This review is the first of a series of essays surrounding Walking Shadow Theatre Company’s 2019-2020 season. This is a great opportunity to see how a producing organization plans their season to highlight different technical, thematic, and performance elements. Keep a lookout for other Walking Shadow shows: The Ugly One and Red Mayor.

Walking Shadow Theatre Company invites theatre audiences to a new sort of magic show with their regional premiere of Crystal Skillman’s Open. Program notes by director Amy Rummenie call out the intentional opening of Open (running October 12- Nov 3rd at the Off-Leash Art Box Performance Space) directly following National Coming Out Day on Friday October 11th. The hour-long one-act is a love story told through magic and metaphor. Sole performer Allison Witham brings skillful pantomime, humor, and authenticity to an intimate story of homophobia, loss, and redemption. 

In Open we meet the amateur magician and aspiring author, Kristen. Costumed by designer Sara Wilcox in a tailored jacket and top hat appropriately reminiscent of The Greatest Showman, Witham sits on stage as audience members find their seats. She introduces herself and shows off a few illusions and tricks for our amusement. The real magic of the play is in the production elements of light and sound. Over the course of the show. Kristen juggles invisible balls, ties invisible rope, feeds an invisible parrot, shuffles invisible playing cards, joins invisible hoops, wears invisible chains, and walks an invisible tightrope. Precisely timed sound by Katharine Horowitz creates the experience of the balls landing, the parrot fluttering, the cards sliding over one another. Lighting Design by Tony Stoeri creates the tightrope that Kristen must walk (both literally and metaphorically) as she toes the line of authenticity and acceptance. These technical elements are the magic of theatre, and Crystal Skillman’s script provides a perfect playground for designers to be imaginative. Instead of realism, audiences are given fantasy through which reality can be seen more clearly.

To this role, Allison Witham brings a likeable air of eager-to-please performativity combined with a desperate need to communicate. Witham’s skillful pantomime amplifies the magic brought to the small black box by lighting and sound. This show is an impressive technical feat – each cue falls exactly in place as Kristen tells the story of her lover, Jenny. Magic Consultant Suzanne the Magician and Performance Consultant Bryan Grosso craft a performance that felt effortless, doubtlessly coaching Witham in skills of slight-of-hand and pantomime. Amy Rummenie’s direction ties technical and performance elements together with specificity, vulnerability, and intentionality. The performance reminded me a bit of recent comedy specials like Nanette by Hannah Gadsby: it is an entertaining and funny commentary, and at the same time is heart-wrenching and tragic. In Open, Kristen tells her story of finding love, enduring hate, and suffering loss. 

This is the second production I have reviewed in the last few months that has centered on the desperate fight for LGBTQ+ rights. The first, Bent by The BAND Group explored the desperate plight of homosexuals through a historical lens. Open, contrastingly is a deeply personal first-person account from the present. Both productions strike the same chord: they bring stories that often lurk in the background to the forefront and enable the injustice to be seen and recognized. 

The current supreme court division over LGBTQ+ rights is a reiteration of the slow process of growth and change in America. In the arts we have the opportunity to bring attention to these shortcomings and to take action to fight for the stories of our LGBTQ+ community. I saw Walking Shadow’s Open on Sunday October 13, just three days after Donald Trump drew landmark crowds of supporters and protesters to his rally in downtown Minneapolis. This production itself felt like a sort of protest. Instead of chants and signs, the artists behind this production focused their efforts on telling a vulnerable and reflective story, proving that there are countless ways to be politically and socially active here in the Twin Cities. Open is a lovely one-woman show about the intimate metaphors magic provides us for interpreting our loves, our lives, and ourselves.