by SOPHIE KERMAN
Sometimes, it’s good to leave a theater a little bit dissatisfied. The Sandbox Theatre‘s interpretation of Fargo– which they rightly call “more inspiration than adaptation” – is highly unsatisfying for exactly the right reason: there isn’t enough of it. The production, just an hour long, is so varied and unexpected that the curtain call happens all too soon.
Introduced by company member Nicole Devereaux, the show is comprised of a series of sketches and video clips, each directed by a different company member. As Devereaux (the only named or credited member of this program-less production) explained, the Sandbox Theatre Company does not work with an initial script, but rather develops each scene through a collaborative process of improvisation and play. For this particular production, each individual had free reign to direct a short segment based on their own style and interpretation of the 1996 Coen Brothers’ film.
As a showcase of the performers’ unique visions, the production was a clear success. Each live segment was stylistically different, and the video was integrated with the live action in funny and interesting ways. From a clever commercial for 3-cent stamps to a Telemundo-inspired re-creation of the film’s bloody dénouement, the Sandbox’s interpretations of “Fargo” never settled for mere reenactment, instead riffing off the film in ways that displayed the company’s creativity, comedic abilities, and surprising capacity for pathos. In one of the most compelling sketches, we watched a man dressed as a Japanese woman on a quest for the “treasure of Fargo.” The use of video was particularly well thought-out, with haunting animations that coincided seamlessly with the actor’s monologue. Like the gradual unfolding of the Coen Brothers’ film, the performer slowly transformed more and more completely into his character, and the story of the Japanese woman became ever more real to the audience.
Venue is also important to a production like this. Like many Coen Brothers films, the Sandbox’s take on “Fargo” is best enjoyed with friends over a beer – and the Bryant Lake Bowl‘s small space and friendly wait staff deserve a lot of credit for creating just the right atmosphere.
Like any sketch performance, some segments were more effective than others. One video interview, though very well acted, seemed to require more knowledge of the source film. Another scene, an odd dance/movement piece set to an equally surreal video backdrop, was hard to figure out (although it did include a bizarrely funny bear – and I do like bears). Despite its occasional unevenness, however, the Sandbox Theatre’s overall collection both pays tribute to and goes beyond its source material. Leaving the Bryant Lake Bowl, I wanted to go home and watch “Fargo” – not because I couldn’t understand Sandbox’s production without having watched the original, but because Sandbox’s excellent “inspiration, not adaptation” reminded me just how good the movie is.