Welcome to 1929 New York City, the ultimate snapshot of the United States as a giant melting pot. One tenement alone holds Italians, Germans, Irish, Jews, Poles, and just about any other European immigrant looking to strike big in the land of dreams. It’s from this crowded building stuffed full of diversity, tension, gossip, and hope that Street Scene takes place.
The latest production of Girl Friday Productions, staged at Minneapolis’s Theater Garage, Pulitzer-prize winning Street Scene originally debuted on Broadway in January 1929. At the time, the play perfectly captured the current trend of the world: immigrating to the United States, a phenomenon that added more than 30 million people to the U.S. population between 1820 and 1914. Many of these new arrivals landed and stayed in New York, and it was here that Street Scene’s playwright, Elmer Rice, grew up.
Born to Jewish immigrant parents in 1892 and raised in New York City, Rice experienced first-hand the themes he later wove into his production. The play centers around the Maurrant family: Frank (Bob Malos), the cold, hardworking husband who sees his wife only for her shortcomings; Anna (Kirby Bennett), Frank’s deeply unhappy, eager-to-please wife, as well as the latest victim of neighborhood gossip due to her secret visits with a gentleman caller; Willie (Naveh Shavit-Lonstein), a rascal of a 10-year-old beyond anyone’s control; and Rose (Anna Sundberg), an idealistic young woman torn between her duty as a daughter and her desire to start a new life away from the city. As the summer heat rises, so, too, do tensions among neighbors—racial slurs and gossip go from being discreet whispers to shouted accusations, hidden feelings are professed, and infidelity is discovered, ultimately resulting in a bloody scene that changes life in the tenement forever.
Of the 24 actors who skillfully play 60 or so characters, the energy and raw emotion of Sundberg (Rose), Ellen Apel (Emma Jones, the queen of neighborhood gossip), and Logan Verdoorn (Samuel Kaplan, Rose’s admirer) stand out most. Adding to the depth and detail of the production are period-perfect costumes by Kathy Kohl, a colorful and characteristic set by Joel Sass, and excellent dialect coaching from Jim Ahrens, all of which come together to create an intimate experience for the audience.
More than just another story of clashing races and forbidden love, Street Scene offers a glimpse into America past while also providing a mirror to America present, reminding us what can result when prejudice, fear, and hatred take the place of acceptance, tolerance, and love.
Through July 30
Minneapolis Theater Garage
711 W. Franklin Ave., Mpls.