Theater Spotlight: Dummy: a Display


Michael Sommers's new work gives off the charged, sometimes thrilling effect of being engaged in battle with itself, attacking meaning from one angle then another, hawkishly watching the battlefield to see which ideas emerge victorious. It starts with the title, cribbed from the off-color 1950s and '60s stage work of Leonard Newfield (here played by Sommers) and Elle (Elise Langer). We're informed that the dummy in question is a substitute for something else. The way art stands in for the artist's senses and intent, perhaps. Or, a layer deeper, how the bare bones of a person's biography make a poor, two-dimensional substitute for the way that person perceives and lives that life. Dummy takes its inspiration from early children's TV, and Sommers's Newfield sags throughout with the weight of the sad comedian; he's continually rebuffed by Elle, and several passages culminate with Sommers staring at the audience in a contracting spotlight, with a look of mixed terror, shame, and pathos on his mug (the initial effect is comedic, but then something else starts to sink in). Lest we get too heavy here, it should also be noted that the one-hour proceedings include a great deal of balloons, darts, a dancing cigarette, and a Headless Dummy (Robert Rosen, who, along with Langer, is billed as collaborator). For all the philosophical weight Sommers brings to the table, he doesn't do so at the expense of entertainment and humor (Rosen's giant headless guy has a propensity for producing things from his collar, including more balloons and a stuffed duck). But inevitably things start heading south. A rivalry between ventriloquist puppets turns ugly, and there's a sad and moving passage with Leonard and Elle disconsolately picking up the pieces after the last time they pick one another apart. There's a heartbroken emptiness here, a dawning sense of meaninglessness—along with a desire to rise from the ditch. We laugh because it's true, which is the same reason we cry. $12-$15. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis; 612.874.6338. Through May 30