Posts Tagged Historic hamm Building

Park Square’s Love Affair with Mystery

Park Square’s Love Affair with Mystery – From Dial M For Murder to Rule of Thumb

Hercule Poirot, the well-known Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie, made his debut on the Park Square Theatre Proscenium Stage on July 19th along with a cast of intriguing (and often, wonderfully despicable) characters.  Agatha Christie: Rule of Thumb, by the much loved mystery writer unfolds in three intricate one-acts and runs through August 25!

E.J. Subkoviak, Michael Paul Levin and Derek Dirlam in Might as Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery, 2017.

Park Square has a long history of producing theatre from the diverse mystery canon, including Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, Might as Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, among others. Many of these plays were championed by our Mystery Writers Producers Club (MWPC), a devoted community of mystery genre lovers who help support our mystery show each season.

We reached out to Executive Director C. Michael-Jon Pease to talk about Park Square’s legacy of producing mystery plays and why our audiences love them.

What was the first mystery play ever produced at Park Square?

Picture of a newspaper article.

Review of Dial M for Murder, 1975.

Michael-Jon: Park Square produced its first mystery in its first season (Dial M For Murder, 1975), but didn’t produce one again until 1993 with Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Park Square rented the Historic Hamm Building Theatre (now our current Proscenium stage) for the first time for that production to test out the location with a “Summer on Seventh” promotion in partnership with the Ordway, the City’s Cultural STAR program and (this really dates you!), Dayton’s River Room Restaurant. The show was a hit and was extended, breaking all previous PST box office records. One of the company members from that show who really made a name for herself was Teresa Sterns, who became the project manager for huge nonprofit development projects like the Science Museum of Minnesota, the new “M” (Minnesota Museum of American Art) as well as more modest projects like Park Square’s Andy Boss Stage.

Bob Davis in Spider's Web

Bob Davis in Spider’s Web, 2009.

This year’s Rule of Thumb is only the third time we’ve produced Agatha Christie, the last time was in 2009 with Spider’s Web, which also featured Bob Davis — as the murder victim.

Why do you think mystery plays are so popular?

Michael-Jon: Mystery fans tell us that they really enjoy the mental stimulation of keeping up with the clues and trying to outwit the detective. It’s also delicious when the production reveals something to the audience that it hasn’t yet been revealed to the characters themselves. Don’t be fooled though, those clues might be red herrings. A period mystery has the added layer of putting the audience in another place and time when the social and environmental cues were so different from today. We often put “Easter eggs” in a production for true fans or history buffs to find. For example, in The Red Box, the paintings on set were the exact images described in the books as being in Nero Wolfe’s study. Following one of those performances, there was a lively debate about the clue of masking tape; the audience member insisted that masking tape hadn’t been invented then. Thanks to a 3M employee who was in the audience, however, we didn’t even need to resort to Google to learn the exact year when the St Paul Company introduced masking tape.

We do sometimes get caught out by a sharp eye, however. During that same production of The Red Box, one fan noticed that the telephone cord was a few years off of the time period.

With the exception of 2012, each of the last 11 seasons has included a mystery, usually in the summer. The mystery genre has also inspired three commissions: The Red Box and Might As Well Be Dead (both Nero Wolfe adaptations by Joseph Goodrich) and Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders by Jeffrey Hatcher, adapted from Larry Millett’s novel about Sherlock in Minnesota. So far, nearly 80,000 people have seen mysteries at Park Square and they have definitely become our answer to A Christmas Carol – a fun, intergenerational outing for families, literature and mystery fans. I remember when the movie Murder on the Orient Express came out starring Albert Finney as Poirot in 1974 when I was just 7. That was our family outing for Mother’s Day and my very first mystery. I was hooked!

Get tickets to Agatha Christie: Rule of Thumb HERE.

rule-of-thumb-220-by-richard-fleischman.

Audrey Park, Bob Davis and Rajané Katurah in Rule of Thumb, 2019.

Coming Summer of 2020 – Holmes and Watson. Sherlock Holmes is dead, or is he? Dr. Watson receives a telegram from a mental asylum: three patients are claiming to be Sherlock Holmes. Did the world’s greatest sleuth fake his own death? Who’s the real detective and who are the impostors? Tight, clever and full of suspense, this is Jeffrey Hatcher (Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders, Mr. Holmes) at his best. Season Tickets available now.

Interview by Rebecca Nichloson.

