Laurie Van Wieren’s “like a movie I saw once,” which graced the Bryant-Lake Bowl stage last weekend, and is definitely worth seeing if Van Wieren ever does it again, is short and sweet, forty-five minutes of Minneapolis’s most engaging performers at play. Chan Holman (new to me, but clearly on a star path) sings standards in silly ways: “Ch-Ch-Changes” becomes a sputtering aria, while Holman switches octaves on “Blue Velvet” so that her voice bottoms out. When she’s not being silly, she thrills; Holman’s real voice is a nightclub queen’s, strong and sultry. Michelle Kinney (a noted cellist) accompanies her on, of all instruments, an accordion, which she later lugs around stage as if it’s her albatross.
Megan Mayer, Galen Treuer, and Laurie Van Wieren work a vein of nervous movement comedy, recounting unconnected stories and fitfully sketching dances while their deer-in-headlights eyes roam the theater. Mayer’s version is particularly funny: between aspirational ballet poses and occasional lurches into a Brooklyn accent, she blurts out questions like, “Do you think it’d be okay if I made some pancakes?” Diana Grasselli is the opposite of awkward; a diva in an emerald dress, she sings a few arias and a 70s pop tune in her lovely soprano, her expression that of an experienced woman reveling in secret knowledge. Meanwhile, platinum-wigged Paula Mann films the whole show and sometimes herself with a handheld camera, the film projected behind the performers on stage.
As all this suggests, the show is full of meta-play, dancing and singing that pokes fun at dancing and singing, a filmmaker on stage, etc. The only movie I’ve seen lately that “like a movie I saw once” actually resembles is Synecdoche, New York; like that film, the show’s meta-layers are occasionally dizzying. Three versions of a character appear on stage at once—one real, one a filmed projection, and the other the filmed projection of the filmed projection. Galen Treuer has taken over Anna Marie Shogren’s role (Shogren left for New York since appearing in last year’s original version), but he doesn’t play her role, he plays her. Meta-play can get confusing or dull, and there were certainly moments when my mind wandered. I also wondered whether the nervous-funny performer bit might not be played out. But Laurie Van Wieren makes this all more than shtick; she invests it with a genuine desire to connect that gleams among all the evidence that connection is not possible.
Another gleam is Diana Grasselli’s singing. Beautiful voices are mysterious; they momentarily transform humans into birds of paradise, ordinary desires into the loves of angels. Grasselli’s soprano scatters invisible diamonds on stage. It’s the perfect flash of transcendence for a show that is otherwise thoroughly obsessed with visual awkwardness. The shoes alone belong in an exhibit on camp: Mann’s multihued sequin slippers, Holman’s black jelly flats, Grasselli’s tiny gray Louis Quatorze pumps. Add to that Kinney’s clunky accordion, Mayer’s wistful ballet gestures, Treuer’s ill-fitting hostess dress—everything else in the show reaches longingly towards the perfection of Grasselli’s high notes.
This tension erupts in the show’s climax. It’s an odd little moment that I didn’t instantly identify as a climax (I only knew I was attached to it without realizing why). Mayer attempts to shower Grasselli with tulips, but there are so many tulips and Grasselli is so unprepared that it comes across as more of a blow. Afterward the show dissolves, the performers nattering about their performance as they leave the stage. What’s so endearing about this climax is hard to say. Is it the single gesture that the whole show has prepared the audience to appreciate? Or does the show set a stage for incident, and this is the incident that arrives? Either way, Van Wieren has created a moment that unites her meta-layers: a perfectly performed love-note to the impossibility of perfect performance.