Denfeld News

August 5, 2010
Duluth News Tribune

Renegade takes a chance on Bennett
By Christa Lawler

When “Sex Changes” opens, a 30-something couple is engaged in the sort of special marital hug that leads to procreation.

The pillow talk is a mix of experimental mood-setting banter and what could be considered shop talk for those in the baby-making biz: “And I never thought I’d say this,” says the snarky and literary leading lady Robin. “My eggs are in my tubes, sperm robot. Get over here and punch back in.”

Renegade Theater Company’s contemporary comedy is a world premiere for the piece by writer/director/actor Andy Bennett, and it opens at 8 p.m. today at Teatro Zuccone, 222 E. Superior St. It’s directed by Kelli Latuska and stars Renegade regulars such as Gracie Anderson, Katy Helbacka, Evan Kelly, Jody Kujawa, Jake Neuman and Jennie Ross, who were all involved with the rock opera “Tommy.”

It is the story of Luke, household spider killer and part-time wingman for his best friend, and his wife, Robin, who pays the bills and contorts her body into the conception lotus. All the baby-talk has the couple feeling a five-year glitch, and they end up at a wacky therapist’s office. Dr. Herschfeld performs a radical new treatment, putting Luke’s mind in Robin’s body, and Robin’s mind in Luke’s.

While this isn’t the first time a local theater company has made an entire show from scratch, it is far from a standard.

“It’s a risk as a producer,” said Tom Isbell, a local playwright and professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, who had Bennett as a student. “There’s no name recognition. I know it’s going to be a brilliant play, but it doesn’t have name recognition yet. People have heard of ‘Our Town.’ They haven’t heard of this.”

This is Bennett’s fourth play to be produced: He did two while he was a student at UMD, and there was a thriller that was produced as part of a workshop at Chicago Dramatists. But, he admitted, his name has a lack of cache at this point and said he might only draw “people who know me, and people who like theater.”

Latuska said the production is an exciting experiment, but that it isn’t as risky when you know and trust the writer. She’s worked with Bennett in sketch comedy.

“Having worked with him on Dink Tank, I wasn’t worried about it,” she said.
Bennett has been very hands-on with the production. He held a public reading and workshop of “Sex Changes” earlier this year, and there have been last-minute rewrites. Just last week he cut an entire scene. In some cases, the actors have made jokes funnier. (Bennett said his theory is “Best joke wins.”)

“I’m sitting there every night,” he said during a recent rehearsal. “That’s the nature of the beast. They have been really flexible.”

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