Joy, a Holiday Cabaret, an Interact Theater

Interact Theater’s mission is to create art that challenges perceptions of disabilities. After last night’s performance of their new holiday show, “Joy, a Holiday Cabaret” (at at The Lab Theater, 700 First St. North in the Minneapolis Warehouse District through December 17th), I’d say it challenges our perceptions of what is theater, too – not in an intellectual way, but in the emotional connection we make, either as performers or audience, to the work.

No theater I’ve seen in the Twin Cities moves me more than this company. All the years of study, the carefully honed skills, the influences of this theory of acting or that teacher/director – they’re all stripped away and what is left is a pure and honest expression of what that artist has to say. I laughed, I cried, I laughed so hard I cried. It was less than perfect and it was absolutely wonderful.

Developed with the cast and edited by Kevin Kling, Eriq Nelson and Vanessa I. Davis, director Tod Petersen guides a large cast of performers through a cleverly timed mix of original songs, skits, standup comedy and dance, all super-charged by Kling’s brilliantly daffy comic scripting. Additional professionals (Scotty Reynolds and Colette Illarde as choreographer among them) provided support on stage – amazingly unobtrusively given the myriad special needs of the performers.

“Aren’t I Wonderful” was wonderfully silly; a serious subject is at the essence of good comedy, illustrated by “The I Can’t Remember Blues;” and “Why Worry?” was as clever as any musical comedy rhythm song I’ve heard. In “Invisible” one performer speaking in the first person recites “If you touch me, I become real … hiding among the real people …” as another performer moves silently across the stage. It was a lesson in line reading and sharing a scene.

“The Rise of the Rest” was a rousing gospel-style solo with chorus, and there were some rockin’ chops coming from the piano on “Low Downs Loser” (which is not a typo).  I was transfixed by “Pretty Good,” which begins with the performer’s list of things she does “not so good,” and ends with finding joy in what she can do “pretty good.” If only all acting were this genuine! There’s even a little Shakespeare, recited by a performer who clearly loves the bard.

Live acts were interspersed with video clips of the performers talking about what “joy” meant to them. The answers, which were surprising, touching and very funny, showed solid editing by the production team.

If you want to be affected by your theater experience and entertained this is the show for you. “Joy”  runs through Dec. 17. Recommended.

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