C. Denby Swanson and Jenny Larson execute a real Nordic move in this murderous show
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Oct. 3, 2014
Jones Theater at Southwestern University, Georgetown Through Oct. 5
There's a rare thing that happens when shopping for shoes. You see a pair, they look decent, you try them on – and they fit so well it's as if you already own them. Doesn't happen often, but when it does, wow.
That sense of unexpected recognition permeates The Norwegians, now playing at Southwestern University. It's a quirky and original script from Austin playwright C. Denby Swanson, and so much of what happens and is said resonates in unexpected ways. Olive (Olivia Woodward), a single gal and a transplant from Texas to Minneapolis, has been dumped, and she's hired a pair of thugs (Brock Boudoin and Kyle Sapienza) to do her ex in. This being Minneapolis, the thugs are extraordinarily polite fellows of Norwegian descent, at once lethal and very proud of their mild-mannered Scandinavian heritage. They even offer a bottle of homemade elderberry wine with every hit.
Olive's disconnect is readily accessible to a Texas audience. Austinites are so frequently obsessed with our own idiosyncrasies that it's jarring to be confronted with the oddities of another geographic region. Also close to home are conversations like the discussion of the impact of the cold on Minnesotans vs. the heat on Texans. Watching these characters try to figure out their circumstances feels ultimately familiar, if only because these are questions most of us have been asking ourselves: How do you find love in a lonely world? How do you make a home far from where you began? Whom can you trust? Is it okay to substitute random strangers for friends when there's no one else?
The sheer conviviality of the Norwegian characters makes the play into an Arsenic and Old Lace for the 21st century. The same dark comedy and sweetness permeate, but rather than exist enmeshed in conventional family structures and morals, these characters are free agents, wandering through relationships and liaisons, yearning for but never finding reliable love. Absent, too, is the sort of shock and dismay we might once have expected from characters in a story like this. Instead, these ladies are merely taken aback by the grim chills they discover. Their curiosity is piqued.
The four undergraduate performers in The Norwegians offer fine work under the direction of Jenny Larson. Audience members who struggle to hear dialogue at other shows should plan to find a seat close to the front; not all of the dialogue rises from the stage to the upper rows of the steep Jones Theater. Fans of local writers should make it a point to catch this production. The story is as friendly as its Norwegian assassins, and both go out of their way to leave you surprised and satisfied.