If you aren’t immediately sold by the phrase “a picnic operetta,” then this is not the experience for you. If, like me, you are intrigued by this description, Mixed Precipitation delivers on a feast for the ears and mouth. Combining 80s Lycra and the splendor of Minnesota’s parks, The Clementy of Tito’s Tennis Club is the perfect way to finish out our rapidly ending summer.
Based (loosely) on Mozart’s opera La clemenza di Tito, which was supposed to set a virtuous example for Leopold II, Music Director and Arranger Gary Ruschman and Artistic Director Scotty Reynolds have reimagined this morality play for our current times. Scorned tennis player Vitellia Rose (Lauren Asheim) decides to get even with Coach Tito (Jim Ahrens) and his new tennis stars Servillia Jean King (Joni Griffith) and Annio Armstrong (KT Magnolia) by enlisting the help of her doting, would-be lover Sesto Piquet (Anna Hashizume). As the audience was told before the start (paraphrase) -- Opera is about BIG VOICES expressing BIG EMOTIONS. With its emotional roller coaster, operatic arias mixed with 80s classics, Tito’s Tennis Club doesn’t disappoint.
I must admit, I am not always a fan of opera, but after this performance I think it might be the suffy (and vertigo inducing) confines of a concert hall, songs that go on for too long, and the lack of comfortable seating. I went to this production with a friend and her 1 and a half year old, and the little girl was enraptured with the live music and the band. Unlike a play where there is far too much talking to keep smaller children engaged, the music and physicality of Tito’s Tennis Club keeps the pace moving for audiences young and old. Minnesota is so lovely in the summer, and listening to the wonderful singers and 4-piece band (Gary Ruschman, Luke Pickman, Ginna Watson, and Lauren Asheim) fill the air in the park was a treat. A shout out here to the unbelievably talented Lauren Asheim and Anna Hashizume, whose chemistry, fantastic voices, and properly over-the-top acting sold the show.
While it is perhaps a bit hard to follow the nuances of the script (none of the performers are mic’d), they employ a few hand-lettered signs for the arias; these signs do not give one-for-one translations, but instead provide the audience a taste of the meaning behind the words. At several parts during the show, the cast loosely connects their dialogue to different small plates that are passed through the audience. These food breaks do slightly interrupt the flow of the operetta, but they make the audience interact with each other and parts of the cast; this goes directly to Mixed Precipitations goal of “exploring text, space and form with festive theatrical events that inspire social engagement” (Mixed Precipitation website, accessed 8/29/2019).
The lack of a proper set doesn’t impede the audience’s enjoyment, and many clever physical stagings (such as making the Oracle’s floating eyes and head out of tennis racks) is inventive and funny. I am always a fan of shows that know what they are and deliver on it. The Clemency of Tito’s Tennis Club is self-aware, smart, and deeply kind. 10/10 would recommend. It plays across the great state of Minnesota until the end of September.