Pillow talk and pillow fights

Mixed Blood Theater presents an updated version of the play ‘The Pajama Game’

Haily Gostas

Hey, cats, listen up. You’re invited to a pajama party of epic proportions, dig? Lace up your lingerie, bring your beau or bird, and get ready to cut a rug!

First, the straight facts:

WHO: The West Bank company Mixed Blood Theatre is, in a word, notorious – a staple within the Twin Cities not only for its bold, cutting-edge productions, but also for its refusal to conform to any safe theatrical norm.

Founded in 1976 by then 22-year-old Jack Reuler, and christened with six simultaneous, wholly unique shows about race, class and society, this professional, multiracial company has consistently promoted cultural pluralism through creative achievement. Rather than use the theater for profit and personal gain, Mixed Blood uses it as a vehicle for artistry, education and social change, often addressing common barriers and what precisely might be done to overcome them. Presenting up to 500 performances annually, Mixed Blood often specializes in updating classic productions to suit more modern social issues.

WHAT: With the blessing of original scribe George Abbott’s widow, Mixed Blood Theatre and director Mark Valdez present a revamped version of the beloved 1950s gem “The Pajama Game.” Based on Richard Bissell’s novel “7 1/2 Cents,” this cheeky Broadway romp originally shed light on a pack of white, working class down-and-outs, looking for love and fulfillment but settling for the somewhat steady wages of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory in the meantime.

The course of “The Pajama Game” follows the battle between the factory’s owners and employees. When workers demand a raise, Sid, the dashing but inexperienced manager of Sleep-Tite played by Jorge Maldonado, meets his match in the feisty Babe Williams (Tiffany Solano), leader of the factory union. Amidst their conflict, a romance blossoms between the two, and makes for plenty of hilarious and awkward situations alongside the attempted business negotiations.

It may seem like a surprisingly fluffy choice in consideration of the company’s previous heavier works; however, Mixed Blood has seized, shaken and stirred up the classic, adapting it not only to modern times, but plunking the story within a garment industry dominated by struggling Latinos – still timeless, but with a timelier twist.

“We kept the location because it helps place the story in a more honest context,” said Valdez. “Latino populations are growing in Midwestern areas like these, and they’re often a source of transition and even conflict.”

Valdez and his troupe of actors will provide a bilingual adaptation and translation for “The Pajama Game,” projecting supertitles on various set pieces for all audience members to understand the mixture of Spanish and English dialogue. The familiar lyrics and melodies of show-stopping numbers like “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Steam Heat” are filtered through a luscious mixture of Latin salsa, merengue, tango and cumbia arrangements by David Burk.

WHY: “As I read the headlines focusing on immigration reform, corporate corruption and the ongoing fair wages movement, I saw in ‘The Pajama Game’ a musical that was ready to be revisited,” said California’s Valdez, who had originally proposed the idea to Reuler over dinner a few years back.

Valdez, who had previously applied the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1930s comedy “You Can’t Take It With You” to a modern Los Angeles-based Muslim family, lives for these types of opportunities.

“We have the opportunity to bridge cultures and communities,” he said. “It’s amazing to imagine how these productions can mean something today, or how they can be shared with a new audience,” he said.

This is one of the most revolutionary aspects of theater, Valdez feels.

“Two of the most different people can be brought together, side by side, and suddenly you’re both engaged and in discussion – that exchange is so much more profound, I think, than storming the mayor’s office in protest,” he said with a laugh.

Valdez, who had worked with Mixed Blood previously, felt bringing “The Pajama Game” to Reuler was a natural fit.

“(Mixed Blood) is the face of what’s changing here in this country. They keep ahead of what’s going on by keeping in conversation with the greater population,” he explained. “I had brought the idea to other theaters, but Jack immediately understood the exciting possibility, the potential and even the risk factor.”

All in all, Valdez extends the invitation in hopes that it will foster an understanding of the Other, those that struggle for their successes. And more than just fun and fancy free, this pajama party offers a glimpse into a handful of humane tales and a chance to add to a current national debate in a unique way.