Walking Shadow Theatre Company doesn’t do holiday shows.
Want an example? In 2014, their offering at this time of the year was The Whale, which centered on a 600-pound man slowly dying before our eyes.
So even though this offering has a seasonal theme, don’t expect any Fezziwigs.
As the title indicates, A Midwinter Night’s Revel riffs on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Several of the fay characters (Titania, Oberon, Puck) are back, and there’s even a play within the play. The action has been moved from a mythic land in our deep past to a place that is very much real: England in 1915, during the first stages of the Great War.
For playwright John Heimbuch, the inspiration came several years ago, while working on a show with Jon Ferguson. “I read a book called Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men. In that book, they talked a lot about contemporary Christmas practices in relationship to their more mythic elements. That included medieval and Elizabethan fairy lore… a lot of which got co-opted into our traditional Christmas stories. It got me thinking subconsciously about what would be a midwinter night’s dream. What is midwinter for us. That brought forth a sea of images in my head.”
Heimbuch shared the ideas with his wife and Walking Shadow co-artistic head, Amy Rummenie. The idea was strong enough for further exploration. A grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board allowed Heimbuch to travel to England during the Christmas season to observe the traditions, from mummer plays all the way through Twelfth Night. That foundation gave Heimbuch the material he needed to put together a draft of the script.
Then life interceded. In the midst of buying a house and preparing other shows, Heimbuch’s mother died. “I spent my summer living in Los Angeles. Being an only child and having no parents left, I went through a period of a year and a half where I didn’t write any scripts. There were no new songs or plays. Midwinter sat on the shelf for a couple of years. The feeling that came along with losing my parents played into the creation of the script. It delves into the world of loss and uncertainty,” Heimbuch says.
The play has, “introspection on the changing of the year. It’s about assessing what you have gained and lost. Coming into the new year, there is a sense of being able to change things and take some action and eventually get to spring,” adds Rummenie, who is directing the production.
It’s not all heavy lifting. The mummer plays, British folks plays traditionally performed by amateur actors, are designed to be fun, and are packed with comedy and fighting with wooden swords. The pair also had plenty of fun working out the rules of their updated world. The Changeling Boy — the reason for the battle of wits between Titania and Oberon in the original play — is still around, but is now a wise-beyond-his-years 12-year-old child.
“We’re trying to figure out who you are when you are inhuman and how you process things. We’ve worked out a lot of rules for the magic,” Rummenie says.
Eventually, the show is about building traditions for the season. “There are a lot of people today who come from a secular philosophy. How do they prioritize and build their traditions?” Heimbuch says.
IF YOU GO:
A Midwinter Night’s Revel
Friday through Dec. 30
Red Eye Theatre
15 W. 14th St. Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 800-838-3006 or visit online.