Complicated Fun at the History Theatre

Bowen Cochran and Stephanie Bertumen in Complicated Fun. Photo: Scott Pakudaitis.

Bowen Cochran and Stephanie Bertumen in Complicated Fun. Photo: Scott Pakudaitis.

For about 20 minutes in the early 1980s, Minneapolis created the best, the most influential, the most cutting edge music in the world. (Though no doubt there are many contemporary musicians who would happily drag you into the alley and kick your a** should you dare suggest that Minneapolis music is passé.) Rolling Stone Magazine anointed Minneapolis, and if it’s in RS, by golly it’s true.

The genii at Wikipedia focus on… the funk (here we get into the endlessly frustrating need to categorize the uncategorizable) R&B new wave synthopop created (most notably) by Prince, with firm assists by Sheila E., the Time, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, Revolution, et al.

To this heady mix Alan Berks adds, in his exuberant, sprawling and often frustrating Complicated Fun, The Minneapolis Music Scene (History Theatre, through May 29), the… punk pop rock driving guitar-focused alternative music of the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Suicide Commandos, Trip Shakespeare. Et al. Complicated Fun features a live band – four pretty-good musicians led by the talented Nic Delcambre – around which swirls the play, set in the First Avenue nightclub, Oarfolkjokepus (sp?) Records, and various bus stops, sidewalks and party venues. Regularly a sizable ensemble of performers sprints (dangerously; I would love it if the director/producer pulled them back a tad) onto the stage and flails about, mosh pit style.

The play sprawls, IOW.

Exuberantly: by far the best aspect of Complicated Fun is its thrilling clutch-popping theatricality. The way it tears up the stage and bristles with wild energy. Don’t like a scene? Wait 30 seconds and something else will come along and grab you. Complicated Fun is fast, funny and loud (it has to be, what with the onstage band). I’m still trying to catch my breath. (Major kudos, BTW, to director Dominic Taylor, who rides herd, effectively, on these super-creative artists; he earned his lavish salary.)

Frustrating: Complicated Fun is, IMHO, stubbornly focus-resistant. It spends way too much time on Steve McClellan, producer at First Avenue. This goes nowhere. The romance between Girl and Boy fizzles out and is left up-in-the-air. We hear about Peter Jesperson, owner of Oar Folkfokeus (sp?) but we never meet him. What is the play about (besides, obviously, music)? Budding romance? Dealing with Reaganesque materialism? Artistic intensity? Complicated Fun refuses to decide.

Performances are lovely. I greatly enjoyed the klutzily charming Clarence Wethern (with the howlingly ugly shirt). I would love to have seen much more of him. As the hard-drinking record store clerks, Skyler Nowinski and Joseph Miller are more than a little abrasive but enjoyable nonetheless. H. Adam Harris is wonderful (no surprise here). As the Girl and the Boy, Stephanie Bertumen and Bowen Cochrane thrill. Bertumen has a delightfully sly grin and wide-eyed presence.

And there is the multi-talented (She sings! Acts up a storm!) Andrea Wollenberg. The existence of this wonderful artist must no longer be a secret (if it ever was). I adored her.

Okay. Do you hate rock music? Insist that your plays be quiet and well-made and accessible? If so, Complicated Fun might not be for you. But if you’re in the other camp (here we go again with the categories) you might should check Complicated Fun out.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book about the glories of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has been published. His widely produced adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School is running (locally) at Youth Performance Co. johnolive.net.

3 comments for “Complicated Fun at the History Theatre

  1. Marion Wittenbreer
    May 16, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    BTW: oar folkjokeopus.

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  2. May 3, 2016 at 10:52 am

    I disagree with the Strib review! Complicated Fun is a whole lot of fun, and I hope I didn’t give the impression, in the above notice, that it’s not. It’s just the play is, well, complicated, which is to say, diffuse and wild and exuberant and hard to pin down. IMO, this is a strength.

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  3. May 3, 2016 at 7:45 am

    John, you wrote about the performers movement on stage “Regularly a sizable ensemble of performers sprints (dangerously; I would love it if the director/producer pulled them back a tad) onto the stage and flails about, mosh pit style.” Lol, “dangerously” its a mosh pit.

    We had to figure out how to capture that crazy, wonderful and yes dangerous mosh pit world which is distinctly risky. Never fear, we spent a lot of time on strategies and developing rules for how to make the movement secquences calculated, intelligent risk and not simply people running around hoping for the best!

    Thanks for reviewing the show!

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