“The Visit” swerves to avoid Sturgis bikes

Luverne Seifert is a realist.  Touring theater is powerful stuff, but he decided recently a proposed visit to Worthington by his company’s latest show “The Visit” couldn’t compete with hundreds of hogs.    

” You know when you plan these adventures out into the rural areas of Minnesota, you start with a great plan,” Seifert said today. “And then you just pick a date arbitrarily and you find out later on exactly what is going on in the community.  And we learned while doing a workshop in Worthington, MN, that it happened to be the same weekend of the Sturgis Bike Festival.”

Of course Sturgis is in South Dakota, quite a way into South Dakota in fact. But a lot of people pass through Worthington on the way to the huge rally.

“There will be upwards of hundreds, thousands, of motorcycles right next to us on the highway during the time of our show,” he said “And a lot of our scenes take place out of doors, so we would be competing with these very loud screaming Harley hogs going down the road, and we decided it wasn’t going to work for us.” 

Luverne Seifert talks to musicians during rehearsals at New Ulm’s historic Lind House which was one of the stops on last years tour of “The Cherry Orchard.” (MPR photo/Euan Kerr)

 Another problem it turned out was the local theater had also scheduled its production of “Shrek! The Musical” that same weekend, (apparently ogres aren’t bothered by hogs.) As a result  many local actors, who have been an important element in Seifert’s shows over the past two summer tours, would be unavailable.

 “We’ll find a project (where) we can come back to Worthington in the future,” Siefert said.

So the Sod House Theater 2013 tour now starts at the Freeborn County Historical Museum in Albert Lea on July 25th-28th, then moves to the Faribault County Historical Society in Blue Earth August 1st through 4th, and then wraps up in East Grand Forks with a run August 8th through 11th at the East Grand Forks Heritage Village. 

Last years production of “The Cherry Orchard” was a huge success, with Chekhov’s play fitting perfectly into the historic homes the company used as venues. The actors performed scenes moving from room to room, and often out into the yard.

At a rehearsal at Luverne Siefert’s home last year the lascivious manservant Yasha, played by Stephen Cartmell, took advantage of a moment alone with Dunyasha (Elise Langer.) Cartmell is a New Zealander and Langer is from France. (MPR Photo/ Euan Kerr)

Now Seifert and Sod House  have turned to “The Visit” by Friedrich Durrenmatt. Seifert describes it as being about a village which has fallen on hard times. Things look up when a former resident, a woman who was ostracized as a teenager after becoming pregnant , but has since become a billionaire, returns to the town. The townspeople believes she will bail them out, but Seifert says she returns with a different agenda. 

” She comes back with the idea ‘Yes, I’m going to take care of everyone. I am going to give every family the money the need, the town the money it needs. But one caveat is that you are going to have to murder the man who impregnated me and blamed it on these other people.'”

“It sounds very dark, but it is actually very funny,” Seifert says. “Until of course it has a big change at the end, and goes to a very dark place.”

The play examines just how far a community will go to save itself.

Seifert says the themes of a community looking to an outside benefactor should have particular resonance in the communities where they play.  In  Albert Lea and Blue Earth the benefactor was the arrival of the railroad which brought wealth to a community. In the case of East Grand Forks the way McDonalds founder Ray Kroc’s widow Joan gave individual grants to victims of the 1997 floods.

As with the past tours Seifert has been able to cast  top Twin Cities acting talent including Robert Rosen and Barbra Berlowitz, performing together for the first time since the demise of Jeune Lune, Mu Performing Arts’ Randy Reyes, Elise Langer of Children’s Theater, and Ten Thousand Things,  Jason Ballweber of Four Humors Theater, rounded out by Seifert and his co-conspirator Darcey Engen.

As the product of a small town himself Seifert says he hopes the show will help grow theatergoers of the future. he’s delighted that some of their past venues are now hosting play readings.

“It’s always an experiment,” Seifert says. “And we never know just how  it’s going to work,  but that’s what makes it exciting.”