You can't accuse Sandbox Theatre of not going all in with War with the Newts, which is now playing at Park Square.
As you enter the Andy Boss Stage, you are greeted by seven performers, clad head to toe in black latex, who shimmy, crawl, and croak away in the minutes before the show.
See also: Sandbox Returns to War with the Newts
Once the lights go down, the overwhelming sense of the odd just intensifies. The newts are here to tell us a story about their war with humanity. We learn right away (spoiler alert) that it didn't go well for our team. Humanity has died out, but the newts are telling this cautionary tale as their kind prepare to go to war with each other.
Based on Karel Capek's 1936 novel, War with the Newts builds on numerous levels. At the top, there is the raw pleasure of watching a talented cast embrace their inner amphibian. Each of them is so thoroughly sold on their characterizations that they even take their final bows in character.
Beyond that, there is the intriguing premise, which explores what happens to the world after the discovery of a race of intelligent, hominid-sized newts in the South Pacific. At first, the newts are used mainly for their skills at pearl diving. Soon, it is discovered that they are quick learners. They can do many menial tasks and even learn how to speak. Humanity has a new slave race.
Before you can say Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the newts begin to fight back against our oppression. Of course, we've known that humanity doesn't come out on top of this tale all along, but the final confrontations between sea and land dwellers unfurl in a thrilling set of scenes.
Director Peter Heeringa offers a dense and rich staging that uses the talented company to the fullest. The performance is a kind of passion play, as it is intended to offer a lesson to the newt audience. The performers take on different human roles by putting on masks, wigs, and other costumes.
Percussive live music propels the story from scene to scene, which takes us along the newt race's first meeting with humanity, its evolution, and its eventual earthly domination.
IF YOU GO:
War with the Newts Through May 30 Park Square Theatre 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul $25 For tickets and more information, call 651-291-7005 or visit online.