Old Four Eyes

I finally took in Old Four Eyes: A Mississippi Panorama this weekend. The play is at the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, it was created by the Open Eye Figure Theatre, and it’s not going to be playing for much longer. It’s a great show, a loose retelling of the true story of John Banvard, who, in the Victorian era, painted a panorama of the Mississippi River that was advertised as being three miles long (it was actually only about a half-mile long, but, still — that’s a long painting).

But with a script by Kevin Kling and direction by Michael Sommers, the results were not likely to be purely educational. In fact, Kling’s script has Banvard interacting with the river as an actual character, dubbed “Professor Leaky” and surrounded by giggling blue water nymphs. Banvard’s trip down the Mississippi is one of pure metaphor, with the character meeting shapeshifters, giant catfish (an astounding stage effect that had an audience member respond with a startled monotone: “Oh my God.”), and a fascinating reprsentation of death, which has been popping up in a lot of Kling’s work lately, perhaps inspired by a horrific motorcycle accident he had several years ago that cost him the use of one arm — and nearly killed him. In this play, death is seen as an eccentric swamp witch with a bag full of bones. Banvard leans into the bag and cries out in surprise: “Oh, there’s a party in there!” So if you ever see a ghost, the play tells us, don’t be afraid. It’s just a lost spirit looking for a party. Go see the play — you have only about a week left.

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