Lately, when I need to be reminded why I still like theater, I’ll go to a Sheep Theater production. I honestly don’t even need to know or understand what they’re doing before I attend. If they’re doing it, it’s a fairly safe bet I’m going to end up amused and inspired. So I’m in luck, and so are you, because they’ve got a show going on right now (and another gearing up as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival in August). The current production, making inventive use of the full space at In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, is The Minotaur or: Amelia Earhart Is Alive And Traveling Through the Underworld.
Sheep Theater started 2017 as a quirky little crew. They ended the year as a quirky little crew that couldn’t be ignored.
The masterful blending of comedy with historical exposition in Sheep Theater’s Assassination of the Archduke. What would normally be far too much backstory became hilarity with Joey Hamburger’s script and Michael Hugh Torsch’s directing, elevated by John Hilsen’s score.
I was ready to write a review about how this tired story was fodder for a few jokes but nothing more. But I can’t write that review, because it was amazing.
This hilarious alternate universe Pinocchio is narrated by Jiminy Cricket (Michael Rogers in a beautiful green velvet jacket), who in this version is just a cricket forced into being a conscience for the wooden boy. Geppetto (Jacob Mobley) is a former gangster who now wants nothing more than to love and parent the puppet Pinocchio (a truly creepy and dead-eyed Robb Goetzke) that his deceased wife, the blue fairy (Iris Rose Page), brought to life. But since he has no feelings, Pinocchio turns to the dark side and joins with his father's enemies (Joey Hamburger and Michael Torsch) as they create "Pleasure Island" - a sinful place full of big cigarettes, booze, and gallivanting. In typical Sheep Theater style the show is clever and funny and goofy, and a whole lot of fun.
A tongue-in-cheek reimagining of this well-known tale sounds like typical Fringe fare. There’s nothing typical about this production, however, which confirms that Sheep Theater is one of the Twin Cities’ most promising young companies.
The Good Boy and the Kid is one of those shows where you want to be onstage instead of in the audience, because everyone up there just seems to be having so damn much fun. Every performance, however silly, is also completely assured. From the ferocious Wrolson on down, everyone’s committed to the bit — even when the bit, as in Hamburger’s case, turns out to be a ball gag.
The Good Boy And The Kid is loud and sweet and silly and sad and deeply, deeply strange, but it’s a hell of a good time. You should go treat yourself. And keep an eye on Sheep Theater. You should be catching every weird thing they do. It’s some of the best theater going on out there right now.
The only problem with the show is that sometimes the laughter drowns out the lines. That's what they get for being so clever and funny.
A fine-tuned sense of the absurd, solid comic performances and live musical accompaniment means a hilarious parody of a classic adventure tale.
Add Sheep Theater (the cheeky brainchild of Joey Hamburger, Iris Rose Page, and Michael Hugh Torsch) to the list of young theater companies I want to follow very closely over the coming years. If the energy and creativity behind Tamburlaine is any indication, Sheep Theater is liable to take off like a rocket.
“I like to paint,” said Joey Hamburger, sitting at the Spyhouse on Nicollet on Tuesday night. “Every time I paint it starts with a sheep, so I have a lot of paintings of sheep.”
It’s comedy the way I like it, smart as well as funny. You can just coast along on the jokes and ridiculous situations, or you can ponder a bit, depending on your mood. But you won’t feel dumb or disrespected when it’s over. (Plus, as an added bonus, there’s a surf rock version of Hava Nagila.) Deus Ex Machina is a win all the way around in that regard. (There’s a joke about believing in the power of theater again to deal honestly with religion, but I think I’ll let that pass as well. You don’t need puns from me, you need to go see Hamburger’s comedy instead.)
Well, of course. We've all seen the story before. What creators Joey Hamburger and Michael Hugh Torsch have done is ramp up the absurdity to the breaking point. Hamburber's Rainsford is more than just a vain hunter, he's a very stupid one as well. Tosch's Zaroff takes his barking madness to the extreme. It's up to Iris Page as Eve to provide some sanity.
I just loved it. This is exactly the sort of thing I hope to find in a small, low-budget production: a smart script, the right casting and a clear idea of what the show is all about.
It's the hilarity that really sells this show. It's hard to put something on after it's been spoofed so much that it's practically a running gag in our collective consciousness. Playing it straight isn't likely to resonate much, and even lampshading it can come off as tired and unoriginal. (See above, re: Gilligan's Island.) The new version running at the Bedlam right now isn't tired, though. Instead, it's one of those rare 'Galaxy Quest' style parodies - an affectionate deconstruction - that doesn't abandon its reverence for the source.