Bear in mind

U students and faculty take the stage with actors from Theatre Novi Most in a whimsical Russian fairytale.

Alex Stene, front, Laura Hickey, and Brant Miller rehearse a scene from

Jaak Jensen

Alex Stene, front, Laura Hickey, and Brant Miller rehearse a scene from “Something About a Bear” on Monday, April 8, 2013, at The Thrust Stage in Rarig Center.

Lucy Nieboer

What: “Something About a Bear”

When: Times vary, Thursday-April 21

Where: Rarig Center, Stoll Thrust Theater, 330 S. 21st Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $5 for students; $10 for everyone else

 

It is not often that an all-ages show is complex enough for adults to appreciate yet simple enough for younger audience members to enjoy.

To children, “Something About a Bear” is a simple fable of the forbidden love between a bear and a princess. But the play holds much deeper meaning for adults.

“It’s about the dangers of feeling love and sex and all those feelings that come up,” director Lisa Channer said. “They’re almost animal; you don’t know what to do with them.”

Channer hopes to draw Russian literature fans and audience members with cultural ties to the show.

“Everybody there knows it. It plays every New Year’s Eve,” she said. “You know how ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ plays here? It’s their ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”*****

The script, written by Constance Congdon, is an American adaptation of Yevgeni Shvarts’ beloved Russian play “An Ordinary Miracle,” set in a small northern Minnesota town.

Channer, a theater assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and founder of Theatre Novi Most, said she’s excited to present this beloved Russian children’s story.

“It’s really a fun marrying of two of my lives,” she said.

The production is part of the University’s RiCAP program—Reimagining Community and Arts Partnership. A professional company — this year Theatre Novi Most — takes up a residency within the department. Students get to act alongside professionals.

“Mixing students and professionals I think is a really important thing,” Channer said. “Everybody learns. Everybody grows.”

Senior and cast member Catherine Noble said she’s learned a lot from working in the RiCAP program. One of her theatre instructors, Luverne Seifert, is also a member of Theatre Novi Most and has a principle role in the show. Noble said watching the pros work gives her real-world insight about a profession she hopes to pursue.

“We as students have this idea about the right answer,” she said, “but they aren’t afraid to ask a million questions — they’ll try anything.”

Magical fairytales like this are usually set against a backdrop of mystical lands far, far away. “Something About a Bear” is set in the bland northern woods of Minnesota. What it lacks in exotic locale it makes up for in fantastical sets, outlandish characters and a whimsical story.

Through a series of magical encounters, two groups of characters come to inhabit the stage. The Minnesotan outdoorsmen are drab while their supernatural visitors, including a wizard and his family, are colorful and eccentric. The costumes of the latter group were inspired by the eccentric fashion choices of recent Brighton Beach immigrants — a historically Russian community in New York City.

Another element that contributes to the lighthearted attitude of the show is an original musical score by Johanna Gorman-Baer. Several characters play instruments and sing throughout different scenes. The folk-like music sets the show on par with musicals, but remains grounded in non-lyrical dialogue.

Senior Jack Dhein, who plays the hunter’s apprentice, gushed about the show, explaining that it was a nice change from acting in more serious works to being in a show with a happily ever after attached.

“There’s more of a focus on playfulness,” he said.

As the scene closes on the snowy forest, children will take in the happy ending as adults peel back the metaphorical layers.

“It’s all going to end OK for everybody,” Dhein said.