Friday, Aug. 19, 2011

Free Drama With Youngblood

MINNESOTA MOON haunts Trinborn Farm Park for a couple of free performances

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Trinborn Farm Park should probably be known a little bit better than it is. It feels very iconic—like it could take its place alongside Milwaukee landmarks like the Calatrava, the Bronze Fonz and the Safe House. Of course, if it DID become a major tourist destination, it would probably lose a lot of what makes it feel so charming. The old-timey mid-19th century family farm that has passed through various ownerships to become proparty of Milwaukee County. With a stone barn, lime kilns a threshing barn, a granary and a few other oddities, the farm sits there patiently waiting for a the return of the mid 1800’s. The 19th century isn’t coming back, though . . . and with so few people there towards the end of the day, it feels kind of abandoned—the perfect feel for an environmental production of John Olive’s one-act drama Minnesota Moon.

Youngblood has picked the perfect location and the perfect time of year for a production John Olive’s coming of age drama. It’s set near the end of the summer of ’68 on solitary farm in rural Minnesota. Two high school friends meet for one last time before one of them goes off to college in the Twin Cities.

The roles are played here just after dark by Evan Koepnick and Andrew Edwin Voss. I attended last night—a night also attended by parents of nearly everybody involved in the production (weird.) Youngblood co-founder Michael Cotey came out to introduce the show. He’d flipped a coin to decide which pair of parents would choose who would play which role. As it was Voss’ parents, (who were also celebrating a wedding anniversary,) they chose for Voss to play Al—the character going off to college.

Andrew Edwin Voss played Larry with a pair of classic 1960’s thick-rimmed glasses and a large pair of naturally grown sideburns that kind of reminded me of a mid-‘90’s Geo Kiesow. A Youngblood co-founder, Voss has appeared in numerous productions. Koepnick put in a profoundly memorable performance this past march as the title character in the strikingly ephemeral phenomenon that was UWM’s production of The Last Days of Juddas Iscariot this past March.

The two actors go into the evening not knowing which character either one of them is going to play prior to getting a call on a two-way radio from Cotey. This must've made things interesting for director Jason Waszak. Decisions would've had to have been made about how the characters were played as a function of who was going to be playing them on any given night . . . which kind of strikes me like it could have been a job of directing two different plays entirely. A talented actor himself who came out of the same UWM program as the two actors in the production, Waszak would've had alot of shared dialogue to work.  

Last night Voss made a really charming Alan—the guy going off to college. Voss captures that post-highschool wistful listlessness with a very rugged, lived-in sort of a feel. Al has principles and ideals based on intellect and instinct, but there’s a lack of experience behind them. He’s all too aware of what he hasn’t done yet and Voss does a really good job of rendering that feeling of the unknown.

Evan Koepnick, the memorable recent Judas, played the earthbound Larry—a guy who seems destined to spend the rest of his life pumping gas in small town Minnesota. Outside of this park offstage in the world we live in now, this guy could be scratching around rural Minnestota or he could’ve been a jungle casualty with a name etched into gabbro in the Viet Nam memorial. We get no real answers here, but there’s a restless energy about the way makes it into the shadows by way of Koepnick that does justice to the complexity of the baby boom generation right out of high school.

The actors here seem caught somewhere between Generations X and Y, but in a way, this is pretty close to one generation trying to relate to the one that came before it. The playwright’s generation filters through young actors on the edge of the new millennia. There’s a late summer crispness to the air. As the one-act progresses, the two drink cheap beet from cans. The smell of it fills the air. It all feels very, very familiar.

Jason Fassl is listed as having done lighting design on the show  . . . which is the second interesting project that Youngblood has thrown his way recently. With Apology, they had him design an empty factory space. Here he’s been given the challenge of painting a public park with lighting, which is a really, really subtle affair. There’s a hand lantern . . . I’m guessing he figured exactly where it needed to be hung. And there are a couple of headlights on a truck. In one of the more clever entrances I’ve seen in a while, Voss and Koepnick enter the space having driven there by pick-up. It’s a modern, non-‘60’s pickup truck, but headlights are headlights and by the time the show starts, its all shadows anyway.

The two actors play in a space that feels very natural . . . and to be sure, there’s very little lighting work done on the production, but there had to be very careful consideration as to where everything went in the space. Fassl’s name wouldn’t be associated with this if there wasn’t careful thought given to the lighting and it’s perfectly rendered here. An environmental production, there could’ve been more care made to make the thing more blatantly visible and it would’ve detracted from the experience. This is a cleverly rendered show. You can feel the summer ending. Tilt your head back and squint just a little and it feels like the summer of ’68 ending . . . even if, like myself and my generation, you weren’t there when it happened the first time.

 

 

Youngblood’s Free outdoor production of John Olive’s Minnesota Moon runs through August 25th at the Trinborn Farm Park on 8881 West Grange Avenue. The remaining shows roll into the park on Monday, August 22nd, Tuesday, August 23rd and Thursday, August 25th.

 

All shows start at 8:30pm. Bug spray is provided for those who don’t bring their own. 

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