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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

UMN alum-founded theater company reads original play

St. Paul’s Bad Mouth Theatre Company read “Nebraska,” a stirring play about a troubled Midwestern family, on April 24.
The+theater+company+read+the+play+at+Waldmann+Brewery+in+St.+Paul.
Image by Cole Bursch
The theater company read the play at Waldmann Brewery in St. Paul.

The University of Minnesota alum-founded Bad Mouth Theater Company read the stirring play “Nebraska” by Mari Sitner at Waldmann Brewery in St. Paul on April 24.

Sitner, a 24-year-old Detroit-raised, New York City-based playwright wrote “Nebraska” with a tone that feels authentic to the landscape of the Midwest without relying on overused rural American tropes. The play worked, not only as an introduction to Sitner’s clever writing but as the latest move by a collective of University of Minnesota-affiliated actors.

Mysteriously though, the play takes place outside of Nebraska and all in one troubled family’s Midwest house, the exact location remaining undisclosed to the audience. To Sitner, the character study aspects mattered more than location or plot.

“I always start with character. I am less focused on what the play is about at the beginning and more focused on who these characters are and what they would say to each other,” Sitner said. “I had a vague idea of the plot when I started, but I was most interested in how it was going to play out with the individual quirks and personalities of the characters.”

The play was read by four local actors: Bridget Foy, Nate Turcotte, Garrett Hildebrandt and Bad Mouth co-founder Amanda Forstrom. Stage directions were read by Kevin Kautzman, who co-founded Bad Mouth Theater Company with Forstrom and Sitner.

“Nebraska” captures the daily intensities of working-class life. It centers around a family of three: siblings Richie and Vicki and their mother, Heather. The kids are both young teenagers who take care of themselves while their mother works long hours. This changes when a charming door-to-door salesman, Josh, befriends Heather and the kids. It remains unclear what Josh is selling to the family until much later on.

Turcotte, who read for the character Richie, is a second-year acting major at the University who previously met Forstrom and got involved with Bad Mouth during another production.

“Typically in other cities, readings like this one, just actors getting together and reading a play for the hell of it, is common … but not something that the Twin Cities has a whole lot of. I hope to continue supporting them because I think readings are so crucial to keeping the art alive,” Turcotte said.

One of the founders of Bad Mouth, University alum Kautzman, connected with Sitner through Twitter a couple of years ago before Bad Mouth even existed. An established playwright himself, Kautzman moved back to the Twin Cities from New York City during the pandemic before deciding to start a theater collective.

Nowadays, Bad Mouth creates audio content and podcasts, as well as their first full-scale production. Titled “One Good Marriage,” it will premiere at the Phoenix Theater in Uptown Minneapolis on May 19.

“Philosophically, theater is an anecdote to alienation in a wildly alienated and unsocial time,” Kautzman said. “One of the things that got me into theater in the first place was spending too much time on the internet. There’s nothing like being in a room full of adults and playing make-believe together.”

Fittingly, “Nebraska” entrances audiences with its raunchy and titillating dialogue.

Richie and Vickie bicker while dealing with the powerlessness of harsh economic realities. Their mother Heather, portrayed brilliantly by Forstrom, battles addiction, stressful work hours and an absent husband. Meanwhile, the plot twists and turns with the manipulation of Josh.
Sitner delivered a darkly humorous play with “Nebraska” and expressed a certain relief in the fruition of its first reading.

“It is hard right when you’re out of school to have a lot of creative output. You’re working jobs that are maybe not your favorite, moving around and figuring things out,” Sitner said. “It feels good to put something back into the world.”

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