A Norwegian Minnesotan goes to the theater
John Erik Stacy
The Norwegian American
The streets of Minneapolis were slippery, and I slid a little at every turn between Ingebretsen’s on Lake Street and the old Grain Belt Building in northeast Minneapolis. I was headed to see the play The Norwegians. I was comfortable with the driving conditions but a little less certain about going to a play. I knew the setting was likely to be “intimate,” and sitting close to people being dramatic would be awkward. Ice fishing is more my style.
I spotted a little folding sign that told me I could park for Dark & Stormy Productions. I was a bit early and did not see an obvious way into the building. There were a couple of women arranging stuff in the back of their SUV. It would be awkward to ask them. Fighting down fear of embarrassment, I said “excuse me” to the women’s backs as they fussed with stuff in the car. They turned and smiled. Did they know anything about a play? Yes, they did! One of the women was named Mary, and she was there to write a review. I followed them in and up the stairs to the theater.
The ticket-taker welcomed me like an old friend, and even complimented my lusekofte. I was flattered to see they had reserved a seat for me with my name on it. It was an intimate setting, with rows of chairs on either side of the acting floor. On the wall was a large Norwegian flag, flanked by a smallish rack of antlers and a prize walleye. There were soap flakes for snow. I got coffee, and a woman came and stood in the soap flakes to announce how things would go and get us all to turn off our cell phones.
The lights went down, and suddenly theater was happening. Two guys in parkas were stomping off their boots. They turned out to be “hit men,” about to be hired by a blond woman named Olive. These weren’t just any killers, though: they were Norwegians. Tor, the bigger of the two contractors, was pleased when Olive referred to them as “hit persons,” because of the progressive implications of the gender-neutral term. And, of course, the reason Olive was talking to these guys is that she wanted her ex-boyfriend dead. But the Norwegians weren’t going to do the job until they knew more about Olive, in particular, who had referred her. They were very insistent on this point, naming referral info as an important part of their market research.
Scenes changed to flashback, with Olive at a table with dark-haired Betty (she was the same woman who told us to turn off our cell phones before the show started). Olive was from Texas and Betty from Kentucky. They were drinking, and Betty was bellyaching. She had more than one Minnesota winter behind her and warned Olive what might happen if she had no one to snuggle with when temperatures go sub-zero. And she told of how strange the people are up here. She cataloged Norwegian peculiarities, such as culinary challenges ending in “fisk” and how these are perverted to forms unspeakable. She also noted that the population learned to drive on frozen rivers. I’ve eaten my fair share of fisk. And my first experience behind the wheel was on Wayzata Bay. She was making me a bit uncomfortable with all she knew about me and my people.
Fast forward to Olive, Tor and the other hit-person named Gus. Tor had to point out that Gus was not “pure” Norwegian. Because of his hybrid status, Gus might stray from the uniformity of character and inability to engage in irony that is imprinted on the blood line. But Tor knew true “Norwegianism” and that all major advances in the human experience can somehow be traced back to his people, including the Kama Sutra.
A lot more happens in the play, but I don’t want to tell all of it, because it is better if you go see it yourself. I do want to mention (spoiler) that there was a dance sequence where the Norwegians wore horned Lucador Balaklavas and the women were dressed appropriately (?) for Texas-Kentucky.
When the play was over, people clapped and found their way out through halls with large strange sculptures made of wood and other materials. I got in my car in the near-empty lot and skidded out past Bunny’s Bar and Grill, thinking, “I should do this more often.”
Visit www.darkstormy.org for tickets to the Minneapolis production of The Norwegians.
See also Mary Aalgaard’s review of the play at www.playoffthepage.com/2019/12/review-of-the-norwegians-dark-stormy-productions.
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