Children’s play “Spamtown” uses charm and wit to navigate the bitter 1980s P-9 strike


It’s like “Romeo and Juliet” in a small pet town on the Minnesota prairie.

Philip Dawkins’ crackling drama “Spamtown, USA,” which premiered Friday at the Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis, features a romance between teenage boys Travis Olsen and Amy Bolton. Their love is not simply doomed to fail because their families represent the warring parties – workers and management – in a fierce labor strike that overwhelms their world and turns brothers into spitting enemies.

Lovers’ goals also come from different backgrounds, as Madonna fan Amy (the fiery Arden Michalec) can’t wait to graduate from high school so she can go to New York to study fashion while Travis (smarmy Zachary Sullivan) just wants to get an engine for his car.

The good news for these two is that unlike Shakespeare, they don’t die of poison – although their love and dreams turn sour.

A Chicago-based playwright best known in the Twin Cities for “Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches The Musical” at CTC, “Charm” at Mixed Blood and “The Switch” at the Jungle, Dawkins was inspired for his new play by the mid-1980s P-9 strike that rocked the Hormel facility in Austin, Minn This episode, where the National Guard was called, spawned books and an Oscar-winning film. And now the Dawkins’ play, a coming-of-age tale, adds a child’s view of the events.

Dawkins, director Will Davis, and their design team have teamed up for a propulsive, witty, and emotionally powerful narrative of work conflict, which is mostly in the background for kids until it dominates theirs. life.

Christopher Heilman’s stage design includes a play area separated by a large plastic curtain that marks the entrance to the spam factory. Only adults go behind the curtain. Modular ensemble pieces that resemble store freezers are torn apart and put together to suggest a living room, school, or home. The Olsens and Boltons may live in glass houses, but they do more than throw stones. Union leader Mr. Olsen (hot-headed Dan Hopman) spits on those he disagrees with, including his brother (empathetic Reed Sigmund) and especially Mr. Bolton (calm, Dean Holt measured) .

The cast also includes Sandra Struthers as Miss Berg, mother of Travis and Jude, and Maureen Sherman-Mendez, as salon owner.

The show, which sometimes tries a little too hard to please, has a lot of charms. At one point during a visit to the salon, Mrs. Bolton (Autumn Ness) tells her daughter Carol to give someone a fake compliment. Carol asks, “Are you going to tell me a lie?” Mrs. Bolton: “It’s not a lie honey, it’s parenting.”

“Spamtown” uses music as well as other period markers to transport audiences to the 1980s, including ripped clothes (Trevor Bowen made the costumes), the Ronald Reagan phrase “morning in America” ​​and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

Young people in the drama, including Jude (Isabella Spiess), brother of Travis, tennis player, Carol (Malia Berg), curious sister of Amy and Scott (Marcelo Mena), Travis’ cosmos-obsessed cousin, use the phrase “blah blah blah” when talking about boring adult stuff. But we hear less about them as the action progresses, an indication that they are becoming more aware and more interested in the things of the adult world that shape their lives.

At the end of the show, the children collect their toys and place them in piles. The space shuttle, the doll, the tennis racket, they are full of meaning, because they are the dreams of a generation of children who have grown up, and come out of their childhood innocence in “Spamtown”.

Twitter: @rohanpreston

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