Liberty Falls 54321: a camp classic

The Moving Company, performing at the Lab Theater, through Feb 5
Christina Baldwin, Nathan Keepers, Jennifer Baldwin Peden, Steven Epp in Liberty Falls 54321. Photo by Dominique Serrand.

Christina Baldwin, Nathan Keepers, Jennifer Baldwin Peden, Steven Epp in Liberty Falls 54321. Photo by Dominique Serrand.

What is theatrical camp? I pondered thith pithy question as I made my way down frozen Portland Avenue after the opening of The Moving Company‘s goofily effective Liberty Falls 54321 (a remount of a play originally done in 2015). I concluded: camp happens when what the actors are doing is more important than the story being told. This may not be a startlingly original concept, but it has the virtue of flexibility. It allows you to abhor the snickering unprofessionalness of Carol Burnet (I do), while admiring the taste and intelligence of The Moving Company, their restraint and resourcefulness, their pure artistic courage. These artists would never giggle and crack up.

Would they?

No. They’re too wonderful. Jennifer Baldwin Peden as the blowsy mother-of-7 Francine mesmerizes; Gabriel Murphy as the cud-chewing dj, DJ, is dignified and stolid (in a good way); Nathan Keepers as the sweet busybody Tamara gives his character enough energy to keep the play crackling along without being off-puttingly over-the-top; as always Christina Baldwin is ineffably wonderful as Carmel (make that CarMEL); Heidi Bakke is a hoot as the hiccupingly lovelorn Serendipity; ditto Dom Wooten as her lumberingly charming boyfriend Tracy.

And, of course, Steven Epp thrills as Liberty Rose Johnson. Epp’s Ms. J is 107 years young. She makes Donald Trump look like Noam Chomsky. The whole town of Liberty Falls (well, all 7 of them) gathers to celebrate her birthday. Songs, jokes, a campy operatic pageant. Naturally, Liberty Rose throws a monkey wrench into the works when she—

Did you think I was going to give the play away? Ha.

Liberty Falls 54321 was directed by the super-accomplished Dominique Serrand. One of the signs of deft direction is that it makes you say, “Wow, weren’t those actors good?” It’s to Serrand’s great credit that his work on Liberty Falls 54321 is invisible.

You’d be hard-pressed to find better acting anywhere in the twins right now. As a great actor once said to me: “I admire performers who walk right up to the line of bad taste, and then slip one toe over it.” The cast of Liberty Falls 54321 does this beautifully.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His The Sisters Eight will shortly be presented at First Stage Milwaukee. His screenplays, A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Father Trimleigh are under option. Please visit his informational website.


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