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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Invasion of the Minnesota Normals
I get physically ill when I see someone wearing an orange dress. True or false?
review continues below
Idiotic questions like these, analyzed en masse, would, it was believed, reveal your personality type, your temperament, your mental state. In mid-20th century conformist America such tests were taken seriously and were administered by Personnel Departments to determine whether a potential new employee would fit into a specific corporate culture. Is he a leader or a follower? Is he argumentative? Does he play well with others?
Such questions serve as the fulcrum around which Jen Ellison's play Invasion of the Minnesota Normals revolves. Set in 1953 in a suburb of Chicago, the play begins innocently enough. Housewife Ruth McKinley (played by Deborah Reed, who is, coincidentally, a dead ringer for big brown-eyed 1940s star Donna Reed) is preparing a small cocktail party for some long-time friends. While she is off in the kitchen for a few minutes her husband Roy (Matt Quinn) returns home, stubs out his cigarette in an ashtray that Ruth has just emptied, and moves heavily upstairs to their bedroom.
Shortly thereafter, the party guests begin to arrive. First is Walter (Rich Hutchman), who obviously has a thing for Ruth. She flirts with him demurely as he begins to rummage through a box sitting on the coffee table. The box contains cards imprinted with questions from the personality quiz, and Walter immediately makes a parlor game of it as they both coyly answer true or false.
But it isn't really a game. It is being administered seriously at the advertising agency where husband Roy works, and he has brought the cards home to test Ruth.
Suddenly, out of the rainy night comes a new neighbor, recently arrived from Minnesota. He is Robert (played by Brad David Reed), and he has brought a casserole as an introductory offering. He seems a little squirrely, but Walter invites him to come back, with his wife, to Ruth's party.
And finally, here come the Beechums, a loud, angry couple that you can hear arguing half a block away. Stan, a belligerent Peter Breitmayer, and Helen, an insensitive shrew played by Anne von Herrmann (alternating with Nichole Pelerine), provide an intensely volatile comic relief as they join in the game of true or false. Robert, the new neighbor, returns with his shyly diffident wife Mary (Judy Heneghan) to reveal some startling information that changes the course of the party.
The Buzzworks Theater Company's Invasion of the Minnesota Normals is a sterling ensemble production, beautifully directed by Melissa Denton and attractively furnished by Troy Wilderson's "1950's modern" set design: blonde woods surrounding a vibrant Kelly green couch. Derrick McDaniel's alternating bright lights and power failures add tension to the drama, as does Peter Carlin's sound design. And the rain that falls continually outside the living room window adds just the right ominous touch to a party gone drastically wrong.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide