Jungle visits Detroit state of mind

Ben (John Middleton), Sharon (Anna Sundberg), Kenny (Tyson Forbes), and [seated] Mary (Angie Timberman).

Ben (John Middleton), Sharon (Anna Sundberg), Kenny (Tyson Forbes), and [seated] Mary (Angie Timberman).

For director Joel Sass and the company of Detroit, Lisa D'Amour's deconstruction of the fading middle class offered plenty of challenges in terms of tone, character, and message.

It has also offered unusual staging challenges. "There's grilling onstage," Sass says.

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As the quintessential American barbeque is central to the plot, Sass chose to bring the cooking onto the stage. Of course, that's a lot more complex than just firing up a Weber every night. Making a fake barbeque is far more involved than a real one.

Those ideas run through D'Amour's script. "I like the collision of naturalism and a David Lynchian surrealism. She also has an x-ray vision on cultural life," Sass says. "Detroit is a state of mind in this play. It's a place that held the promise of upward mobility, and now has the specter of economic malaise and diminished expectations."

D'Amour sets her play in an unnamed suburb, and it involves a pair of couples barely holding on to the coattails of the American dream. Sass has brought in a quartet of veteran performers to take on the roles: John Middleton, Angie Timberman, Anna Sundberg, and Tyson Forbes. The company also includes Jay Hornbacher, who makes his first appearance at the Jungle in 21 years, when he was in The Diary of Anne Frank.

"It's a great ensemble. They know what to do with the play," Sass says.

Sass worked with D'Amour about a decade ago when the playwright, who is a core member of the Playwrights' Center, spent time in the Twin Cities. He has followed her work through the years, and is thrilled with the chance to take on this play.

"It has a naturalistic setting with forays into alcohol-fueled surreal and abstract behavior. She has said that the play should be treated like a naturalistic one, but she sees it also as kind of fable," Sass says. "It is also really, really funny"

Finding the right balances in the show -- between comedy and tragedy, reality and fantasy -- is important. "If you look at the production history of this play, some are more tragic and sad while others have taken a more inaccurate permission to turn it into a farce, into something that is a more obvious clash of characters. That isn't what she is doing at all. These are two couples who are clinging to their lives and are trying out the art of being neighborly," Sass says.

Lovers of the Jungle -- or those just interested in the behind-the-scenes life of a theater -- can head out to the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. for Jungle Encounters, a short film running as part of Shorts 3: Stage to Screen at Northrup Auditorium. 

The film, created by Michael Hanisch, has Jungle founder Bain Boehlke taking the viewer into the inner workings of the theater, along with chats with various actors and others about a life in the theater. The interviewees include Claudia Wilkens, Wendy Lehr, Bradley Greenwald, and Richard Ooms. For tickets and more information on the film, visit online


Friday through May 25
The Jungle Theater

2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis

For tickets and more information, call 612.822.7063 or visit online.