Tag Archives: Minnesota

Middletown: There’s a lot More in Between

Dear fellow human beings; fellow breathers –

Currently playing at DalekoArts is an off-beat and heartrending play called Middletown by Will Eno. Hard to define in certain terms, I will often describe it to people as “Our Town for the 21st Century”, even though I know that that doesn’t nearly complete the picture.


While both plays tell their stories though a “slice of life” framework – depicting real people in a real community – showing life as it is now, Middletown delves so much more into the subtle and truly undefinable moments of human interaction. Characters will converse and say nonsensical things, yet understand. Characters will mumble and murmur and mouth whole lines that manage to leave the audience scratching their heads yet nodding at the same time. Some scenes take place in outer space and some scenes take place in a household kitchen. Babies are born and people die. Eno’s point in all this is to show Life through every angle he can, with every literary technique at his disposal.

What you end up watching then is a two act play that manages to charm and knock your emotional socks off by the final blackout.

Even I as the assistant director, who’s probably seen the play about thirty times, never tired from the language and the actors speaking it. Therein lies the mastery of the playwright’s talents. Will Eno is really good at what he does! Despite being a late-bloomer to playwriting, he had run in with literary art in 1996 when he was invited to tune his fiction capabilities at an Edward F. Albee Foundation workshop in Montauk, Long Island. His first commercial success in New York was Thom Pain (based on nothing) in 2005. Citing Samuel Beckett as a huge inspiration, the play is a one-person monologue about trials and tribulations of life. Charles Isherwood, in his New York Times review, says it best:

Mr. Eno’s voice is so assuredly his own, simultaneously delicate and audacious in its measurements of poetry, philosophy and Monty Pythonesque silliness, that he should be allowed to speak for himself, in full.

Thom Pain went on to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (bested by John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt) and another well-known play of his is The Realistic Joneses.

Actors left to right: Joe Swanson, Sean Byrd, Tom Karki.

As for our production at DalekoArts, director Anne M. Byrd and the team has struck upon Eno’s trademark philosophy and silliness. I’m certainly happy to return to New Prague after a couple stints as an actor (Wait Until Dark and Snowed Inn), and can’t wait for audiences to laugh, cry and scratch their heads this time around.

Tickets and information can be had here.

View the playbill here.


Mr. Hannam Goes to St. Paul

The life of a theatre artist is certainly one of constant activity and at times can be a little unpredictable. One day you’re sitting in your studio, eager to finally finish the novel you’ve been chipping away at and the next you see a production call needing some stage hands. Hmm… I haven’t done that kind of work since college… hmm, but it is a company I know and directors I respect… hmm… let’s do it!

And that’s just how I got involved with Our House: The Capitol Play Project by Alan Berks and Leah Cooper, from Wonderlust Productions!

Described as such:

When a wild card new Governor is elected, the regular order on the state Capitol campus is thrown into chaos. While a chorus of activists, legislators, lobbyists, civil servants, and tour guides attempt to get their way, an idealistic new employee finds herself at the center of an unexpected controversy. Misunderstandings and mistaken identity lead to a crash course in the realities that both constrain and inspire the men and women who have devoted themselves to public service (inside a building brimming with idealism, cynicism, absurdity, significance, and power, plus more than a few old ghosts who have something to say).

Being a part of the project has not only flexed my tiny and withered production-muscles, but really has been an incredible crash course in Minnesota political history and civics. As a newly-minted citizen of the state, I must admit I have zero idea about any of that stuff. In fact, before this show, I had only been to the capitol building once and that was to seek refuge in the cold after the car I was in broke down!

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For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting, I would urge you to as soon as possible. Completed in 1905, the building just underwent a major restoration and is literally shining in beautiful granite, marble and gold. Once inside the building, you’re treated to vast halls with enough portraits and statues to fill any weekend and then for all you architect nerds out there, the building was designed by Cass Gilbert who also designed the U.S. Supreme Court and the Woolworth Building. It just so happens to be the second largest self-supported marble dome in the entire world, after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Interested yet? Good. Now know that since it does pride itself as being “the people’s house”, visitors are free to come and go as they please throughout the building (save for such rooms as the Senate and House chambers, of course).

