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REVIEW: Ineffable Charm in The Red Shoes (Open Eye Theatre)

Kimberly Richardson stars in Open Eye Theatre’s The Red Shoes, now playing through November 6 at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Mark Vancleave.

The Red Shoes is an easy show to enjoy and a hard one to concisely describe. The show pivots on a dime between physical and situational humor recalling Buster Keaton and the fancifulness of vaudeville, to the wry humor of a gumshoe detective/film noir parody, to the depths of a psychological thriller. All of this unfolds in a world of magical realism where-in the set shows just a single, crammed apartment room. It seems like these ingredients shouldn’t fit together, but they do. The Red Shoes is very much more than the sum of its parts: a thrilling and very amusing evening of theatre.

It’s not the first time around the block for these shoes: Open Eye Theatre premiered it to great acclaim in 2017. For this revival, co-creators Joel Sass and Kimberly Richardson return again – Sass also doubling up as director and set designer, while Richardson doubles as its star. Well, “doubles” might not be the right word: Richardson plays five or six characters, depending on your counting. It’s an acting tour de force, jumping between these in fast succession, before even counting the swift and smooth backstage crosses and costume changes.

Dames, detectives, disguises, and trains. Photo by Mark Vancleave.

This is also a technically slick show, the run-down big city apartment notwithstanding. The coordination between on-stage action, voiceovers, and the innumerable practical effects is a work of genius, which might have you coming back just to see it again. Just a few minutes into the show, you’ll already be looking forward to the next tenant-landlady interaction via speaking tube. The narrated puppet scenes and their exploration of an underworld of nightclub singers and hard-boiled detectives are a particularly humorous highlight. A surprise musical number is a model of how atmospheric lighting and practical effects can take an already thrilling performance to eleven.

What do you need to know going in? The Red Shoes is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the same name, but only in a very loose way. If you read the pleasant story beforehand or briefly glance at a synopsis, you will know everything that you need to know. If you don’t, you might wonder why the rest of the audience laughed a little bit faster than you, but you won’t be missing anything of importance. You will, however, not want to be late.

Spot the trapdoor and effects hiding in plain sight. Photo by Mark Vancleave.

The Red Shoes was originally scheduled to play at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis through October 31. The show’s run has now been extended through November 6.

Basil Considine