The reviews are in for ‘Spunk’ at Penumbra Theatre

Last year, Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul seemed to be in a financial freefall, appearing as though it may have played its last show.

After an outpouring of public support, including 1,400 donations, the lauded African American company is back in business with “Spunk,” a play based on three stories collected by Zora Neale Hurston.

Four out of five critics agree; this show is smart, stylish, infectious and satisfying.

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Austene Van and Keith Jamal Downing in Penumbra Theatre’s “Spunk.”

Photo by Rich Ryan

From John Olive and Janet Preus at HowWasTheShow.com:


JP: “Spunk” works. Smart, satisfying. A blend of first rate acting, seamlessly integrated music, design and storytelling. The director [Patdro Harris] and the designers did outstanding work, especially on Penumbra’s tiny stage.

JO: For me, the third story is the best. Characters are beautifully developed. The husband behaves in completely unexpected ways. It’s a story about forgiveness, a theme I always find appealing.

JP: But the first two have their own appeal… Hurston is a born storyteller.

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Austene Van and T. Mychael Rambo in Penumbra Theatre’s “Spunk.”

Photo by Rich Ryan

From Ed Huyck at City Pages:


The company, along with the band, do a fine job throughout. You can feel the thrill that these actors, many Penumbra veterans, have on returning to the stage on Kent Street. It’s an infectious vibe that quickly spreads to the audience, letting everyone have a good time.

From Graydon Royce at the Star Tribune:


…as Penumbra moves into a new period, Bellamy can sit with a touch more remove and nurture the company he founded 37 years ago.

What Bellamy watched Thursday was a stylish and sure-footed staging of “Spunk,” courtesy of director/choreographer Patdro Harris. The storytelling is brisk, and Harris’s eye for movement and his ear for dialogue kept six talented actors buoyant in earthy, spirited depictions.

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Dennis Spears and Jevetta Steele in Penumbra Theatre’s “Spunk.”

Photo by Rich Ryan

From Dominic P. Papatola at the Pioneer Press:

Local audiences have seen Rambo, Van and Spears play characters like the ones in “Spunk” many times.

At their best, these actors have shown an ability to hone characteristics into characters. Here, though, they are swallowed up by their costumes (which are delicious, by the way, thanks to designer Amanda McGee) and their mannerisms.

“Spunk” runs through April 7 at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul. Have you seen the show? What’s your review?

  • Michael Wall

    We are coming in a group of over 130 after reading the short stories and the play. How wonderful that the Penumbra (although we never thought it gone) is back as the same stalwart of local and national theatre arts!

    Michael Wall

    Anoka-Ramsey Community College

  • Jennifer Willcutt

    Way to go, Penumbra! Our students are reading the play dialogue in class as Readers Theater so they will be familiar with the text before seeing your interpretation on Sunday. We’re looking forward to it. Thanks for your great work.

    Prof. Willcutt

    Reading & Study Skills Instructor

    Anoka-Ramsey Community College