La Vie Bedlam

Bedlam Theatre on the West Bank celebrates another year of innovative mojo with a little “Lost Love.”

by Sara Nicole Miller

Playwright Peter Papadopoulos balances atop a dingy folding chair in front of the Bedlam Theatre’s stage, his eyes transfixed on the first act of his play, “Lost Love.”


WHEN: 8 p.m., Nov. 30 through Dec. 16
WHERE: Bedlam Theatre, 1501 6th St. S., West Bank
TICKETS: $10-$18, WWW.BEDLAMTHEATRE.ORG for discounts, specials and matinees.

The scene unfolds like an electrocuted orchid’s petals fluttering across the sawdust stage, with the pan-fried menagerie of actors and imitators swirling about somewhere between last night’s empty beer cans and the mannequin torso propped up next to the bar.

On stage, Mitzy the Soggy Bride (played by Kristi Ternes) huddles atop a mountain – an oblong, angular geometric tower of steel bars and wooden planks that reach toward the stage ceiling.

“There are many things to consider, when considering a wedding cake,” Mitzy proclaims, staring starry-eyed and sloshy into the sky.

She continues her rationalized monologue, now deemed absurd in light of her situation: Mascarpone or royal icing? Plastic costumed figurines or fresh edible flowers? Three tiers or Ö or?

But none of that really matters now, for her wedding day has just been interrupted by a torrential worldly flood. Washed up on a balmy mountaintop in the epicenter of the disaster, she inadvertently bumps into the only surviving member of her wedding party, Tito the valet.

This is a typical – meaning unpredictable – Saturday of rehearsal of “Lost Love” at the Bedlam Theatre, ground zero for some of the Twin Cities’ best expressionistic, in-your-face theater.

“The Bedlam actors are extremely bold and embodied – they just go for it,” Papadopoulos explains as he gazes out onto the sea of stage and props. “Each scene just pops out of the darkness like a snapshot.”

Mojo theater, in essence, is everything that your Jane Eyre at the Guthrie is not- blending and freeze-frying the comic and the tragic, sweeping universal scopes and jaunty, physically aware performers. It is a theater of the moment, exchanging clear-cut mood and tone for the instantaneously cerebral and the ironically melodramatic. Its practitioners, in a method reminiscent of artistic dumpster diving, give about as much artistic weight to low-brow culture references and foamy Americana as they do to Brechtian undertones and Freudian dilemmas.

“Like Chekhov, I like to use an epic backdrop,” Papadopoulos says of the melodramatic motifs of his inked universe. “The theme and rhythm should hopefully form a center to which the chaos is centered around.”

In the Bedlam’s like-minded ethos of transgression and imagination, the bleeding heart of theater is ripped right out of its classical origins of long-dead playwrights, fourth walls and crush velvet overpriced seats. Over the years, the folks at Bedlam have developed a uniquely radical, “irrational” aesthetic: bold visual spectacles, vibrant sullied characterizations, a penchant for the social and the political and a dash of what the folks at Bedlam deem “experimental absurdism.” In short, the Mojo theatre of Papadopoulos’ imagination cloaked in a different signifier.

And so far, the jolted, carnivalesque crew who named themselves after the notorious London insane asylum has done a darn good job – they’ve been hailed the world over for their avant-garde theatrics and edgy, hierarchy-inverting brands of artistic expression.

“They’ve captured the popular imagination, and you have to just be willing to play along,” Papadopoulos says.

Papadopoulos, a Mojo theatre playwright, associate professor of theater at Indiana State, and absurdist-cosmologist extraordinaire, has driven up from Indiana for the weekend, to see his play “Lost Love” off the ground. The Bedlam has chosen to produce “Lost Love” in celebration of their first year in the new West Bank space.

The intermingling of “Mojo” and “Irrational” theatre, Papadopoulos’ writing and the Bedlam’s heaps of talent and bravado, is a match made in avant-garde heaven. And “Lost Love,” by all appearances, is the scaly, paranoid, sharp-tongued love child.

To envision “Lost Love” as a theatrical experience, picture an industrial, trinket-filled stage buzzing to the tune of Papadopoulos’ literary free-radicals – infidelity, global warming, conspicuous wedding consumption and a preoccupation with frosting – as they chaotically meander in and out the lips and bodies of the characters and the air particles.

In fact, by its very nature, “Lost Love” renders every space in the theater radioactive, fossilized and problematic. And the characters further saturate it with their tiffs and torments. But it’s all the better for you, the unassuming theater-goer whose just been ideologically T-boned. That’s the beauty of the Bedlam.

“There’s a lot to think about. But any singular point of view seems at best terribly ambiguous,” Papadopoulos explains.

As the rehearsal continues, more characters in “Lost Love” enter and exit seamlessly around their self-imposed shackled surroundings. Jan the Newly Fascinated (Maren Ward) and Barb the Lying Cheating Lesbian (Heather Wilson) attempt to reconcile their relationship, and their love of commodity goods, after a bout of infidelity. Meanwhile, the Brooding French Art Film Guy (Jim Stowell) rhapsodizes about ape, man and destiny to Jan through a pixilated Discovery Channel telethon. A disfigured Pizza Boy, an auction selling Antarctica for $34,000, and glints of ironic Americana all churn about in the ever-expanding plot. It’s all strange fruit, to be sure.

“They’re aimless, they percolate through the scenes, inside the tidal wave,” Papadopoulos reflects.

The witty dialogue between them momentarily dazzles, but there’s a tinge of melancholia, of worldly murkiness, of fear that, in Papadopoulos’ words, we’re “stuck in an unsustainable system.” Both feelings and worldly stability in “Lost Love” are fleeting at best, something that the inertia of the scene progression harshly reminds us of. It’s aesthetic iconoclasm at its finest, only “Lost Love” may actually lick its lips with some solutions.

“This play is about what happens when we lose our connection to ourselves and to the planet – and how do we get back to it,” Papadopoulos chimes.

From the grainy abyss, “Lost Love” yanks out those insoluble notions of social strata. It forces us to come to grips with a watery, subliminal return to the vast ghettoized oceans of our minds, whether through awareness of the art as artifice, or through the chaos of the natural disasters the art attempts to articulate.

And if Bedlam is indeed the bread to Papadopoulos’s butter, their emerging styles of “irrational” or “mojo” theater could serve up a hearty reconfiguring of modern theater and entertainment. And it’s all happening right in our own backyard.

And as far as creative synergy is concerned, Papadopoulos has all the faith in that kooky, abstractionist, free versin’ world, a world that is both mojo and irrational: “The Bedlam is part of my model idea that theater could actually be popular again.”