Joshua English Scrimshaw and Steve Schroer will take audiences back to the future of the 19th century starting this weekend with Steampunk Delusions, a two-shows-in-one piece opening this weekend at Open Eye Figure Theatre.
Schroer's Hardcover Theater will present The Diamond Lens, a Microscopic Fantasy of Love and Murder, and English Scrimshaw Theatrical Novelties will present To Mars With Tesla or The Interplanetary Machinations of Evil Thomas Edison.
The collaboration was originally set to be part of a series last year called Steampunk Dreams at the Southern Theater. When that facility's financial troubles hit, the project had to be canceled. But Schroer had grant money for the project -- he originally planned to do 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea -- and looked for a way to bring it to a new venue.
One third of the original group, Upright Egg, had already produced their planned show. So Schroer and Scrimshaw worked to find a different space.
"I could rent the Open Eye Figure Theatre," Schroer says. "But it was much smaller than the Southern, so I knew I couldn't do what I had planned with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
Fitz-James O'Brien's 1858 short story is about the world a scientist finds when he builds a powerful microscope and points it at a drop of water.
"It was a really interesting challenge, but there is a bag of tricks for what he sees under the microscope," Schroer says about his stage version. "There are four actors and a significant amount of dance. I also ended up with a musical score that is five times as elaborate as I expected it to be. It treats the play as a movie -- it has that kind of scoring."
The adaptation does take liberties with the work. "The original story is not really funny, but this is funny. It just doesn't stay funny all the way through. The funny and playful takes a turn to the dark and weird. It gets pretty darn creepy," he says.
Scrimshaw was able to use his original script for the new venue. To Mars With Tesla or The Interplanetary Machinations of Evil Thomas Edison is presented as a silent film, with the two famous inventors facing off as superhero (Tesla) and villain (Edison).
Amid the re-imagined madness, which is a part of steampunk that appeals to Scrimshaw, is a mix of real historical information about the pair.
"Tesla had a phobia about round things, and he had an obsession about doing things in threes. He had a phobic repulsion of human hair. We used that. It's his Kryptonite weakness in our show," Scrimshaw says.
In the story, their rivalry takes them to Mars, where they find an Edgar-Rice-Burroughs-like dying civilization. (It's a vision that certainly doesn't come with a $250 million price tag.)
The show's title comes from an actual short story, but Scrimshaw couldn't find anything beyond a summary. That allowed him to spin off his tale of a rivalry so big it stretched to two worlds.
"I'm far more of a fan of the original authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The gadget fetishism doesn't appeal to me. But steampunk is like comedy. It takes something that is known and subverts the familiar," he says.
IF YOU GO:
Friday through May 12
Open Eye Figure Theatre 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis