For Theatre Forever founder and director Jon Ferguson, The Nature Crown is an intensely personal piece about summers spent in the north of England and the youthful adventures of his grandfather. For the rest of us, the new show is a whimsical and often touching ride into the real and imaginary worlds of our own lives.
The play is British to its tea-drinking core, but it connects with emotions that most people feel: that they've lost a connection to the person they were as a child and to the place where they grew up.
Sad-sack Joao has just been fired from his job with a merry "thank you" Post-it note. He leaves with a box of cubicle debris and a dying plant. On his way home, Joao takes a detour into the kind of forest that usually exists only in our imaginations.
He finds himself surrounded by the eccentric denizens of a village, including a pair of wild brothers who spend their days deep in the woods, pretending so hard to be trees and boulders that they can physically transform into those objects.
Joao feels a strong kinship with the people around him. They, it turns out, are on the cusp of a great change. Once a century the village must recreate itself, and our former office drone has a part to play in the transformation.
But Rupert — aide to the king and queen — doesn't want the change to happen. He recruits and then distracts Joao from his path, sending him into the darkest part of the forest to confront a beast that doesn't actually exist.
Joao's faulty hero's quest threatens not only the change in the community, but the one that is brewing inside him. It takes... well, a village to get him back on the right path.
Ferguson, script writer Dominic Orlando, and the performers inject multiple levels of humor throughout the piece. Visual puns abound, along with plenty of pratfalls as Joao is abused at every turn. Orlando's script adds plenty of freshness to characters and situations that, by their very nature, are familiar.
Diogo Lopes — a founder of the innovative physical theater troupe Transatlantic Love Affair — bridges the gap between the eccentric goings-on in the village and our mundane expectations of everyday life. Lopes carries his character's existential weight in his hunched gait, rubbery face, and expressive eyes.
The ensemble is packed with talented players, from Aimee K. Bryant's calm personification of Nature, to Brant Miller's comedic turn as King Leopold, to Peter Lincoln Rusk's bitter and abusive Cyril the Rambler.
There's also a wonderful sense of play. The actors help to build our mental image of the forest and the village using only a wooden platform for a set. A live band and the Artemis Chamber Choir provide evocative music throughout, from discordant saxophone blats to a gorgeous English folk song.
The Nature Crown is the perfect start-of-spring piece. It offers us a taste of the world that's just outside — if we are willing to open the door.
IF YOU GO: The Nature Crown Guthrie Theatre 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturdays; 1 p.m. Saturdays starting March 28; 7 p.m. Sundays $15-$26 Call 612-377-2224 for tickets and info Through April 4