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THEATER Strange Heart Beating
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-07-16

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Playwright: Kristin Idaszak

At: Cloudgate Theatre at the Frontier, 1106 W. Thorndale Ave. Tickets: CloudgateTheatre.com; $5-$45. Runs through: July 28

There's potential for a nifty TV-movie in Kristin Idaszak's play—TWO movies, in fact. Whether they are capable of sharing the same performance space/time is up to the individual viewer, though.

The first plot revolves around the investigation conducted by lifelong BFFs Teeny and Lena—the former now sheriff of their Minnesota lake-district town—into the disappearance of the latter's teenage daughter. Their search will lead to disturbing revelations regarding the poultry-farming industry fueling the local economy and the sinister machinations of elected officials dedicated to preservation thereof. ( What? You thought corrupt governments, hypocritical citizens and sweltering mosquito-ridden summer nights only existed in the Southern regions of the United States? )

The second introduces us to the mythic spirit of the lake adjoining the town—personified by the author as a pastoral deity gowned in marsh flora and sport-angling detritus, accompanied by a cortege of deep-diving loons whose shrill nocturnal cries hint at life-and-death struggles lurking beneath the placid waters—who laments the long history of such occurrences.

Either of these themes could make for a nice shivery yarn to beguile urban audiences mistrustful of nature's primal powers, especially when perverted by technology of greedy mortals—but while Idaszak's pursuit of narrative brevity is admirable, its current 85-minute running time is too brief for us to absorb the volume of exposition necessary for our full comprehension of ( and, by extension, emotional investment in ) the characters' progress.

Take, for example, Teeny's memories of her own sister, missing in similarly mysterious circumstances. This backstory is dropped into the dialogue in fragments so widely scattered that consolidating them into a coherent CLUE risks overlooking the next step to resolving whodunit ( or what or why ). Later, our horror at the discovery of additional victims is diluted by our delayed recognition of their iconographical representation, as is our concern for the young man who will be executed for their murder, but whose presence at the scene remains uncertain.

This is unfortunate, since the mission of playwright Idaszak, director Addie Gorlin—indeed, the entire Cloudgate Theatre company—is an activist exhortation to "imagine a more liveable world and work to make it real." A script in need of only one more rewrite to clarify the path of our toil is still a worthy quest, however, nor is there any disputing the artistry reflected in the design team's atmospherically accurate replication of sylvan Northern Plains landscapes, and in the deftly intense performances of Jyreika Guest and Leah Raidt as the intrepid female sleuths.


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