The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 18, 2012

Behold the spectacle: Dark comedy takes stage in Gustvaus theater kickoff

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

ST PETER — Envision this scene from Gustavus Adolphus College’s upcoming theater production:

Standing at the podium is the coach of a woeful, losing team.

Before a throng of reporters, he delivers an end-of-the-season press conference to summarize what has been a woeful, losing season. But instead of summarizing his team’s performance, the coach begins to critique his own.

The ensuing speech is discordant and painfully introspective -- and only fleetingly touches on actual athletic competition. The coach tells the press of his broken heart, his self-doubts and his struggle to answer even the simplest of life’s questions.

Then, as the scene closes, the grand music will cue. Dancers will enter the stage in glittering, glistening outfits. And they will kick and flounce in true Vegas fashion.

“We’re playing with the idea of spectacle,” said Henry MacCarthy, director of “Behold the Coach, In a Blazer, Uninsured (and Other Good Intentions),” which kicks off Gustavus’ theater season on Thursday.

“These are instances of regular people in everyday situations and they are being very honest. Brutally honest.”

The performance is actually a collection of five short plays by Will Eno, an award-winning playwright who was also a 2005 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

The thread that ties all the plays together is the idea of public performance. Modern life is so saturated with performance -- from advertisements to reality TV to public relations -- that people have become somewhat anesthetized to the pain of others.

One play showcases an airline representative who is trying to soothe the family members of crash victims. Another documents two individuals recording videos for a pre-Internet dating service.

And between each play is a choreographed dance sequence to remind the audience that what they’re seeing on stage is, all too often, only fodder for entertainment.

“It’s very compact, very intense,” MacCarthy said of the performance that runs about an hour in length. “If we went two hours, it would be unbearable. The stories are so charged.”

MacCarthy added that the acting roles are “very demanding” and complimented the 15-student cast for its skill.

Technicians for the performance include Micah Maatman (set and lighting), Larissa McConnell (costumes) and Terena Wilkens (sound and props).