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REVIEW: Stripping Away Dignity in Stinkers (Jungle Theater)

Sally Wingert and Josh Catron in the Jungle Theater production of Stinkers. Photo by Jessica Eckstrand.

Josh Tobiessen’s play Stinkers, now playing at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, is in many ways a paean to the rollercoaster journey that is modern parenting. Characters deal with short-term and long-term resentments, recasting their identities, and assorted twists and turns. Overall, the production directed by Sarah Rasmussen is a generally funny excursion into issues that can (but don’t need to) provoke serious thought.

The titular stinkers of this play are a pair of very young children, Evie (Megan M. Burns) and Oscar (Reed Sigmund), who regularly wander through the dramatic throughline with sibling tiffs, cries for attention, and outright yelling. (The latter is done frequently at painful and frankly annoying volume levels, which is a piece of unnecessary verisimilitude.) The children are brought to life by their actors through life-size puppets, which convey the essential details without the uncanny valley found in the company’s production of The Oldest Boy.

Too many spoilers in a plot synopsis spoil the plot experience. Stay-at-home dad Brad (John Catron) is busy managing his kids when his mother Joyce (Sally Wingert) unexpectedly returns from prison with some apparent hired-muscle, Lilith (George Keller), in tow. There are ulterior motives, some parallels in parent-child resentment, and a less-than-focused next door neighbor, Calvin (Nate Cheeseman) in tow.

Subtleties and surprise are not features of Tobiessen’s script, although a few well-setup gags are fun to watch in their execution. Nor does the script provide any great monologues; while Wingert makes much of an anti-capitalist screed given to her character, the material seems forced and somewhat out of place.

Some plays seem to be born out of a desire to describe and dramatize one’s personal experiences. This is not necessarily bad, but it does raise questions of “Who else is interested in seeing this?” The ideal demographics for Stinkers seem to be “People who’ve spent a lot of time around small children,” for whom the many parenting digressions are more endearing and amusing than distracting. But, really, the yelling could stand to be toned down several levels.

Stinkers plays at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis through August 18.

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and remains an occasional contributing writer for The Boston Musical Intelligencer and The Chattanoogan. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.
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