalist aesthetic that discovers, via outrageous theatricality, common ground between pop rock and opera.

You may have forgotten, if you ever even knew, that Queen contributed songs to the 1980 film adaptation of Flash Gordon. Mixed Precipitation is here to remind you, with Flash’s theme recurring throughout the show as an anthem for the gods Jupiter (Isaac Bont) and Mercury (Maddie Neal). In this production, the duo cruise through space saving planets and hoping to be rewarded with beer. There’s no booze for the spectators, but we do get a sample of “Tang-bucha” in tribute to the Mercury Seven’s preferred fruit-flavored drink.

The script, adapted by Scotty Reynolds, is of two minds about trendy teas and organic vegetables. They’re good if they come from community gardens, but bad if they come from overpriced chains that arrive by way of gentrification. The Queen/Bowie jam “Under Pressure” here suggests all kinds of pressures on healthy and diverse communities, personified in part by the villainous Barron Chaotica (Jason Kornelis, doubling as the band’s cellist), who wants to build all sorts of bougie establishments next to the humble root-beer joint run by Philemon (Alejandro Magallón) and Baucis (Anna Hashizume).

“The problem isn’t development, it’s zoning!” That observation comes from the two insects (Roland Hawkins II and Joni Griffith) kept as pseudo-children of the titular taverneers. When they’re both killed by the increasingly volatile ecosystem (cue “Another One Bites the Dust”), Jupiter and Mercury may be the only hope for the salvation of all creatures great and small.

If you’re the kind of person who hates Shakespeare in the park because it’s hard to follow when you’re blissed out on your blanket, the picnic operetta might provide you with a more satisfying al fresco experience. It’s best not to even try to follow the story; there are some fun tunes (translations for the German arias are provided, in abbreviated form, by way of subtitle scrolls); and you get light apps. This year’s treats include a “prairie elixir,” watermelon canapés, and climactic broccolini.

The show ends on an ambiguous note, suggesting that we still have a chance to save ourselves. As the Romans knew, the gods might decide to help out, but you’d better not count on it.

Philemon and Baucis — Planet in Peril: A Picnic Operetta
Various locations
1-800-838-3006; mixedprecipitation.org
Through September 24