Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Created by Liz Howls, and previously presented at the Southern Theatre as part of the 2019 Twin Cities Horror Festival, Bug Girl employs the esthetics and sensibilities of graphic novels and pulp comic books, complete with three screens (one large central screen flanked by a narrower screen in either side) that function at times like comic book panels. A miniature comic book, given to audience members to peruse while waiting for the show to begin, provides a vague back story introducing June, the titular Bug Girl; a very rare bug altered by a toxic spill; sinister Queen bee determined to possess said bug; the Queen's henchman Kevin, who takes the form of a serpent; June's blowsy, insensitive Grandma, who is June's legal guardian; and a kind doctor who shares June's fascination with insect life.
The thirty-five minute play that follows functions as a first episode of what could be a super-hero saga, depicting how June escapes her boorish relatives attending Grandma's 85th birthday party and in the process becomes inhabited by the toxin-altered bug. The Queen tries to regain her treasure, while the doctor turns out to be a force to reckon with as well. Quite a bit is made over the consumption of a mysterious roast chicken. The story, written by Senah Yeboah Sampong, is a complete empowerment fantasy, with June finding her emerging powers both disturbing and exhilarating. It ends as all good super-hero comics end, with the path wide open to further adventures.
All of the action is portrayed by way of wickedly creative shadow puppets, brilliantly handled behind the screens by puppeteers Karly Gesine Bergmann, liping Vong, and Oanh Vu. The images are remarkably intricate, including exquisitely cut screen windows and lacy table linens. Overbearing, craggy-faced Grandma looms larger than life as she dominates June's freedom, while June herself is depicted with a winsome blend of curiosity, kindness and rebellion. The tri-paneled screen is put to very inventive use, as when doors in one panel are opened, suddenly illuminating the next room in the adjoining panel. The panels also enable cinematic shifts in scale, going from a wide angle view on one screen to an enlarged close-up in the next.
Bug Girl is divided into cleverly titled chapters. It is narrated using a combination of dialogue cards projected on the side panels and recorded commentary, with minimal dialogue spoken directly by the characters. A sound score and musical accompaniment, composed and collated by Dan Dukich, adds immeasurably to the show's impact, with music careening between smooth, lush melodies to convey a surface of domestic tranquility and the haunts of the horrors that lie beneath.
To make the staging of Bug Girl safe during a pandemic, it is being performed outdoors, in a most unique setting: the roof of the Bakken Museum, located on the west shore of Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis. The section of roof in question is a green roof covered with growing grass. Audience members are required to wear face masks, and groups arriving together are asked to seat themselves at least six feet away from other parties, with the total number of attendees at each performance strictly limited.
Access to the roof is up a long outdoor staircase to avoid bringing attendees through the museum building, but an elevator is available for those needing assistance, and rest rooms are also available. It makes for a venue that is lovely as well as safe. One safety note: even with some rooftop lighting in place, the ground is quite dark by the time Bug Girl is over, so one must watch their footing while exiting. Bringing along a small flashlight would be a good idea.
June is depicted as the epitome of an underdog, her solitude relieved through her connections with the insect life that goes unseen or unwelcome by her Grandma. By the conclusion of Bug Girl, June has transformed from the naïve, somewhat perplexed recipient of the powers transferred to her by the toxin-altered bug, to embrace those powers, emboldened to make her mark in the world. It is easy to cheer for June's metamorphosis into Bug Girl, though it will take future episodes of this saga to affirm our expectations that she will put her new-found powers in virtuous ways. I hope that is the plan of Liz Howls and her compatriots on delivering the further adventures of this unlikely hero.
Bug Girl, a production of Open Eye Figure Theatre, continues through October 24, 2020, on the rooftop at the Bakken Museum, 3537 Zenith Avenue S., Minneapolis. Recommended for ages 13 and up. Face masks are required of all audience members, and social distance between groups will be maintained. Tickets are $15.00 each. Performances are currently sold out, but cancellations and further ticket availability will be posted at www.openeyetheatre.org/bug-girl.
Created by: Liz Howls; Written by: Senah Yeboah Sampong; Puppetry: Karly Gesine Bergmann, liping Vong and Oanh Vu.; Sound Design and Composition: Dan Dukich; Sound Operator: Grace Kroeger; Technical Director: Brandon Sisneroz; Producer: Joel Sass.