Flying Foot Forum celebrates an American’s View of Paris

PARK SQUARE PRESENTS FRENCH TWIST
Flying Foot Forum’s 25th Anniversary production celebrates
an American’s view of Paris from the Can-Can to Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron

Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage is once again the home to Flying Foot Forum’s signature storytelling with FRENCH TWIST, a cabaret of gorgeous music, theatrical storytelling and percussive dance set in a Paris Nightclub that runs from June 22 to July 15, 2018. This 25th anniversary production starts with the premise of the company’s original production which premiered at The Guthrie in 2008, but now includes new characters, melodic new songs and inventive dances. Director/choreographer Joe Chvala fuses vaudeville, tap, cabaret, follies, opera, and percussive art forms to evoke American’s wildest imaginings of life in the City of Light.

The piece opens with “All Creatures Are Now Merry-Minded,” a riotous medley of caricatures of familiar characters from a myriad of operas. With boundless energy, the company dances its way through an amazing variety of classical music, including a Bach fugue danced on and off chairs. Act II introduces a medium who conjures up the spirits of bygone Paris, from the jazz artists of the 1920’s American expat scene to Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. “It’s eclectic, fun, wild, and of course there’s the Can-Can,” says founding Artistic Director Joe Chvala. “Some of us oldsters in the company have been doing the Can-Can for decades, so we have to remember to give the young dancers the truly gymnastic moves and try not to kill ourselves,” he laughs.

One of the new numbers depicts Loie Fuller, considered by many to be the godmother of modern dance, even before Isadora Duncan. Loie was an American actress who became a sensation at the Exposition Universelle with her Serpentine Dance, using long flowing fabric and colored stage lights. In Joe Chvala’s talented hands, her swathes of fabric suddenly turn into the sky above the city and the setting for a great tap number in the spirit of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron from the 1950s movie AMERICAN IN PARIS. There will even be a little Flamenco woven into the evening courtesy of Molly Kay Stoltz of Zorongo Flamenco.

“This show is perfect for the Boss Stage,” says Chvala. “It transforms beautifully into an intimate nightclub setting, as we learned with PASSING THROUGH PIG’S EYE last summer. More than that, the lobby, its proximity to the Dakota’s Vieux-Carrė jazz club and the whole ambiance of the Historic Hamm Building put you in the right mood for the atmosphere we’re creating.”

The fact that Flying Foot Forum is celebrating 25 years comes almost as a surprise to its founder. “What became a company started first as a big performance, and then we just kept going,” Chvala says. “Once we established ourselves as a company, I remember going to the 20th anniversary concert of an African Dance company and thinking ‘I wonder if we’ll ever make it 20 years.’ It’s truly wonderful that three of our original dancers and musical collaborators like rhythm-wizard Peter O’Gorman are still creating with us. Each generation of new dancers, like the amazing Brandon Jackson who plays La Bijoux in French Twist – keep adding to our aesthetic as they bring their unique energies to the process.”

Flying Foot Forum’s unique style of percussive dance continues to ripple out through choreographers and companies in Minnesota and beyond. “Over the years, we’ve worked with so many great dancers and choreographers like Brian Sostek and Tamara Kangas Erickson,” confirms Chvala. “Sometimes I see a show and think ‘I wonder if that idea was inspired by something we did?’ After 25 years, we are still finding new ways to explore our art form. It’s been a tremendous gift to have this crazy idea take off.”

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Celebrate 25 years of Flying Foot Forum with their new production of FRENCH TWIST, featuring the fabulously furious feet of founding members Jan Campbell, Joe Chvala, Karla Grotting and veterans Jeremy Bensussan, Peter O’Gorman and Charles Robison are joined by Brandon Jackson, Falicia Cunningham, Molly Kay Stoltz, Kaleena Miller and Michael Hasenmueller.

The creative team for the production includes Cynthia Forsgren (Costume Designer), Robin McIntyre (Scenic Designer) and Eric Jensen (Music Director)

Flying Foot Forum’s FRENCH TWIST Performance Schedule: Previews begin Friday, June 22, and continue through Thursday, June 28. June 29 is Opening Night, and the run continues through July 15. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. except for Saturday and Sunday matinees, which begin at 2 p.m. All performances are on Park Square’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Saint Paul’s historic Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter Street.

There will also be two nights of works in progress created by Joe Chvala and company members including a work in progress premiere of a Flying Foot Forum film project Mondays, July 2 and 9.