Director Ben McGovern knew he had a tall task when he took on Carson Kreitzer's latest play, Flesh and the Desert, for the Workhaus Collective.
Kreitzer, whose past work includes Behind the Eye, Self-Defense, and The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer, loves to craft knotty narratives that tie together in unexpected ways. That's certainly true of this play, which looks at the city of Las Vegas through the eyes of a trio of couples. It also promises to feature plenty of historical figures, such as Siegfried and Roy, Orson Welles, Liberace, and Elvis.
"Carson crafts her plays so carefully. Every work is placed in a way that it has significance. She doesn't beat you over the head with some sort of simple narrative that becomes increasingly obvious as to where it is going. Her plays can always go in unexpected directions," McGovern says.
That means everyone, from the director to the designers to the actors -- many of whom are performing multiple roles -- has to be on their toes. The play's meaning and even central narrative has completely changed from the beginning of the process to the present for everyone involved.
"This is a play about Las Vegas, but it is also about the gamble of love. But it's also about the atom bomb and the history of Vegas. It's about celebrity, the denial of fact and reason, and the denial of the spiritual side of ourselves. All of these things are connected to the others, so none of them can exist on their own in the play," McGovern says. "We've been rehearsing in the truest sense. We are constantly rehearing the play."
The company includes Anna Sundberg, Gabriele Angieri, Leif Jurgensen, Maggie Bearmon Pistner, Sara Richardson, John Riedlinger, Wade Vaughn, and Amanda Whisner.
For the director, the challenges are "mind blowing, or should I say mind buckling," McGovern says. "Everyone has to listen as the play unfolds to what kind of play it wants to be. It's the kind of play that if you were to try and impose a particular style on it, other parts of it would resist."
McGovern sees that shift all the way back to Kreitzer's original concept. "She set out to write a play about Las Vegas. As she was in the research stage, she also found she was writing a play about love. The play unfolds in a similar way. It begins by talking about Vegas, describing this strange and unique city, and then it starts describing the strange and unique experience of being human and being in love," he says.
The directing effort comes at a moment of transition for McGovern, who recently left his job at the Guthrie Theater -- where he was the associate director of studio programming -- and working on his own as a freelance artist.
"It was really hard to leave there. It was a great place to work, and it offered a tremendous opportunity, but I wanted to make a career as a director, not as an administrator or programmer," he says.
IF YOU GO
Flesh and the Desert
Playwrights' Center 2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis