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“Humanimal”: Beyond Kevin Kling’s wildest dreams

Acclaimed local storyteller Kevin Kling returns to the Open Eye Theatre for a play about people, pets and untamed wilderness.
Kevin Kling, writer of Humanimal,  during rehearsal at Open Eye Figure Theater on Monday evening.
Image by Bridget Bennett
Kevin Kling, writer of “Humanimal,” during rehearsal at Open Eye Figure Theater on Monday evening.

Twelve years ago, a car altered Kevin Kling’s life forever. At the corner of Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue, he clung to life on his motorcycle after a near fatal crash.

The accident left his right arm paralyzed. But as the local storyteller rehearsed his latest play in a Wisconsin cabin, Kling said his physical recovery also left him time with his two resilient dogs.

“There’s nothing with a more can-do attitude in a can’t-do body than a wiener dog,” he said. “I thought if that wiener dog can get up in a pick-up truck, I can do that.”

“Humanimal” celebrates a cross-species connection Kling identifies as essential to maintaining sound mental health, the same bond he needed after his brush with mortality. The play takes on poignant philosophical questions about nature with Kling’s signature wit.

“We are continually pushing ourselves away from nature, considering ourselves above nature,” he said. “It’s to the detriment of our species.”

Known for his commentary on National Public Radio, Kling melds autobiography and fable for the animal-obsessed show. Think Jack London laced with a blithe comedic spirit.

Joined by frequent collaborators Michael Sommers, Simone Perrin, Jacqueline Ultan and Michelle Kinney, Kling creates a tribute to the chasm between humans and animals. In the latter half of the show, a man attempts to revert back to a more “wild” existence.

Along with the dachshunds, Kling owns two horses, also an inspiration for the environmental celebration of “Humanimal.”

“Recently I’ve noticed how much I’m fed by the animals, how much it returns me to a place that we seem to have pulled away from,” he said.

“Humanimal” joins the list of themed shows Kling has produced at the Open Eye for the past seven years. From politics to religion, his talent for storytelling keeps feeding the local venue. But the play’s not exactly Kling’s first foray into the animal world.


A foot in two worlds

“The Dog Says How,” his 2007 collection of short stories, marks another one of the writer’s bridges between pets and their owners. The book was also Kling’s first after the motorcycle accident.

The title refers to a bizarre link between technology and Kling’s wiener dog. When he began using voice-recognition software to type instead of a keyboard, his computer wrote his dog’s bark as “how.” Kling’s stories in the book point to a long running theme in his works, like “Humanimal” — the desire to exist in two separate worlds.

In “The Dog Says How,” Kling manages a disability that renders him navigating a new world. “Disabled” takes on greater meaning under the author’s lyrical wisdom. Using Dante’s definition, the prefix “dis” references the underworld, “a place of shadow and reflection.”

Rather than meaning “unable,” he sees “disabled” as a nuanced identity straddling two worlds. “Humanimal” also unites increasingly divided camps.

“We coexist with these amazing creatures and we both have things to offer each other,” he said.

“Humanimal” takes on a spiritual dimension and highlights the mythic and cultural value of embracing the wild. Kling references an Ojibwe tale to explain this unrelenting relationship.

“As the chasm of the world was forming and the animals and humans were separating, at the last minute the dog jumped across to be with the humans,” he said.

Kling required numerous surgeries to reconstruct his face after the motorcycle crash, but luckily his poetic gift for storytelling never needed medical maintenance. “Humanimal” joins the multitalented artist’s resume of stories to unite two camps, in this case, one animal at a time.

“Any touch to nature — any reminder of where we come from — is going to prolong our lives on this planet,” he said. “Once the canary’s gone from the coal mine, you are the canary.”


What: “Humanimal”

Where: Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St. Minneapolis

When: August 9, 7:30 p.m.; August 10, 7:30 p.m.; August 11, 4 p.m.; August 12, 7:30 p.m.; August 15, 7:30 p.m.; August 16, 7:30 p.m.; August 17, 2 p.m.; August 18, 2 and 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $20

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