StageNorth comes a wee bit South to Teatro Zuccone

Kate and I have often said that, if there were a suitable academic job there for both of us, we would move in a second to Washburn — halfway between Bayfield/Madeleine Island and Ashland, and so just close enough to wonderful things, but just far enough, away, too, to enjoy the quiet things: the best used bookstore north of Minneapolis and of Madison, one of the best bakeries (although there are so many great bakeries in northwestern Wisconsin, it is hard to choose), a cultural center with antique shops, local arts and crafts, and a gallery space that, among other things, hosted the awesome “No Reservations” exhibit last year. And a DQ. Every small town has a DQ.

Last night, I got a taste of the next best thing in Washburn:  StageNorth Theater.

StageNorth previewed their forthcoming contribution to the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Who’s on First:  Fifty Years of Doctor Who.  The play, written by Liz Woodworth, was staged at Teatro Zuccone, and while the work still has some polishing ahead (e.g. a few props thrown and missed, etc.), it was well worth the $10 admission.

Oddly enough, the thing I liked the most was the framing sequence: the imagined conversations between the disinterested, non-fan narrator and the passionate characters who take up cheese costumes and props. This is why it disappointed me, a little, to run like a freight train towards a crescendo — the moment when the entire cast yells “Moffatt” — and feel a little like the framing narrative got lost.  One of the disinterested non-fans becomes part of the re-enactment (saying something about the power of this melodrama to reach a lot of folks, River Song, I guess). But the end felt like the end of the last third of the play, rather than the end of the whole play, if that makes sense.

My wife stayed home, as a non-fan, and I think she would have loved the first two thirds of the play. (The last third collapses into nerdgasm.) For myself, I was starting to like the characters in the play. I was finding the calls of “wrong franchise” to be not just a nerd-joke, but an opening into a character. I was even thinking that the ode to Paul McGann could tell me something about the characters of the ladyfolk.

In other words, this was starting to feel like more than just an ensemble variation of the one-man-Star-Wars show for Doctor Who. It was starting to feel like a play. After the Fringe run, I hope that the author and this able cast will revisit the script with this is mind — with the idea that this is a play about some folks introducing an audience to Doctor Who, rather than simply an introduction to Doctor Who.  I think there is some real potential here for a next step.

Why do I think there is so much potential here?  Because the actors cared.  There were a few moments of old-school Who slipperiness (some mispronunciations of a very slight sort) — I’m not talking about whether they cared about the source material.  I mean they cared about the energy of the production — the Dalek costume was the best Dalek costume I have seen in years, not for its realism, but for its sheer awesomeness.  The 4th Doctor impersonation was both an homage and a witty undercutting of the giant.  And the Tenant section is the best of improv, of insightful fan psychology, and of clever staging.  “I’m so very, very sorry” indeed — Genius.  The play was remarkable — clever, nerd-credible, and yet broadly entertaining.

In other words, as a nerd (King of the Nerds, apparently, old-school style, because I nailed the “Spearhead from Space” question in the trivia quiz, although my god, there were new-school Who trivia questions that made me realize that new-school Who fans are almost as nerdy as us old-school types), I enjoyed myself immensely.  And that means that I applaud this production as-is for what it is, and the marketing clearly means that it reached out to me in a meaningful way and succeeded:

Take five actors from Stagenorth, and add 1/4 Reduced Shakespeare Company minus the Shakespeare part, then add 1/2 The One Man Star Wars multiply Russell Davies and throw in a little Stephan Moffat squared.

If that makes any sense to you at all, then you might really, really like this show.

I did. I totally did.

I also think that this is a playwright and a cast that could, with some effort, create a play that my wife might also want to come to see, not just me — a play that is “5 actors from StageNorth … throw in a little Stephan Moffat squared, and season liberally with a plot about some well-crafted characters, fans who share their passion in a meaningful way.” Kate would want to know more about those characters. She’s not a Doctor Who fan, but she has passions of her own, and the play would speak to her in that way.

No matter what happens, whether this play remains in amber, an experiment for Zuccone and the Fringe, or whether it develops over time, this presentation gave me another destination in Washburn — another site where I know creative people work hard, and whose energies I know I will want to see more of.

And I’ll probably stick around to listen to the play’s author, after whatever show I see:

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