“The Beast” to open in Bedlam’s new Lowertown space

Ryan Underbakke and company explore the dark side of “Minnesota nice” through “The Beast.”

Elias Arkham rehearses the new play

Chelsea Gortmaker

Elias Arkham rehearses the new play “The Beast,” directed by Ryan Underbakke, at Bedlam’s new Lowertown location on Monday. “The Beast” opens June 13 and runs through June 21.

Joe Kellen

Bedlam Theatre’s “The Beast” has dark themes, a whole lot of physicality and a hefty body count — a perfect piece to perform for a potentially unsuspecting audience.

The theater, located right on the soon-to-open Green Line light rail, just opened its new location in St. Paul’s Lowertown late last month, replete with a bar and restaurant as well as the requisite performance space. Everything is in view of one another — folks at the bar can see what’s going on inside the theater, and vice versa.

“The Beast,” conceived by Ryan Underbakke and created by the cast, spins a tale that takes place in northern Minnesota. The play centers on an immigrant family that moves into a quiet, rural community only to get caught up in a longstanding family feud.

“It’s all about ‘Minnesota nice,’” performer Jon Cole said. “We were interested in how small-town culture can be terrifying because if you’re not from there, people can be really polite and nice to you, but you’ll never really belong until you’ve lived there for several generations.”

The ensemble will explore the dark side of backhanded friendliness with the highly physical performance style that Underbakke is known for — the director won an Ivey Award for his work on Live Action Set’s “The 7-Shot Symphony.”

Like “7-Shot,” “The Beast” employs choreographed movement to convey its locations and story. The actors use their bodies to portray anything from a gust of wind or a violent showdown to more abstract events, such as the passing of time.

“Physical theater forms have really exploded in this town. Lots of companies use it, and I love that work,” Cole said. “Though, because of the nature of physical stuff and clown, it comes to kind of a saccharine place, and there’s never as much darkness represented on the stage. It’s never fully embraced.”

Lucas Koski, Bedlam’s business manager and venue director, wasn’t entirely sure about having “The Beast” as the company’s first project in the space with the kitchen finally open.

Koski said the darkness of “The Beast” will cast a different atmosphere on the room, but he’s excited for the venue’s full disclosure setup and hopes it will spark conversations that may not have happened otherwise.

“We want to be open to the public regardless of what’s happening,” he said. “We like to think of theater almost as a spectator sport. By changing the space, people think about what they’re seeing differently.”

Koski said he hopes placing a live show next to a highly social environment will encourage artists to think about how they can “share their space” and work to involve audiences more.

Cole said the open rehearsals have already been interesting, attracting the attention and awe of folks stationed at the bar.

“We got them to watch,” he said. “After this fun song in the show, there’s a twist where something very ugly happens — this woman gasped and she covered her face.”

Ultimately, Bedlam’s goal is to become a main contributor to Lowertown’s art community. Koski said St. Paul is a largely unexplored city when it comes to the performance scene.

“I used to live in the Artists’ Lofts,” Cole said. “I really enjoyed living down there, but everything closes at 8.”

The Bedlam crew wishes to change that notion of St. Paul. Now that they’re fully open and ready to take advantage of their light rail-centric location, Koski said he feels this new direction is the right one.

“It’s a perfect neighborhood,” he said. “We are very much a Lowertown venue, and our goal is to provide a platform for art and make ourselves feel like a local destination.”

What: “The Beast”
When: 9 p.m. Jun. 13–21
Where: Bedlam Theatre, 213 E. Fourth St., St. Paul
Cost: $15