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'Falstaff' gets Minnesota twist

“Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County: A Picnic Operetta” will be performed at 2 pm. Sept. 15, 2018, in Memorial Park on Sorin’s Bluff. Submitted photo1 / 2
Shakespeare meets Nicolai meets Minnesota in “Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County," being staged Sept. 15 at Red Wing's Memorial Park. The show is part of the Sheldon Theatre’s Summer Around Town series of programs being held at various locations during the renovation of the historic city-owned theater. Submitted photo2 / 2

Anyone who entertains with a blend of German opera and Bruce Springsteen music, Jell-O shots and savory popcorn balls, environmental worries and legal battles has earned the right to be heard.

Scotty Reynolds is such a person. Reynolds is the producing artistic director of Mixed Precipitation Theater, which is bringing "Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County: A Picnic Operetta" to Red Wing on Sept. 15.

The 2 p.m. matinee is scheduled for Memorial Park on Sorin's Bluff, accessed from the 600 block of East Seventh Street.

The show is part of the Sheldon Theatre's Summer Around Town series of programs being held at various locations during the renovation of the historic city-owned theater.

The troupe, which is observing its 10th anniversary, tours a picnic operetta each summer to celebrate the harvest with a blend of music, horticulture, food and storytelling.

Each show is a shortened version of a major classical work, Reynolds said. But it is more than that. Rather than present the heavy material that is traditional, "we offer a fun, summery, Minnesota treatment," he explained.

"Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County" is a new adaptation of Otto Nicolai's German opera, "The Merry Wives of Windsor," which itself was based on a Shakespeare comedy.

In the adaptation, a company town on the shores of Lake Superior is in trouble. The taconite plant has gone bust and jobs are leaving town fast, according to the Sheldon.

"Meanwhile, the sleazy Doctor Falstaff has washed up on shore," officials explained. "He's looking to sell a boat, eat some herring, and seduce some married women.

Luckily, a trio of tough working gals has teamed up to chase the rat out of town. These working wives — a nurse, a librarian and a park ranger — show the men in town who's 'The Boss.'"

Those three women represent heroes, Reynolds said. In a town where residents are dealing with serious strife, they are "the people who hold the town together."

Reynolds based the fictional story on his hometown, Silver Bay, Minn., and events that occurred in the 1970s but had a lasting effect on the community and the region.

"Contaminated drinking water and a depleted fish population led to a decade of legal battles with fishermen and environmentalists and the mining industry," according to the troupe. The landmark case, the United States versus Reserve Mining Company, addressed the regulation of corporate pollution on a national level.

"Our show places the silly characters of Shakespeare's comedy alongside contemporary questions about industry, job creation, and the environmental impact of capitalism" when taconite tailings were dumped into Lake Superior.

The music of Bruce Springsteen was a natural choice to address the contemporary issues embodied in the tale, Reynolds said, adding that his music represents the sounds of the 1970s and '80s in northern Minnesota.

"Bruce Springsteen's classic anthems of working life and songs of love are perfect for the struggles of the time. We'll look at the conflict of environmentalist and job creation with humor and dignity," the troupe's publicity promised.

The operetta also includes some numbers sung in German. However, Reynolds said, he has created translations in a format he described as "supertitles" instead of subtitles. "The words are painted on the props" so people can read them, he explained.

Food is an important part of the production. The theater company has its own food team that prepares it at a catering kitchen in Minneapolis and brings it down for the show.

"Each course represents events in the story," Reynolds said, plus serving the food promotes interaction between actors and audience members and among people at the event.

The food is a five-course "tasting picnic" — not a full meal, but a meaningful bite. Samplings that will be served here are a beet kvass gelatin shot, spicy pickles, German potato salad, savory popcorn balls and a chocolate crumble to represent the taconite tailings.

Signs will be posted to direct people to the performance site in Memorial Park. "It has grass, shade and dynamic geological features," Reynolds noted, but people should bring lawn chairs. Some blankets will be provided.

The chosen site will reflect conditions in the park that day, according to Sheldon Executive Director Bonnie Schock. The performance will take place rain or shine, but may be moved to a picnic shelter if it rains. In case of extreme weather, ticket holders will be notified of alternate plans.

Tickets are $15. "Dr. Falstaff" is a Kids Play Free event, which means that a child 14 or younger gets in free with a paid adult admission. They may be purchased at the box office, by calling 651-388-8700 or online at www.sheldontheatre.org. Advance purchase is strongly encouraged so the troupe can plan how much food to bring.