Girl Friday Productions presents “Street Scene,” Elmer Rice’s play about immigrant life in New York City in the late 1920s. The show runs through July 30 at the Minneapolis Theater Garage, and features a cast of 26 people and a dog.
Some of the many characters in Elmer Rice’s Street Scene
Image courtesy Girl Friday Productions
Thinking about seeing the show? Check out these reviews from Twin Cities critics. By all accounts, it looks like you’ll need to get your tickets fast.
Street Scene is a genuine classic. It formed the basis for a very good (if stagy) 1931 film adaptation and it became an opera (by the great Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes) in 1946. It won a Pulitzer and has become a standard text in college surveys of the drama.
But the play is rarely produced. Why? Because it has 50+ characters (depending on how many passers-by, students, etc, you care to cast). So huge kudos are due to Girl Friday Productions (in their first show in almost 2 years) and to director Craig Johnson for giving us a solid, intelligent and focused production of this neglected classic.
This is a play of vignettes, and Johnson teases out lovely performances from everyone.
Though it takes place in a compact space, it’s a sprawling story, told in the rhythms and cadences of a time long gone by. Director Craig Johnson marshals his enormous cast of 26 actors (and one dog) effectively. His staging is crisp without rushing, sentimental without being maudlin, creating a world so palpable that you can almost feel the oppressive heat radiating off the pavement. Each character gets his or her moment to shine – some more than others – but all eventually blend seamlessly into this gritty urban landscape.
A plot summary would be almost foolhardy. Suffice to say we have adultery, drunkenness, Marxist ideology, bigotry, loutishness, futility and, eventually, murder amid a stew of verbiage and the palpable flopsweat of a summer heat wave (Manhattan wasn’t always a glamour destination, one gleans). Craig Johnson ably directs this production, weaving crosscurrents of dialogue with shifting tones and a truly appalling action scene that knits together a mounting sense of menace after the intermission.
Girl Friday Productions has a knack for choosing plays that sound like real life, but are so expertly written, acted and directed that they flow like poetry. It’s a special gift, and a joy to watch. You don’t take it in so much as you just let it wash over you. It’s a lot of fun to give yourself over to the play like that. Doesn’t happen very often. Kurt Weill turned this play into an opera but viewing the original like this makes songs seem completely unnecessary.
“Scene” has a major omission in the American narrative, which Johnson fills in by introducing a black couple in Muslim garb (Byron Adams and Indira Addington).
Johnson’s often nimble staging, for Girl Friday productions, uses the Theatre Garage to good effect. The second-act climax, with all its sturm und drang, is well-executed.
Still, the third act feels coda-like, and could be eliminated. Also, the New York immigrant accents wax and wane. On Friday, when I saw it, an Italian character suddenly lapsed into a Southern accent. I watched the other actors around him to see if they could stay composed. They did, maintaining the air of a colorful and see-worthy “Street Scene.”
Have you seen “Street Scene” by Girl Friday Productions? If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.