Rob Callahan covers Cheap Theatre

Thirteen years ago, a Fringe Festival storytelling show evolved into a regular event at Minneapolis’ Black Forest Inn. Fast forward to present day, where once original plays were featured performances now gather the city’s spoken word legends to tag-team evenings of themed reading and storytelling before an elite and in-the-know crowd. Drawn in and enraptured by the theater of the mind’s eye, audiences lose themselves in the words of the men and women speaking before them. This is Cheap Theatre, wherein you’ll find not stages, microphones and the bright lights so commonly seen at higher profile spoken word shows. You’ll find only the storytellers and their audiences, sharing an intimate place in space and time, as tales are told loosely around a common theme. Saturday night’s chosen theme was Imitation.

Richard Rousseau regaled us with his opening piece, a story of how his small production of Chekhov’s Zoo Story went horribly wrong – all due to a misunderstanding, a comedy of errors that erupted out of a half-baked attempt to steal a fridge – and managed to garner an incredibly flattering review in the process. Rousseau’s attention to detail and his occasional pause for one-on-one time with audience members lent an intimate feel to his performance and brought laughs along with pauses for thought from beginning to end.

Wonder Dave, slam poet extraordinaire, took the stage and dove head-first into the night’s theme. Sharing first another poet’s original work and then his own updated sequel, his compare/contrast delivery was not lost on the appreciative audience. Closing his set was a new original piece about his own unwitting skirts along the precipice of potential imitation and his efforts never to fall.

Either the city’s maddest funnyman or the funniest madman, Tom Cassidy stood front and center and served up his trademark recipe of equal parts angst and irony, with a splash of paranoia and a dollup of pure hilarity on the side. Letting everyone in on the secret the aliens don’t want you to know, he interspersed an extensive list of alternate titles for his piece (non-alternately named “You Only Crap Rainbows”) throughout the larger story, blending the whole together like a big, crazy literary fruit salad of mayhem and pandemonium.

Noel Labine quieted the mood with his grim, gritty retelling of the story of Buffalo Bill. Not the real Buffalo Bill, mind you, but the other one. In an early twentieth century East Grand Forks, a tale of downfalls, betrayals, mystery and murder unfolded, leaving the audience ultimately stumped as to the nature of the universe and its various inhabitants.

Erica Christ rounded off the night recalling the time she was lost in New York, projecting wit and sarcasm aside grace and charm with skill that would’ve made Chuck Klosterman envious. Drunk and gorged on exotic food, she stumbled through the metropolis and recounted the various small sections within the whole that come together in a patchwork collection of bits of the rest of the world.
All in all, I found this incredibly entertaining evening well worth the price of admission and, quite possibly, one of the best-kept secrets of the Minneapolis spoken word scene. Keep an eye on the Cheap Theatre series at The Black Forest. If future shows are even half as good as this one was, they’ll still be twice as good as anything else going on.


Erica Christ has three more shows scheduled this year, “The Year of Living Cheaply”

Saturday, October 17 7:30 pm (theme: Intoxication) Featuring (as of this writing) Sandy Thomas, Mary Jo Pehl, Richard Rousseau and Erica in the first half and Jim Stowell in the second half of the show.

Saturday, November 14 7:30pm (theme: Dread) Featuring (as of this writing) Loren Neimi, Carol Connolly, Wanda Brown & Phyllis Goldin (GoldinBrown), Katie Knutson, Charles Fowler, and Nancy Donoval. Erica will be hosting and performing also.

Saturday, December 12 7:30pm (theme: Holy…) Line up still TBA – Alex Bernstein, Andre Heuer, and ????


About Cole

A thumb among fingers. A writer, a photographer, a lover of all things citrusy.
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