What better way for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse to begin its 60th season than with a true Minnesota star in the Stars in the Street galaxy?
Kevin Kling, probably best known to Bemidji audiences for his commentaries and stories on MPR's "All Things Considered," will bring his homegrown Minnesota brand of humor to the stage at the historic Chief Theatre from 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday, May 20.
A playwright, author and performer, Kling's works, such as the play "21A" (based on a south Minneapolis bus route), have been produced for audiences around the world - from Minnesota to off-Broadway in New York City to Edinburg, Scotland, to the Czech Republic, Australia and back home again with stops in between.
In fact, at the time when the Paul Bunyan Playhouse was housed at Ruttgers, Kling brought "21A" to Bemidji audiences.
Paul Bunyan Playhouse Artistic Director Zach Curtis said he met Kling while performing with him in a remount of Kling's play, "Lloyd's Prayer" about a decade ago.
"Working with him was a thrill, especially for how well known he was and how he has become this great Minnesota Star," Curtis said. "For all that, he is still just a great performer and a ... nice person."
Kling's adaptation of the popular children's book, "Lily's Purple Plastic Purse" is still produced in the United States and abroad. "Home and Away," an autobiographical play, was seen at the Seattle Rep, the Goodman Theater, the Jungle Theater, the Spoleto Festival and the HBO Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. His other works include "Mississippi Panorama," "Gulliver, A Swift Journey," "The 7 Dwarfs" and "The Education of Walter Kaufman."
"I've read his books and listened to him on MPR for a long time, and he is coming back to Bemidji after almost 30 years," said Natalie Grosfield, a staff member at the local MPR affiliate. "He is a wonderful storyteller and we are fortunate to have him back on our stage."
Kling spoke about how he "loved being in Bemidji" and at Ruttgers during the early 1980s during a phone interview. His work is primarily about growing up in Minnesota - family and friends.
Kling went on to say that, "people think that humor is universal, but it is actually very cultural. When I perform in New York City, I need to make a long, extended invitation (set the stage) to get everyone in the same place."
Kling's stories ask the big questions; even if the audiences do not find an answer, the main object is to know that we belong to our community, our family, and the human race. He asks us to think about what is sacred in our lives.
"I know that I have been successful when my stories conjure up stories in my audiences' minds," Kling said. "It is when someone comes up to me after a show, and they want to tell me their story. I want my stories to touch people's hearts."
Kling said he is excited about being asked to be part of this celebration of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse.
Tickets for Stars in the Street are $16 each or four tickets for $60. The annual Stars in the Street event will be different this year with a bistro on stage, live music and guest artist Kevin Kling in addition to the introduction of this year's calendar of productions by Curtis. Reserved event seating is available now at the box office. Call 751-7270 for more information. Box office hours for this event are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If available, tickets will be sold at the door the night of the gala. This event is sponsored in part by the Bemidji Area Arts Endowment, First National Bank Bemidji, Sparkling Waters Restaurant, Tutto Bene Italian Restaurant and Espresso Bar and Keg & Cork.