If you've never experienced it, it's hard to describe the fury of a November storm on Lake Superior. Even from the shore, it is akin to the actual hand of God dropping down to stir up the sky and the waters, making it impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.
Josh Cragun knows this, and works to bring a bit of that furious magic to the stage in The Storms of November, which blends truth and fantasy in a tale about the hardworking men and women on board the ships that haul oar, coal, and other goods across the Great Lakes for nine months of the year.
Cragun's play centers on Marianne Carter, a ship's captain in the early 1980s. It's more than a job for her. As a young child, Carter survived six hours in freezing Lake Superior water, and has felt a special kinship with the lake ever since. As she and her crew hammer themselves into a team, things aren't too good on the economic front. There are layoffs back in port, and a new boss has taken over their shipping company. He is focused firmly on size over speed, and thinks Carter's aging ship should be scuttled.
All of this comes to a head when a massive November blizzard threatens the crew and ship, and Carter has to rely on every bit of knowledge to save them. Meanwhile Judy, the wife of Bobby, one of the mates, worries about her husband's fate as a tiny speck on the vast and unforgiving inland sea.
The characters feel natural and lived in; as if they could easily slip off one of the ships and into a local cafe or tavern, ready to shoot the shit with anyone willing to talk. Heidi Berg and Zach Morgan provide strong centers as Carter and Bobby. These are both straight shooters to the core, with plenty of worries that they have to keep under wraps to do their jobs. Some of the others, such as new deckhands Toni (Alyssa Perau) and Jordan (Daniel Vopava) are able to cut it loose a bit more, and are allowed to let the increasingly dire financial situation affect them, which is replaced by the very real sense that may be dead and buried at the bottom of Lake Superior before dawn.
Above all, the company and director Liz Neerland make us sense the family that is built by the crew, who spend more time with each other on the Great Lakes than they do with their families.
Ursula K. Bowden's set helps to set the scene. A replica of a ship dominates two thirds of the stage, with the leftover space given over to the diner where Judy finds comfort and friendship while Bobby is away. This is aided by Jacob M. Davis (sound) and Mitchell Frazier (lights) who do their best to recreate a November Superior storm onstage without actually drenching the audience in torrents of rain.
IF YOU GO
The Storms of November
Through November 22
1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-548-1380 or visit online.