Enter the dream factory

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

Nathan Hall

Once upon a time, a rave did not necessarily always connote a $50 ticket gouge, nipple-twisting security guards and legions of bored 13-year-olds bumming cloves so they can pay $5 for bottled water at an event they insist is “just a party.”

During much of the last decade, an underground dance music aficionado knew that half the fun was getting there. The drill: Grab a flyer from a record shop, call a phone number with a prerecorded message containing barely decipherable directions, get all duded-up with your friends, score your “good-time enhancers” and then spend half the night trying to find the damn place.

Skewed Visions employs this strategy for their latest play, “The Orange Grove,” which places the action in a location so utterly undisclosed as to make Vice President Dick Cheney envious. Those determined enough to hunt around Northeast Minneapolis are in for a bizarre, yet strikingly original and superb experience.

Back in the day, techno impresarios would choose their warehouse randomly based almost solely on probability of police presence. This led to surreal experiences such as catching the Chemical Brothers spinning next to gigantic freezers full of frozen chickens. By contrast, Skewed Vision performances are 100 percent legal. They consciously chose to house their latest guerilla performance effort in the abandoned, gutted shell of a World War II bomb factory. According to local historical records, the Thorpe Building Complex at 1620 Central Ave. Northeast was used by General Mills employees in the 1940s who took a break from mixing up batches of Cheerios to pitch in by manufacturing bomb sights for the Allies. By the 1960s, most of the state’s munitions work was farmed out to the suburbs, but you can still see the crumbling remnants of gun turrets and watchtowers on the property.

War is a central theme in this autobiographical story of a woman’s struggle with her family’s history. She travels to England, abandoning her Turkish Muslim roots in the perpetually contested island of Cyprus. The site-specific piece was written and directed by Gulgan Kayim, who claims the project was more than two years in the making.

“The Orange Grove” revolves around the journeys of displaced immigrants, struggling with racial identity, cultural appropriation and the humorous intricacies of language barriers. Distraught family members frantically attempt to reconstruct their memory through storytelling. Ultimately, they end up grasping at straws.

The dank and foreboding feel of the gigantic space is enhanced by the sinister soundscape, which incorporates the strains of water sprinklers, children whispering and the Clash’s “London’s Burning.” Decked out in turn of the century worker garb, the initial tone quickly devolves into Dada-esque silliness. Styrofoam plates are swallowed, buttocks are exposed, gibberish is spouted and everyone lives in a cupboard. Migrants wear suitcases for hats, battle over secondhand pots and pans and transform framed photographs into makeshift jewelry.

A fairy tale about an incident of arson in a private orchard is repeated numerous times. An overenthusiastic waiter prefers to scream out today’s specials. The goddess Aphrodite might or might not be involved; we are not quite sure and we could care less at this point.

The irrepressibly upbeat Skewed folks have performed at, among other venues of various legality, an Elliot Park office window, the Minneapolis Farmers Market, the Nicollet Mall sidewalk and even from the backseat of a moving car. The contagiously optimistic Kayim appeared largely undeterred by the glaring fact that I was only one of two audience members in the building. It is also entirely possible the small audience was purposely sought out, as their 2000 Fringe Festival entry, “The Car” was considered “sold out” if three people bought tickets.

Perhaps the lack of patrons is a blessing in disguise, as the play is designed to be viewed by walking around, guided only by a flashlight manned by Kayim herself. As charming and flattering as personalized theater truly is, I could not help but feel a tad disconcerted that the only other audience member reeked of marijuana and refused to make eye contact. One rumored Skewed project that never got off the ground, which consisted of a “mailed in” performance courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service, might possibly be more my fellow audience member’s cup of tea.

Although “The Orange Grove” is an official selection for 2003’s “Art-A-Whirl” celebration in the newly proclaimed “art space” of Northeast, Kayim did not seem too terribly impressed with her newfound legitimacy. “Before we just dealt with individual landlords who usually could care less what we did,” she explained. “Now we have to fill out stacks of permits so this pronouncement has ironically actually made it harder for artists to work in Northeast.”

This Saturday performance will feature a salon-style panel discussion on the real life status of Cyprus by University professors, which seems appropriate considering the numerous connections Skewed has to the University. Kayim formed Skewed with two other fellow University graduates back in 1996. For this production, senior Stephanie Molstad designed the costumes. Molstad was invited to join the Skewed team after working on the University theatre department’s production of “There is a Field,” which was her senior project.

The distaste for decent directions does appear semi-reminiscent of old-school electronica get-togethers, but that usually drew a significantly sizeable crowd. “The Orange Grove” has probably more in common with an equally barren Whole show a precious few partook in the night before Valentine’s Day a few years back. Most of the single row of fans had not even bothered to pay, as it appeared everyone in the metropolis had something better to do at that particular time. In appreciation of sticking through the closer, the now-defunct, retro-rock outfit, The Odd tore though their set with a vengeance and still smashed a guitar for an audience they could count on one hand. Likewise, Skewed made no apologies for the turnout and gave it their all regardless of applause levels. That ought to trump ludicrously oversized pants and melted candy necklaces any day of the week.

“The Orange Grove” plays through May 31 at the Thorpe Building, 1620 Central Ave. N.E., (612) 823-4990, $2 discount for students with ID.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]