Information, reviews, and miscellaneous shorts focusing on professional, nonprofit theater—from a Southeast Minnesota perspective.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Commonweal Opens a New House

Commonweal Stage
The auditorium of the new Commonweal, May 2007 (photo: Commonweal)

The Commonweal is getting a new home this summer, and it’s no surprise that the new building looks like the old building—on the outside. It's no surprise because the Commonweal has always included the cultural setting of Lansboro in its art. While a professional acting company in a tiny southeast Minnesota community may be unsual, the Commonweal presence in Lansboro makes it seem as if this is exactly where high quality theater should be.

Since 1989, the Commonweal has produced plays in the St. Mane Theater, which was originally a small town movie house. While the quality of the productions keep patrons returning for production after production, no one was very comfortable in the St. Mane—not the audience, not the actors, not the designers. The seats are worn out, sight lines are not good, rest rooms are hard to get to and inadequate. And for the production crew, the sound/light booth has a 5 foot ceiling, there are no back stage wings and the stage itself is quite small.

But no one has complained, really. The unique staging constraints have challenged set designers. (Not only do the sets have to fit on the small stage, but because Commonweal usually has two plays running in repertory, the sets must also be moved into what little back stage exists after every night’s performance.) While there is a certain charm to the challenge, and the Commonweal has been up to it, the entire company is looking forward to the new space.

While the building complements the historic buildings on the main street of Lansboro, the theater itself will offer more modern amenities, starting with a thrust stage and a performance room where no audience member is more than 35 feet from the stage.

Commonweal will open the new house with Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark on July 7. Wait Until Dark will play in repertory through the summer months with Charles Ludlam’s The Myster of Irma Vep. Irma Vep opens in May in the St. Mane and then moves to the new Commonweal Theater in July. This is a great opportunity to see what a difference a room makes. I highly recommend seeing Irma Vep in May or June, and then again after the move.

Of course, I recommend seeing anything the Commonweal does. I’ve never been disappointed.

Currently playing at the Commonweal:

Crimes of the Heart (Beth Henly) through July 1 The Mystery of Irma Vep (Charles Ludlam) through September 12

Visit the Commonweal for schedules: Commonweal Theatre

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