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Bards, 2007
Nick Ryan's Elizabethan comedy opens with the ostensibly good news that the Plague has closed the London theaters, opening the way for action as baroque as anything contrived for the stage. William Shakespeare (Matt Spring), under the patronage of the lascivious Earl of Southampton, gets converted to Catholicism and enlisted in Papist plots. Meanwhile Christopher Marlowe (Danny Salmen) signs up as a spy for the queen, then gets Shakespeare to conspire against his boss. The dialogue crackles, and short choral interludes add an off-kilter spin to the proceedings. Overall it feels a little unfinished, but Bards boasts a surplus of ideas. It's as fun and strange as anything offered up this year.
-Quenton Skinner, City Pages

Bards, 2007
The theory that William Shakespeare wrote love sonnets for the Earl of Southampton but discreetly loved rival playwright Christopher Marlowe fuels Nick Ryan's crackling comedy, "Bards." Bewitching and bloody twists and turns about Catholics, Protestants, and espionage are rendered by director Jason Ballweber's fearless cast. They master a comic-strip style drenched in scintillating historical conjecture. Colin Waitt's hilariously lurid Southampton reveals sexuality at odds with piety. Sandra Veldey's costumes irreverently blend contemporary casual with Elizabethan pomp.
-John Townsend, Star Tribune

Bards, 2007
Christopher Marlowe is a leather-jacket-clad secret agent, trying to stave off an assassination attempt on the life of Queen Elizabeth. A bumbling young patsy named Will Shakespeare tries to help, and the results are equal parts comedy and tragedy. In the world of this light and literate Elizabethan riff, art and life are inextricably linked, as poets, playwrights and p atriots exchange verbal barbs and sword strokes. A foul-mouthed madrigal ensemble provides the musical accompaniment. A savory idea is a little too heavily salted with slow moments, but, on the whole, "Bards" bows nicely both to the Elizabethans and Tom Clancy.
-Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press

Beckett's Widow, 2007
Samuel Beckett frequently managed the contradictory achievement of sucking dry humanity's humdrum existance while locating the shriek beneath it. As the old song lyric put it, I'd rather feel bad than not feel anything at all. Here, writer/director Nick Ryan and the Four Humors Theater portray a director trying to stage Old Gloomy Guts' Endgame, while the Beckett Estate tries everything in its power to shut him down. The usual caualities of great art pile up: ego, friendship, sanity, etc. Ryan is a sharp young writer, and last year's production of his Inspector Rex was a welcome, if unforeseen gem, a seemingly tossed-off script full of incisive language and unexpected turns.
-Quinton Skinner, City Pages

Deviled Eggs, 2006
This apocalyptic tale presented by talented acttors of FOur Humors Theater is about Lucifer's attempt at creating the anti-christ. There's only one problem: The red guy can't get it up. I guess we know why nothing occurred in 2000. Danny Salmen plays a very likeable and loquacious Lucifuer and is joined by a cast that shares his heighted level of comdy. But the laughs in this show should also be credited to its writer, Nick Ryna, who offers up such wit and hilarity that audience members will be doubled over in their seats.
-Jeffrey E McCants, Star Tribune

Deviled Eggs, 2006
Bible revisionists tend to become preachy, a trend that playwright Nick Ryan bucks here by axing the sermons in favor of dick jokes and a killer premise. The end is nigh- or would be, if lucifer could just overcome (*nudge nudge) his 2.00-year bout of erectile dysfunction and conceive the Antichrist. Le Richards as Jesus gets the best lines, while lead actor Danny Salmen does an admiral job of wading through Ryna's dense dialogue. A few ostentatious monoluges bog down the action, but the play makes up for it with a hilarious supporting cast and hit monosyllabic catch phrase (deliverd by the Prince of Darkness to his own ineffectual member): "Fuck!"
-Chuck Terhark, City Pages

Oedipus Rex, 2005
At its core, Oedipus is a whodunit with all the clues leading right back to the investigator. Typically overlooked are the comedic possibilities inherent in the incest/eye-gouge scenario, which have been extracted by playwright Nick Ryan by transporting the action to a British parlor and turning Oedipus into a psychopathically deranged dullard. Most of the cast of this 2005 Fringe remount is composed of students at the University of Minnesota, and a youthful energy tends to smooth over the rougher edges of the production. Chase Korte is an appealing loose cannon in the title role; he riffs on Rex's well-wrought stupidity and anchors things with a consistent sense of fun. It's a pretty bare-bones show, with just a few pieces of furniture serving as a set, but Ryan's script ushers us through the skeleton of the myth with dialogue full of astringent irony. One of the primary voices of discontent is Lee Richards's servant Henry, who is unmoved by his employers' death and sets about swilling cognac while waiting for someone to declare that the butler did it. Danny Salmen appears as a two–bit blind magician to serve as oracle, in a strangely mannered performance that adds welcome weirdness. By the time we're done waiting for Rex to wrap his mind around what he's done (the youth of the cast makes the story's inherently multigenerational story line a bit visually implausible, but never mind), laughs have not been hard to come by. There's no question that the show is operating on the stripped-down and not universally polished model often associated with Fringe offerings, but it's a genuinely funny show that acquits itself well on its own merits.
-Quenton Skinner, City Pages

