Thursday, July 26, 2012

SPARK Theater + Dance

Last weekend we attended an open house for our friends at SPARK Theater + Dance.  In the comfort of their living room they presented a preview of their theatre production The Evolution of Sam which will be performed at this year's Fringe Festival.

Corey Mills
Betsy and Corey Mills are the husband and wife team and artistic directors for SPARK, a non-profit organization that explores the connections between theatre and dance, art and community, and creator and performer.  SPARK has been their dream for many years.

Written and performed by Corey as a one-man show, and directed by Betsy, Sam was first performed in 2001.  Sam is about the evolution of a typical guy from monkey to man and back again.  It's about his search for love and his inevitable rejections.  It's billed as "a very physical solo show that asks, 'Is it really all about survival of the fittest?'"
Betsy Mills

We were very privileged to see two short scenes from the 45-minute production.  The first showed Sam as a monkey, doing what he does best - climbing, looking for food, and pursuing a potential mate (a stuffed monkey in the center of the floor).  He "evolves" with smooth movements from his bent-knuckled, all-fours position to present-day male, standing upright, trying to make conversation with a woman at a bar.  (6 million years in about 20 seconds!)

I'm not sure anyone can watch this show, at least the beginning of it, with a straight face. Being an actor and a dancer, Corey pulls off the physical comedy easily with the posture, movement and facial expressions of a true chimp.

In the actual show, the set will be composed of a series of metal bars in the shape of a triangle that he'll climb on.  The humor is also in how the script is written and the timing - how he delivers his line, waits for a response from other invisible characters, and then repeats it more loudly.  You can just sense the whole atmosphere at the bar with the loud music and the crowd. 

The second scene we saw was also humorous, but in a different way - the way that most artists can easily relate to.  Sam goes to an audition for a play.  He recites Shakespeare and does rather badly - forgetting his lines, starting over, mixing up words.  (It reminds me of the idea that in order to purposely sing off key, you have to be a pretty good singer.  By the same token, in order to recite purposely convoluted lines of Shakespeare, you've got to know it pretty well to begin with!)  Of course he doesn't make the cut, but you really feel for him as he experiences another embarrassing rejection.
model of Sam set
deigned by Samuel N. Cook

I have not gone to a Fringe show, but I will be going to this one.  I could be biased because these are friends of mine, but I don't think so.  I've seen other works done by these two - several dance performances, Masterminds from 2007 Fridgefest, and The Cubicle done in conjunction with Theater for the Thirsty.  As a writer, I can appreciate a good script, and as a dancer I enjoy the timing and movement of physical comedy.  This is one show that I highly recommend.

The Evolution of Sam
Performing at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul, 2400 University Ave. W.
          • Thurs., Aug. 2    10:00 p.m.
          • Fri., Aug. 3         5:30 p.m.
          • Sat., Aug. 4         5:30 p.m.
          • Fri., Aug. 10       7:00 p.m.
          • Sat., Aug. 11       4:00 p.m.
Show is rated for 16 or older.
For tickets call:  866-811-4111   
For more information:

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