The Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center concludes it 2017-18 Cultural Arts Series when the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) of Minneapolis presents “Seedfolks,” with one performance on Saturday, May 19. The play will perform at 11 a.m. in the Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.
Based on the Newbery Medal-winning book by Paul Fleischman, “Seedfolks” is about an immigrant neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio that is transformed by a community garden. Actor Sonja Parks embodies the eleven distinct voices of Gibb Street in this enthralling, one-woman production, directed by Peter C. Brosius.
For Peter Brosius, this book has long been one he wished to stage. “This is a beautifully written, funny and poignant book about the power we all have to be catalysts for change,” noted Brosius. “We came to the decision to use one single actor to portray eleven, diverse voices in this production as a demonstration that we are all part of a whole, and together, we can create something beautiful.
“Seedfolks” begins when nine-year-old Kim plants the first seeds in the rat-infested, vacant lot next to her apartment building. They are six lima bean seeds, planted in honor of the father she never knew. Slowly, each member of the community finds a reason to plant their own seeds, resurrecting a derelict lot and uniting a fractured neighborhood. The story consists of 11 different narratives around the shared experience of creating a true neighborhood jewel out of what was an eye-sore, all deftly portrayed by acclaimed Twin Cities actress Sonja Parks.
Parks walks on the stage of “Seedfolks” and asks a manager to bring up the stage lights and dim the house.
Then she tells the audience for “Seedfolks” that she is about to tell them a story about a place that may remind them of where they live.
“This neighborhood is in Cleveland,” Parks says. “What happens in this neighborhood, this neighborhood right here, is happening right now.”
Immediately, the theatre fills with music mixed with the roar of construction work and blaring car horns — sound that is perfect for a gritty story of a struggling community of people who live around a garbage-strewn lot in Cleveland.
With that, Parks begins an extraordinary theatrical odyssey in which she transforms herself over and over, playing all 14 characters in the play. But there are no costume changes. Instead, Parks uses speech, posture and gestures to convincingly migrate between characters — from an 8-year-old Vietnamese girl, to a geriatric Eastern European busybody.
In the play, Parks also plays a street-wise but lovesick bodybuilder, a world-weary school janitor from Kentucky and myriad of others. The astounding thing is that each of these people is portrayed only by Parks, who delivers one of the Twin Cities theater scene’s tour de force performances of the year. Sometimes in mid-sentence, Parks transforms from a nine-year-old Vietnamese girl to an 80-something Romanian woman, a retired Jewish man to a Latino teen and back again. Without costume changes and with only projections of urban landscapes behind her, Parks commands the stage (and some of the seating area, as well), making the audience feel — by the end of the 65-minute show — as if it has become part of a vibrant and fascinating community.
“It’s kind of an actor’s dream, and an actor’s nightmare at the same time,” Parks said with a laugh. “And it starts, as most kind of big concepts do, with a very small thing,” Parks said. “A little girl just wanting to feel connection with her father.”
The girl is Kim, who never knew her dad. He was a farmer who died before she was born. She decides to honor his memory by planting beans in the only soil she can find — the garbage lot near her building. She digs the frozen ground with the only tool she can find, a spoon.
The play is recommended for children in grades 3-8, but can be enjoyed by children and adults of all ages.
Tickets for “Seedfolks” are available through CLC Theatre Box Office at (218) 855-8199, and are also available online at www.clcperformingarts.com
The show is sponsored Essentia Health. The entire CLC Performing Arts Center season is made possible in part by an operating grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.