Review | 21 Extremely Bad Breakups: should I stay or should I go?

Walking Shadow Theatre Co., performing at Red Eye Theater (15 West 14th St., Mpls), through March 3

David Beukema, Anna Hickey, Allison Witham, and Ricardo Beaird in 21 EXTREMELY BAD BREAKUPS. Photo by John Heimbuch.

Any play with a title like 21 Extremely Bad Breakups is bound to be a bit of a yuk-fest and so it is with Walking Shadow’s new work of that name. Though 21EBB fits this description, it’s more than just a half-dozen actors doing anything for a laugh. Directed by Amy Rummenie from a book by Mark Leidner the show tenders a more serious undertone that serves the story well throughout its nearly two hour runtime at the Red Eye Theatre.

As co-artistic director of Walking Shadow, Rummenie adeptly handles the task of adapting Leidner’s work for the stage. The audience experiences twenty-one scenes all touching on the enigmatic, ever-shifting qualities of personal relationships.

The play is anchored by Jean Wolff as the no-frills narrator. As the writer who pounds out the stories on her laptop, Wolff guides us through vignettes of love gone wrong. The other five actors play multiple roles with Neal Beckman (especially good in a funny/sad role as Nurse) and Allison Witham (who turns in layered performances in whatever play she is cast) are the stand-out performers in a solid, experienced cast. Clever surprises, excellent choreography punctuated by crisp movements, and fluid facial expressions sustain the humor in the stories. Characters from previous scenes show up occasionally and a metaphorical bus returns to slam into lovelorn characters. Both of these devices help to hang the diverse group of stories together. And the use of props, as they spring suddenly to life, adds to the fun.

The momentum flags a little in one or two of the later scenes but interest picks up again as the mood in the show shifts to a more serious intent. It is easy to laugh at other people’s breakups but laughing at our own is difficult if not impossible. One is left with the nagging questions: Should I have stayed? Or should I have left long ago?

One measure of a director is how well they bring a comedy down to its touching denouement. Rummenie adroitly hands the task. The last scene in which the narrator relates her own bad break up has just the right amount of poignant sincerity.

Final applause must be offered to Paper Installation Artist, Coal Dorius, whose floor to loft drops of semi-translucent white squares turn the long narrow stage at Red Eye Theatre into a well-delineated space. The patchwork of torn paper is a perfect metaphor for 21 Extremely Bad Breakups.

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