“Werther and Lotte” produced by The Moving Company at The Lab Theater

March 24, 2012
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We’ve learned to expect imaginative surprises from The Moving Company. The members of this relatively new company of familiar local theater artists just see theater differently. Werther and Lotte, the Passion and the Sorrow, created by company members Nathan Keepers (who plays Werther), Christina Baldwin (Lotte) and Dominique Serrand (director), is an enchanting pas de deux of mismatched love.The story was inspired by Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, Thomas Mann’s, Lotte in Weimar and Rousseau’s The Social Contract, but you don’t need to know anything about these works of literature to appreciate their theatrical interpretation.

Theater is perhaps the most collaborative of the arts, bringing diverse elements into one cohesive whole. It is rare, however, that all the pieces become one, but this is the way this play feels: one piece, not many pieces stuck together. Movement and dance, live music and recorded, video projections and lighting, even the costumes and costume changes, were performance. There was no set, per se, only a few set pieces and props, but every single one was used—not peripherally, but as an integral part of the whole. Nobody does this better; it was simply beautiful to watch and to hear.

Baldwin’s effortless singing of original tunes, folk songs (The Bramble and the Rose, most memorably) and, I believe, German art songs provided a soundscape and a running commentary. Backed by Matt Blake on bass and Eddie Hou on violin and mandolin, the interplay among all the musical forms was also seamless. And what’s better than Baldwin’s singing? That would be Baldwin singing parts with herself.

Werther tells Lotte, “I treat my heart like a sick child and give it whatever it wants.” This does more than explain his obsession with her; it also illuminates his inability to grow up and deal with adult realities. He is “nowhere at ease and everywhere at home.” This child-like quality, particularly in the face of Lotte’s huge responsibility to her many younger siblings and her new husband, sets up the dramatic tension. We love to see them  together, but we know that it will never be what Werther wants.

Keepers’ ability to physicalize this role is just magical. He doesn’t sit in a chair, he crouches, rests gingerly, or drapes himself across it. Every step or turn of the head speaks to the individual moment. Werther and Lotte are like the articles on stage. (They must have been placed there quite deliberately to appear so random.) Werther moves things, in highly metaphorical ways, where he wants them to be, but they never stay there.

I wasn’t taken in by the song that opened the show, and I didn’t believe the ending because it didn’t fit the character Keepers had created. It also didn’t offer the intended impact, or support the play’s premise, as I understood it. All the sorrow we needed was already there. However, it is still a charming and touching piece, unlike anything else you will see here—until The Moving Company does their next show.  It runs through April 15 at The Lab Theater in Minneapolis’  Warehouse District.

Note: Plenty of parking right across the street. The play runs 90 minutes, no intermission, so you have time to enjoy the nightlife nearby, too.

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