Review | The Great Divide II: wonderfully uneven

Pillsbury House Theatre, through March 25

Ricardo Vázquez, Tracey Maloney, Mikell Sapp and Audrey Park in THE GREAT DIVIDE II. Photo by George Byron Griffiths.

The Great Divide II is a collection of 5 short one acts presented without intermission by Pillsbury House Theatre (through March 25), a follow-up to last season’s successful The Great Divide. The plays – by Andrew Rosendorf, Christina M. Ham, Tim J. Lord, Jessica Huang and Stacey Rose – were commissioned and like many plays with relatively wide open assigned material – Write us a play about the relationship between “truth” and “facts” – the plays seem perfunctory and often deliberately obscure. One spends as much time trying to figure out what is going on as one does enjoying the play. At least I did. Is this a portrait of the Rapture? Did someone just fly a plane into Mount Rushmore? Is the vape smoke really poisonous?

Still, there are rich and vivid moments: the moment when “writer redacted” gives up the nest of vipers in the newspaper office for the (nest of vipers, take it from me) in the theater; Tracey Maloney telling the screamingly unfunny Sven and Ole joke, then celebrating with a lungful of toxic vapor; the self-righteous Mt. Rushmore visitors.

And then the wonderful last play, the worth-the-price-of-admission piece: Breathe, by Andrew Rosendorf. About an encounter between a hunter (Maloney) and an (apparently) dying polar bear (Audrey Park). The (talking) bear alternates between rage and passivity. There’s obscurity aplenty – where are we? How did a polar bear get here? As symbols in this post-climate change age polar bears are old news. But who cares. There’s a dreaminess to Breathe and a marvelous understated intensity.

When I think of the acting in The Great Divide II, I think first of Park, she of such sweet and soft power. But the other actors also do well: Mikell Sapp is erect and forceful, and ditto Ricardo Vázquez. Maloney as always thrills with her tentative and vulnerable charisma.

Pillsbury is wonderful space. And despite their occasional herky-jerky structure, these plays are well worthwhile.

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. Please visit John’s informational website.

 

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