For her latest collaboration with Ten Thousand Things, playwright Kira Obolensky had her eye on a dark 1930s work by Odon von Horvath, Don Juan Comes Back from the War.
She passed the script off to Ten Thousand Things' Michelle Hensley. When they met the following week, Obolensky could tell that Hensley didn't like the script.
"The play is misogynistic. It is centered on death and there is no hope in it. The women are skewed beyond all recognition," Obolensky says.
Still, the essential seed of the story -- about a man returning home from a long war to discover that women have taken over the roles of authority -- intrigued Obolensky. She set out to riff on the ideas from the original play for a brand new work, Forget Me Not When Far Away, which opens to the public this weekend.
"It's a testament to the incredible collaboration that we have that she saw what I had in mind and trusted me," Obolensky says.
Though it is easy to draw parallels between the story and the current world situation (recent versions of the play have seen Don Juan return from Iraq), Obolensky went for a more mythic interpretation. "I didn't want it to be about a specific event, but a make-believe land where the war has been going on for so long they can't remember how it started," she says.
When John returns after 10 years away, he finds that the women of the town haven't seen a man in a decade. He also discovers he is on the list of the war dead.
Ron Menzel plays the returning soldier, while a dream team of performers -- Shá Cage, Sun Mee Chomet, Annie Enneking, Elise Langer, and Karen Wiese-Thompson -- take on the various women of the town.
As Obolensky created the show for Ten Thousand Things, she had to keep the theater's unique mission and staging in mind. Many of the performances are given to non-traditional audiences in prisons, shelters, and community centers.
Those audiences, "are very much in my imagination. They come in and occupy it. It truthfully makes any play bigger and epic," Obolensky says. "You get the sense that your stories are needed. They are hungry for them."
That provides challenges -- and opportunities -- for the cast. "There is some of the finest comedic talent in the room with us," Obolensky says.
That's important, because while the play deals with heavy subjects, it also has a considerable sense of humor.
"I have a theory that maybe because I am Russian, to address anything serious it has to be funny. If you are going to have tears, you had better be laughing," Obolensky says.
IF YOU GO
Forget Me Not When Far Away Friday through May 31 Minnesota Opera Center (Friday-May 17) 620 N. First St., Minneapolis Open Book (May 22-31) 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis $30 For tickets and more information, call 800-838-3006 or visit online.