The Paul Bunyan Playhouse presents "21A" by Minnesota storyteller and Playhouse alum Kevin Kling, opening tonight at 8 p.m. on the stage of the Historic Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji.
Written about a bus that travels Lake Street from Minneapolis to St. Paul, the driver swings the door wide open and invites the audience to get on board in what can best be described as a bus ride that won't soon be forgotten.
In "21A," Kling demonstrates, as he explains, "I have a small command of the English language so I try to make each word a hero." He gives the audience an invitation into this world where the curious becomes familiar, and the mundane get the spotlight, as introductions are made to an eclectic assortment of characters one can find in any town, city or village across the country. But in "21A', Kling's homage to the ordinary, the characters become extraordinary and take the audience along for the ride. Although ready for what could be a long journey, it proves to be a short distance to travel, as the destination is found where it has always been; within oneself.
All eight characters on 21A are portrayed by the Playhouse's Artistic Director Zach Curtis. Now in his sixth season for the PBP, Curtis has directed 20 productions for the Playhouse and has appeared, directed, designed, and/or produced in more than 150 professional productions. He said, "I have been looking forward to this show for over a year, because it gives me a chance to share something personally with our audiences, who have been so supportive of the work the Playhouse has done."
Curtis begins this journey as the driver behind the wheel of 21A. A typical Minnesotan of Scandinavian roots in search of coffee and complaining about the lack of powdered cream at the local SuperAmerica, he narrates in a familiar Minnesota accent throughout the show reminiscent of a favorite uncle or grandfather talking about fishing and troubles with neighborhood children.
Gladys is a regular, sharing the front seat and her life stories with anyone who will listen, and even those who won't. She manages to convey great strength found through personal disappointment as is the case with several of the other passengers, including Captain Twelve Pack. He is counseled in his loneliness by a man called The Dog who lives under the bridge and throws out such wisdom as "...life under the bridge isn't so bad...where the 12 pack is king and the bottle is queen." In the back of the bus, Steve and his "friend" find that when someone you love is always right next to you, life can be pretty good, even if you find yourself alone.
This production is directed by Paul Reyburn, a familiar name in Bemidji and back for his 14th year at the Playhouse. This is his first time directing here and he is thrilled to be back. Reyburn says for "21A" he found it was best to "just let go and watch Curtis." Together they give the audience a glimpse of how each of the eight riders deals with the trials and tribulations of life, and in doing so, remind the audience yet again of the ingredient which makes it all tolerable. And that is the ability to laugh at ourselves and each other without malice. The ability to acknowledge the comfort that can be found, and given, in a smile, a chuckle, or an out and out belly laugh. And there is plenty of those ingredients to be found on 21A.
First done by the Paul Bunyan Playhouse while still housed at Ruttgers Resort, "21A" was a gamble as Kling was a relative unknown in the area at that time. He was part of the actors' troupe performing for the summer, and his new play became part of that 1986 season with Kling playing all eight roles. The fears proved to be unfounded as the play was a winner for the Playhouse and eventually, Kling himself. Performed by Kling in Sweden, Australia, Scotland and in the Czech Republic, Kling went on to be recognized with many prestigious arts awards, including The National Endowment for the Arts, The McKnight Foundation, The Minnesota State Arts Board, The Bush Foundation, The Jerome Foundation and is a regular contributor to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
The show is underwritten by Ron Cuperus and Mary Patton. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 751-7270 or going online at www.paulbunyanplayhouse.com. Tickets for the evening performances are $22 for adults, $15 for students and $20 for groups of 10 or more. The Sunday, July 24, matinee tickets are $15. "21A" will run through July 30, followed by the musical finale for the 61st summer season, "The Full Monty" playing Aug. 3-13.
This activity is funded in whole or in part by a Region 2 Arts Council grant through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund passed by Minnesota voters on November 4, 2008.