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Clifton Performance Theatre Warms Audiences with “The Norwegians”

Review by Teddy Gumbleton of The Norwegians: Clifton Theatre

The cast soars in Clifton Performance Theatre’s dark comedy, The Norwegians

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Especially when she also has to contend with a Minnesota winter. This is the basis for the play Clifton Performance Theatre opens its 2015-16 season with, C. Denby Swanson’s dark comedy, The Norwegian.

The Norwegians tells the story of recently single Olive, who wants to hire Gus and Tor, two nice Norwegian hitman, to off her ex-boyfriend. The story unfolds in alternating scenes, beginning with Olive’s first meeting with the hitmen, and flashing back to her first encounter with Betty, a woman who had previously contracted Gus and Tor for the same purpose. In addition to the premise, much of the show’s humor is derived from where each character is from and how it influences their personality and behavior.

Unfortunately, Swanson’s execution of this deliciously twisted premise leaves much to be desired. The plot and style of the play often makes it feel like a poor man’s Fargo. Swanson does not take dark humor of the story far enough, and instead, relies heavily on benign quips which pander to the audience, such as an ongoing bit between Gus and Tor regarding their marketing strategy to promote their services.

The good news is that the remarkable quartet of actors transcends the material; often wringing laughs from lines that would have been groan-inducing in less capable hands. Michael Bath and Sean Dillon, who play Gus and Tor respectively, do an excellent job of illustrating their characters amiable Minnesota/Norwegian nature. Bath and Dillon also adroitly deliver their characters’ back and forth banter, effectively establishing their dynamic as friends and colleagues.

However, it is the women who give the show the spark it needs to ignite and infuse the script with the edge it lacks. Miranda McGee is a delight as astrology obsessed Texan Olive, as is Carol Brammer as the less flamboyant, but perhaps more dangerous Betty. Brammer is particularly hilarious in her first monologue regarding the long winters and the effect it can have on single people. Both McGee and Brammer deftly handle the slow unraveling of their characters and provide a terrific foil to the amiable, calm duo of hitmen.

Director Cathy Springfield’s simple, yet sharply directed production fits superbly in the Clifton Performance Theatre’s intimate space. Each scene is handled deftly, giving the show the bite it needs. Springfield also expertly curated great music to underscore certain scenes and scene changes, which helps punctuate certain dramatic and comic moments. The other elements of the production are equally as a wonderful. One of the highlights of the show was the deliriously off-kilter pantomime in second half, choreographed by Melissa Bennett. The stark set, designed by Carter Bratton, and lighting, designed by Garry Davidson and Miranda McGee, do a splendid job evoking the seedy locations and the harshness of winter.

All in all, in spite of its pedestrian script, Clifton Performance Theater’s production of The Norwegians has much to offer. Performances run through November 1st.