A play about understanding and conversation that is making its world premiere in Minneapolis against the current political and social climate is truly groundbreaking. The play deals with a young married couple whose dog’s mysterious disappearance triggers a moment where the couple begins to talk, yell, and inflect at each other, rather than to each other. After one of them decides to go back to their hometown for a spell, each finds kinship in another person – someone new, someone much different than them, someone who for some reason decides to let down their guard and engage.
Throughout the show, there are many examples of excellent and horrific communication and it boils down to what really makes for connection and reminds us all how much effort it takes to keep that up constantly. Mills’ script plays with both realism and something more magical to invite the audience to think about the play and its focus of understanding in a way that suits you. The play has the pace of an action film with the sentiment and gut punch realizations of a drama. Through the four characters we are presented, an audience can find something so universal through their specific and messy lives. Mills and the team highlight that life is messy but that does not mean we can give up. If we do, it becomes nearly impossible to understand each other.
The technical execution of this show showcased excellence across the board. Special design shout-outs go to the slick combination of Karin Olson’s lighting design and Katharine Horowitz’s sound design, which created a multitude of environments within the intimate confines of the Soma Studio space. Every scene felt so perfectly punctuated in a way that reminds one of the power that strong visual design can bring to a production. It amplified the humor, severity, and dreamscape that was present in Tyler Mills’ script. All of this interacted beautifully with the abstract, functional, and eye-catching scenic design of Sarah Brandner. Honestly, this struck a strong cord with my personal artistic aesthetics that half of my notes were notating these elements. The other half? The script and the players that presented it.
Adelin Phelps (Julie / Rachel) and Sasha Andreev (Chris / Josh) are powerhouses in their own right and could easily carry a show individually; together, they are dynamite. Watching these two performers was watching a master class in how to draw an audience into a story that is risky, vulnerable, and unforgiving in its reality. Direction by Tyler Michaels, who was assisted by Sophie Peyton, resulted in a sleek first preview that utilized the space and script that reminded you that hard work and talent gets you so much.
The production felt young, but not sophomoric. It felt like this elusive future of theater that we as theater artists have been wracking our minds about. While we have seen a change of hands into a more inclusive artistic direction amongst some of the big houses in town, we must match that with new infusions. I believe that this is an indication of the quality and depth of work that Trademark Theater will be presenting, you must keep your eye of them. I hope that the community truly embraces what they have to offer because I want Trademark Theater to be a part of the Twin Cities theater scene’s future.
I could go on about this production, but I am reminded of a sentiment from the show; that it may be better that we meet face to face so you know that I am a human. So, please do yourself a favor - go see the show, then if you want to, contact me and let’s talk about it and other things. I am more than a reviewer, you are more than a reader, and Understood is more than an amazing step in the company’s future.