The rotunda of the building. There happens to be a lot of honor paid to Minnesota’s role in the Civil War – photo by Dave Wilson.

When I decided to get involved in The Capitol Play Project, I didn’t really know what to expect. Now I’ve spent so much time in the capitol that I can’t help but be continually inspired by the quotes on the walls or the sheer grandeur of the construction. Not that I necessarily want to enter the political arena, but it does fuel my interest in being a voice for change in my community, either through activism or simply voting and making my representatives aware of my presence. That’s what the State Capitol building stands for and that’s what The Capitol Play Project brings to life so passionately.

We only run one more weekend, but for more info check it out here. 

Vincent Hannam Goes to the Dark Side (Guest Blog)

This blog was written and originally posted by my colleague Ting Ting Cheng for Park Square Theatre on the theatre’s own website. You can read it here.

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In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Vincent Hannam plays the cruel and menacing Curley, the boss’ son at the ranch where migrant workers George and Lennie have just arrived. Upon their first encounter, George immediately sizes him up as a “son-of-a-bitch.” It’s an accurate assessment supported by the older ranch hand Candy’s description:

“. . . . Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s all a time pickin’ scraps with big guys. Kinda like he’s mad at ’em because he ain’t a big guy. You seen little guys like that, ain’t you–always scrappy?”

Curley’s insecurity is also evident in his controlling nature toward his new wife. He treats her like a prized possession to show off as a testimony of his power and masculinity. She’s forbidden to talk to the workers, but she does so behind his back anyway, which simply highlights his lack thereof.

Vincent himself lacks admiration for his character, describing Curley as “a punk and a brat, used to getting his own way” and “a bully.” To play Curley three-dimensionally, though, he needed to find even a shred of sympathy for him. To do so, Vincent built a backstory that explores Curley’s familial relationships. He asked questions, such as: In what way does Curley really care about his wife or his father? Why is his mother never mentioned? Did he grow up without one? How might that have impacted his relationship with his father? Did his father give him the attention that he needed?

Despite being the mean antagonist in Of Mice and Men, Vincent is having a blast on the set. He basically gets to play cowboy, wearing Western boots and a hat and getting into fights.“Hate and love are close emotions,” Vincent said. “Sometimes the only way that some people can express love is through hatred.”

“It’s also a fun change of pace to show that villainous side,” admitted Vincent, who has played plenty of “good” characters throughout his career.

“There’s nothing like being on stage, connecting with someone and doing a scene,” Vincent said of acting, but he is also a multi-talented theatre professional who directs, writes and teaches. Amongst his other skills are the ability to do Chewbacca and Godfather impressions and to whistle (but not simultaneously).

As my fellow Park Square blogger, I know Vincent as a lighthearted, easygoing individual. But I can’t wait to see him unveil his dark side as Curley in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Bring it on!


Ting Ting Cheng
Ting Ting Cheng joined Park Square Theatre’s Front of House staff in 2014. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Los Angeles, she became a Minnesotan after graduating from Carleton College with a B.A. in English Literature. She loves live theatre and has a passion for writing.

Of Mice and Kids

Running right now at Park Square Theatre is Of Mice and Men, and it’s a show you can catch on the weekends or if you’re bold enough, every weekday morning with dozens of high schoolers!

Yep, Of Mice and Men plays just about every morning between now and mid-December to students who get to enjoy a field trip to the theatre. If you’re not familiar with Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, you should know that it’s kind of something they’ve earned as a reputation over the years. Steinbeck’s classic has been produced every-other-year in this fashion for at least a decade now. When I tell friends that I’m in it, they say, “Oh, I remember seeing that when I was a kid!” (For the record, I’m 26).

It seems darn near everyone takes the trip to Park Square and enjoys the show! Which I think is amazing, for so many thousands of people to share such an experience in the Twin Cities and throughout the region. I mean, the evening schedule is wonderful but I get such a unique joy from performing my role for teenagers who may never make a habit of watching theatre. I feel that’s a common sentiment among actors, but I really do take a pride in it and that’s thanks to my own field trip to see a play back in middle school.

Of Mice and Men
The cast of Of Mice and Men. Directed by Annie Enneking.  

I can’t even remember what the production company, but I remember taking a field trip in eighth grade to see a production of The Tell Tale Heart (and The Monkey’s Paw) at the Tupperware Center in my home town of Kissimmee, Florida. It was certainly a touring company of some sort, maybe even a high school production, but I remember superb production quality and the thrill of watching a man slowly lose his mind over the incessant beating of the heart under the floorboards. I wasn’t even an actor then! At that point in my life, theatre as nowhere near the forefront of my mind. It’s only now, looking back, that I can recognize it as a formative experience in my life’s chosen path.

Who knows if these students will think about this show after they get back on the bus, and back to class. I hope they do, not just for the sake of being exposed to the arts, but because the themes in Of Mice and Men are so poignant and relevant. The idea that people can only live for so long in an oppressive society. That sometimes you need action in order to make your life a better place. Surface-wise, there’s not too much hope being offered in this play, but just scratch that surface and you’ll find a wealth of courage and resolution.

This is what I hope to share with these kids.

Headed back to Almost, Maine

Almost is a town in northern Maine that most people haven’t heard of. I mean, it’s way north – hundreds of miles from any major point of civilization, where the moose and lonely-hearts roam. What the heck am I going there for? What the heck am I going back there for?

Well, because Almost doesn’t exist.

Wait. No. It does exist, but – oh, gosh…. lemme explain.

Almost, Maine is really Almost, Maine – a play by John Cariani. There, does that make more sense? I hope so, unless you don’t know what a play is and if that’s the case…

OK, so Almost, Maine is one of those whimsical, charming little gems of the theatre that is so popular that this is actually the third time I have performed in the piece. Not surprisingly, I’m even playing the same character as before. No other play holds such a distinction on my resume and when I heard the Paul Bunyan Playhouse was seeking actors, I was eager to go back.

Cast of Almost, Maine
The cast of my second stab at the play, with the Lanesboro Community Theater, co-directed with Tod Petersen. 
My first Almost, Maine was an independent student production at the University of Central Florida.

What makes this production so different from the others, however, is the fact that it will be present by a cast of four, playing all the various residents of the town: Here’s the official synopsis via Dramatists Play Service:

“On a cold, clear, moonless night in the middle of winter, all is not quite what it seems in the remote, mythical town of Almost, Maine. As the northern lights hover in the star-filled sky above, Almost’s residents find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways. Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. But the bruises heal, and the hearts mend—almost—in this delightful midwinter night’s dream.”

Due to the nature of the show, the cast can include as many as a dozen actors or as few as four. That’s why this time is unique, because now I’ve got the chance to relish several more of Cariani’s delightfully flawed characters. Along with, of course, my fellow actors Diana Jurand, Carol Foose and Nic Delcambre who are a joy to run around on stage with.

Another real treat is the venue of the show itself. While the Paul Bunyan Playhouse is the producing company, the space is in the historic Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji. Opening in 1933, it was a classic Art Deco movie house before 1992 when it was renovated to serve as the home of the Playhouse. As for Bemidji, well, how can I not love the fact that I get to spend my July with Paul and Babe. So if you happen to find yourself in northwest Minnesota this month, come by and check us out. The show is directed by Jim Williams and runs July 19th-23rd and 26th-29th.

You wouldn’t have guessed it, but these two are a couple of serious theatre junkies.




The Oresteia Strikes Back

For those of you who are interested, the adaption of The Oresteia that I was in last year is actually being published! The original is by Aeschylus, of course, but Minnesota writer and poet, Rob Hardy, turned the trilogy of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides into one action-packed narrative.


I think it’s pretty good and will definitely be getting my own copy, which includes a forward about the original production from Hero Now Theatre. Fun fact, this is the first time I have been listed as an actor in a published script!

Check it out here at http://heronowtheatre.org/store/