A promotional photo for Savage Umbrella’s 2018 production of The Ravagers. Photo by Anna Schultz.
It’s been a long time since Savage Umbrella first presented its drama The Ravagers. If you look back at reviews of the premiere, you get insight into a different landscape of theatrical coverage – Ed Huyck writing for City Pages, Matthew Everett writing for the Twin Cities Daily Planet, and Sophie Kerman for Aisle Say Twin Cities, among others. (I wish I could say that we’d done more in the interim to diversify the gender mix of critics.) That original production took place at the Hollywood Theater in Northeast Minneapolis, a mostly shuttered venue whose story is still twisting and turning. This new revival takes place at the X Lab space at Can Can Wonderland.
The story of The Ravagers is inspired by the Classical Greek play The Supplicants by Aeschylus. In The Supplicants, a large contingent of women flee forced marriages and seek protection in another city. In The Ravagers, written by Blake E. Bolan and Laura Leffler, the women are in a similar situation but decide to take matters into their own hands. The threat of blood getting spilled is much higher in the newer play.
The action in The Ravagers unfolds in the improvised space of the X Lab, which is dominated architecturally dominated by a set of pillars. The production, as directed by Hannah Holman, does not ignore this presence, and instead weaves around them. The eerie feel is greatly enhanced by the live soundtrack performed by Nissa Nordland – especially during the Act I build-up. The execution of the story is often very funny, but unsettling at the same time. (Read that any way you will.)
As things go, the play has a few unmistakable themes about toxic masculinity and patriarchy, but it’s integrated into the storytelling in a way that it passes as part and parcel of this particular narrative. Act II runs a bit long – some of the tension built-up becomes wearying, as do some of the more in-your-face portrayals. One apparent cost-saving measure – trimming the cast from 22 in 2011 to 20 in 2017 – generates a bit of confusion due to the multiple castings, which might have been avoided with extra bodies or costumes.
With so many characters in play in a non-canonical work, it’s hard to separate the lines between scripting, acting, and directing, but co-writer Laura Leffler’s returning performance as Hypermnestra stands out from the pack. Come for the laughter in difficult situations, stay for the promise of violence.
Note: Due to an editorial error, an earlier version of this article misattributed some of the authors of period reviews.
The Ravagers plays through March 3 at Can Can Wonderland’s X Lab space in St. Paul, MN.