Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Sad Song Sing AlongOpen Eye Theatre
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's recent reviews of A Soldier's Play, Hello, Dolly!, The Daughter of the Regiment, and Blues for an Alabama Sky

Nicodemus and Michael Sommers
Photo by Joel Sass
Michael Sommers is a co-founder, with Susan Haas, of Open Eye Figure Theatre, now known simply as Open Eye Theatre. For some fifty years, Sommers has created and presented figural theater, using the interaction of puppets, props, sound, lights, design, and live human beings to posit ideas and express feelings through stories. His work has been seen on small local stages, even on driveways (see their summer driveway tour), and has travelled internationally. Sommers has offered classes to share his skills and insights with other aspiring artists. He also is on faculty in the University of Minnesota's Department of Theater Arts and Dance. Sommers has of late been largely behind the scenes at Open Eye, but he now returns to the stage with a solo show titled Sad Song Sing Along.

Sommers' work is laced with a dry sense of humor (with detours into puns and riddles), a dreamy-eyed view of the human journey through life, and a feeling of melancholy tempered with hope. To see his work is to have some indication of the mind and soul of the artist. In Sad Song Sing Along we find him cogitating the inner turmoil–the "hum" he calls it–that creates a restlessness among the human species, shearing us from our natural essence and equanimity.

Sad Song Sing Along is divided into three segments, all brief; the show's total run time is about 50 minutes. In the first segment, the audience, limited to fifty, assembles in the theater's small lobby–standing, but seats are available if needed. A costumed Sommers emerges from an elaborate disguise to present a sort of self-help seminar, opening with the statement that "You are all miserable," spoken not as a denouncement but as an ordinary fact. He elaborates on the source of our collective misery and how we might regain, or perhaps for the first time gain, contentment. He uses wordplay, both verbal and visual, that goes from that "hum" to "human" to "humility" to "humble", that we might find ourselves more grounded in life on this earth. This is delivered by Sommers with his distinctive voice that combines a sense of gravitas with merry whimsy. Sommers calls on Brandon, who responds in an amplified voice from on high (actually, stage manager and co-conspirator in the show, Brandon Sisneroz). Brandon's patient tone of voice seems to show that he has learned to humor Sommer's idiosyncrasies and take the part of a straight man to Sommers' philosopher clown.

We continue to stand through the second segment (the transition amusingly accomplished), to be instructed by a marionette named Darren who teaches us to sing the aptly titled "Sad Song" and we gamely oblige, singing along. It is easy to learn, and vocal ability is definitely not needed, for even I could master it. Darren/Sommers has fun with their audience participation segment. For the third segment, the audience finally takes their seats, silently directed by a glum looking traffic cop, and the performance shifts to the stage. Brandon takes on the role of narrator here, introducing us to Enoch, whose dream encompasses the tree-bound, cigarette-smoking prophet Nicodemus endlessly twirling round and round, as well as dart throwing and balloon dropping, with a spinning tabletop, hanging burdens, toy unicorns, a fluffy rabbit, and other assorted trappings.

Exactly what that last segment means is hard for me to say. I was right on board with the opening bit about "the hum," and happily sang "Sad Song" (the contradiction there is part of the great fun), but while the business upon the stage is brightly imaginative and intriguing, I would be hard pressed to tell you what it all means. Though I did speculate on what it might mean, I am pretty unsure that my thoughts on the matter are anything more than, well, my thoughts, and not necessarily akin to Sommers' thoughts–though that may be precisely what he has in mind for us.

In any case, Sad Song Sing Along offers an opportunity to view the wistful, whimsical, and amazingly inventive work of a premiere theater artist, and to be stimulated to ponder things that may rise above the where-to-go-for-dinner, how-much-to-sock-away-in-the-IRA, or who-will-win-the-Oscars-this-year kinds of questions that occupy so much of our time. It is a journey with fellow travelers who are keen for this type of artistry. If you count yourself among them, or if you are not certain but open to finding out, I encourage you to see for yourself. Just don't blame me if the "Sad Song" tune continues to fill any empty space in your mind for the next few days.

Sad Song Sing Along runs through February 14, 2023, at Open Eye Theatre, 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: General Admission: $18, Students and Seniors: $15, Economic Accessibility: $10. For tickets and information, please visit or call 612-874-6368. This production is recommended for ages 14 and up.

Created and Directed by: Michael Sommers; Costume and Prop Design: Michael Sommers; Lighting and Sound Design: Michael Sommers and Brandon Sisneroz; Stage Manager: Brandon Sisneroz.

Performed by: Michael Sommers, featuring Brandon Sisneroz.