Workhaus Collective's The Mill

Michal Daniel

We never see the paper mill that dominates the action in Jeannine Coulombe's new play, apart from an illustration at the side of the stage, one that's easy to miss if you aren't looking for it. Yet the mill dominates every moment of this insightful, often moving work. The characters spend a lot of time talking about gardening or going to the lake or crossing over the border from International Falls to Canada, but the paper mill is always on everyone's minds. After all, it's the town's main employer, and during this hot week in July there's an offer on the table that could strip the workers of hard-earned rights in the name of modernization and progress. Coulombe has condensed a year of conflict in her hometown in the late 1980s into a single week, and the resulting situation doesn't need a lot to combust, especially as workers from out of state are brought in for the expansion. That provides plenty of material — though, like true Minnesotans, our characters take some time to get to the point, and they often have trouble communicating what's truly eating at them. The cast is topped by Terry Hempleman as Marty, a longtime mill worker who is guided by an overwhelming sense of what is right, even if that is something as simple as offering his new neighbor, Ignacio, a hammer to work on his home. As the El Salvadoran worker, James Rodriguez brings a singular quiet intensity to a role that could easily become an overbearing symbol of larger issues. Coulombe does a good job throughout of making all these characters individuals, with problems, concerns, and hopes that go beyond the larger problems of the town, and that makes the final scenes all the more powerful.

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