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'Twentieth Century:' 'Zany' actors take a 1930s train ride

Terry Brunson, from left, Bev Raske, Elizabeth Adamski, Christopher Myers and Jay Ellingson play a group of passengers on the Twentieth Century Limited in The Barn Theatre's production of the play "Twentieth Century." (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

"Twentieth Century" is set on a train called the Twentieth Century which runs from Chicago to New York in the 1930s. The train carries a collection of zany characters who are directed by Tom Orth in a way that brings the zaniness to the forefront and causes laughter that other directors would miss.

The zaniness especially fits these characters as most of them are theater people. The main character is the "has-been" director/producer Oscar Jaffe, played by David Schuerman in his droll manner -- struggling against the odds after a series of flops. One of Jaffe's conflicts is with his former lover/star Lily Garland, played by Kathy Orth. She is an oscar-winning Hollywood star being pursued by another producer/director Max Jacobs, played by Rob Kruger. Both Jaffe and Jacobs are trying to sign Garland to a contract.

Conflict makes plays interesting, and this play has subplots and more subplots to add to the action. One major conflict is between Ida Webb, played by Bev Raske, and Oscar Jaffe. She is alternately his loyal business manager/secretary, yet betraying him to Lily.

Ida also conflicts with a Bible-thumping Southerner, Matthew Clark, played by Jay Ellingson, who portrays the southern gentleman so well. Conflict also exists between Lily and her manager/lover George Smith, played by Chris Myers, also with an accent. George tries to direct Lily's decision regarding contracts, thus in conflict with Oscar as well.

This play also features new performers. One "newcomer," Terry Brunson, plays the conductor, but as music minister at Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Spicer, he is able to add more music to the play than any of Tom Orth's previous plays. Orth is known to put some type of music in all his plays.

Brunson plays the piano on stage in the club car of the train. His rags sound like Scott Joplin and add to the flavor of the '30s. He also accompanies songs the actors sing, as well as singing himself.

Two more new faces are Elizabeth Adamski and Bryan Orson, who play a doctor and his mistress, who is periodically chased through the train by another newcomer Jamie Hobert, who plays the assistant to Jaffe. Hobert is the most physical of all the characters on stage, zany and more touchy-feely than the Scandinavian/German residents exhibit.

When actors get to play actors, the close connections may seem exaggerated, but for those of us who have spent weeks rehearsing, these connections are real.

The audience will feel the opulence of the '30's theater life just by looking at the set. The "train," designed by Chris McAninch, has windows running along the back, and light/sound operator Brandt Haglund controls the flash of light from one window to the next in a manner simulating the train speeding up and slowing down. The furniture from Hennen's adds to the opulent feeling, and the candles scattered throughout the three train compartments glow even when the set is dark. The costumes complete the '30's look. Judy Wangsness and Joanne Meierhofer assisted with the costumes.

Students 15-years-old and older, plus adults will enjoy both the situational humor and the comic phrases. Gunshots are heard during the play and some subtle sexual comments are made, so the play is not recommended for students under 15. The cast ends the play with a surprise chorus -- a relaxing end to a stressful summer's day.

"Twentieth Century" runs through Saturday, and Aug. 25 to 28. All performances are at 7:30 p.m. at The Barn Theatre, 321 Fourth St. S.W. in downtown Willmar. For ticket information, call 320-235-9500.

Peggy Karsten has been an English instructor at Ridgewater College for 21 years and a volunteer at The Barn for 18 years.