Interview with Barbra Berlovitz
August 15, 2007

After 30 years at Jeune Lune, cofounder Barbra Berlovitz explores another stage in her career

New Horizons
by Quinton Skinner

On a dismal afternoon this spring I stood outside a local women's correctional institution. No one I knew was in trouble with the law; I was waiting to be admitted past security to see a Ten Thousand Things production of Lorca's Blood Wedding. Things were surreal enough, though, and I was relieved to spot a familiar face. Barbra Berlovitz, for her part, met my hello with mock consternation.

"Oh, God," she said. "You're here to review this?"

It turned out that Berlovitz, a founding artistic director of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, was performing that day outside the rather rarified turf of her home theater for the first time in three decades. After a shake-up in the theater's organization last year, which left most of the company's founders without artistic director status, Berlovitz has cast a wider artistic net, including taking the role of the mother in Blood Wedding after another actor dropped out.

"It was tenuous for me," she says months later on a hot summer day, over coffee in south Minneapolis. "I haven't studied Lorca, and I wasn't a fan. I thought Lorca was so over-the-top, so melodramatic."

As she speaks, Berlovitz allows an ironic grin. In Jeune Lune's nearly 30-year existence, first splitting time between Minnesota and France, then settling here for good, the company staked its identity on both visual and emotional extravagance. Until her home theater charts its future, though, Berlovitz has obviously enjoyed the experience of playing with others.

"It's been thrilling," she says, a word she uses several times over the course of an hour. "It's nice to be out of my cluster—or cloister."

Berlovitz, an imposing and elemental presence onstage, is open and relaxed in person, with a ready smile. She has a marvelous cackle of a laugh that she unleashes when particularly tickled, such as when talk turns to the Amino Project, an improvisational show she participated in with the U.K.'s Improbable company last April.

For all Jeune Lune's accomplishments, including a regional Tony Award in 2005, it's clear that Berlovitz has relished working recently on smaller-scale projects. And when talk turns to the two Fringe Festival shows on which she recently worked (her first ever), she remembers a time when her home company possessed a good deal less institutional baggage.

"It's kind of embarrassing and sentimental and mushy," she says. "When I walked out onstage as an actor at the Southern (for Four Humors' production of Bards, in which she played Queen Elizabeth), I teared up. I hadn't been an actor on that stage in so long, and the tech director came out and said, 'See this arch? No one touch the arch. As Barbra can tell you, Jeune Lune repaired it.' And we did—there were pieces of plaster we repaired that were still there."

Jeune Lune moved into its current warehouse district space in 1992. For more than a decade before, it was an itinerant company. At this year's Fringe, Berlovitz listened to echoes of those earlier days.

"Bards was oversold," she says of one performance. "Just jam-packed. I was listening from the wings, and I heard laughter. A lot of the shows Jeune Lune did in the early years were comedies, and there's a particular sound of the laughter in (the Southern Theater), and I heard it. I hadn't heard it since Yang Zen Froggs in 1985."

Berlovitz also worked as a coach for Bedlam Theatre's Shakespeare's Hystery of Queene Margaret in this year's Fringe, and she has a full plate of teaching gigs at the U of M. She has also directed student productions in the Twin Cities and California in the past year. She's a major fan of the Russian novelist Bulgakov, and has an adaptation of Master and Margarita waiting to find a home.

While the fate of Jeune Lune is uncertain for the moment, Berlovitz professes her desire to keep one foot within its borders. She talks about the uniqueness of the company, with its long-term nucleus paralleled only by companies such as New York's Mabou Mines and Improbable for staying power.

"We got together because we didn't particularly want to work in other places," Berlovitz says of Jeune Lune. "Now, coming out of a training as an actor-author, it's interesting to see young groups like Four Humors and Bedlam, so completely different, developing their own futures."

If they're (very) lucky, those artists might work in the theater as long as Berlovitz. On the other hand, they've clearly lent her a welcome shot in the arm. The air outside the cloister seems very fresh indeed.

Design.:Development - Ryan Lear