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Review: SWEET LAND at Taproot Theatre

Review: SWEET LAND at Taproot Theatre
Molli Corcoran (Inge Altenberg) and Tyler
Todd Kimmel (Olaf Torvik) lead the cast of
Sweet Land at Taproot Theatre.
Photo Credit: Erik Stuhaug

Sweet Land at Taproot Theatre is a sweet treat of a show. Full of humor, wit, challenges, and struggles, the story of Inge Altenberg and Olaf Torvik becomes an everyman's story. The path to the American dream is paved with suspicion and hardship for immigrants both past and present. Their trials and travails parallel the stories of so many others. In the end, we find that their differences are much smaller than our commonalities. Communities can unite or divide. It is up to each person to decide where and with whom they will stand.

Sweet Land is a quiet, little story that simply tells the truth. What is it like to leave everything you've known and start over? What is like to be an outsider, to be called different? What is it like when you don't understand the language and traditions of your new home? What is it like when people who don't know you fear you? What is it like to constantly live with uncertainty? What is it like to work hard day after day for a life you might not even be allowed to have? These are the things that face Inge in her new homeland.

While tackling these heavy subject, Sweet Land also serves up a healthy portion of humor. Between Inge learning to speak English and Inge and Olaf learning about each other, there are plenty of reasons to laugh. Olaf's friend admits that he was worried about Olaf agreeing to marry someone without even seeing a photo. But upon meeting Inge at the train station, he pronounces her "Ducky" and proceeds to sing about it. Perhaps even funnier is Inge's insistence that Olaf shouldn't worry that she took a bath at his house since only the farm animals were there to witness it. She takes to music to tell the animals all about it.

Molli Corcoran (Inge Altenberg) has you in her corner from the first moment. Her bright eyes fill with sadness, dance with delight, and implore you for understanding. Her voice is bright and powerful and terribly missed in songs in which she does not sing. Tyler Todd Kimmel (Olaf Torvik) has a wonderful transformation on stage. He is quiet, almost brooding, a person full of worries without a lot of outward affection. Kimmel manages to portray this in such a way that reminds you that people are complicated and worthy of much more than your initial reaction. April Poland (Marta "Brownie" Frandsen) is simply delightful. She combines ease with fortitude letting you know at once that Minnesota farm wives are a plucky bunch. Hugh Hastings (Pastor Sorenson) has the unenviable task of playing the pastor who repeatedly blocks the marriage of Inge and Olaf. He provides a constant reminder of how little thoughts and prayers really help those who are in dire situations.

A small ensemble of four (piano, reeds, violin, and bass) provides the music in the show. Quite often they sound bigger than their size, but mostly the music of the show is understated. Songs often begin or end a capella. However, one song Barn Dance is a full-on, heel-tapping good time elevated even more by the choreography of Katy Tabb. Despite the small stage, the couples whirl about in patterns that remind us how much of the Old World has grown roots in the New World.

The beauty of the show is revealed in Inge's openness in the face of closed minds. Her nervousness about marrying a man she has never met turns out to be the least of her problems. Her unwavering spirit threads its way throughout the show. Her hard work and perseverance win not only Olaf's love but the respect of the community. Through sheer force of will, she makes her new homeland into the sweet land of her dreams.

Sweet Land is playing at the Taproot Theatre through August 18th. For tickets or information,

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From This Author - Kelly Rogers Flynt