You Know You’re in Minnesota — A Christmas Wedding — December 13, 2018

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You know you are in Minnesota in December when the windshield washer fluid freezes on the windshield.

Laura and I flew into Minneapolis late Friday afternoon with an entourage … our husbands, Laura’s mother and a friend.  It was cold. I don’t think the day time temperature ever got above 20 degrees Farenheit the whole time we were there. Fortunately there was no wind, but there was still snow on the ground from the previous weekend and icy spots on sidewalks.

We checked into the house we’d rented and headed to town to check out the marquis at the Paradise Center for the Arts. World Premier! TMP stands for The Merlin Players.

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That night we were honored on stage…

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…and presented with a fabulous gift basket which included a handmade ornament created by Stephanie Weiss who plays Martha in the show.

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The show was more than we could have hoped for. Laura and I had not reread it before we went and kept wondering what was coming next. It was lovely to see it that way — almost with fresh eyes.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at Bernie’s Grill, a local institution with terrific food. My husband commented that it was breakfast that tasted the way he remembered breakfast tasting when he was a kid. Bernie’s had A Christmas Wedding poster by the cash register. They were all over town. This is Cary (Laura’s husband), Laura and her mother, Mary.

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I don’t have the show photos yet, but will soon. Then I’ll do another post.

On Saturday toured the Faribault Woolen Mills, explored the Shattuck-St. Mary’s (a coed prep school) campus, had lunch at the Cheese Cave, and then the ladies explored a consignment shop which had been a Catholic Church. We were told there were three Catholic churches in Faribault and the powers that be decided to build a new church south of town and sell the old churches and rectories. The house we rented had been the rectory. It was full of gorgeous oak woodwork.

Saturday night we ordered take out and ate around the dining table at our rental property before we went to the show. During intermission the sound operator, Shelley Wold, came around to introduce herself. She’s a panda lover and there’s a mention of pandas in the show. Great job, Shelley! We owe so much to the behind the scene folks. There wouldn’t be a show without them.

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After the show we got some photos with the cast. Left to right: Michael Lambert (Will Hawes), Heidi Nelson (Jessica), Mala Burt (playwright), Matt Drenth (Josh), Laura Ambler (playwright), Mandie Siems (Brandeee), Stephanie Weiss (Martha) and Jerry Fox (Sandy Hawes). Honestly, we couldn’t have had a more talented cast for the first production of A Christmas Wedding. Accoustics were excellent and everyone knew their lines and where they were supposed to be. What was superb was how the actors stayed in character even when they weren’t speaking. That’s hard to do.  Stephanie, thanks for these photos that I pulled off your FaceBook album.

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This is Jerry Fox (Sandy Hawes) with Thomas Drenth (Tim).

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Stephanie Weiss (Martha) in her foxy post make-over Mrs. Santa costume, complete with bull whip. She is now camera ready. Embrace the crazy!

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Two weeks before opening night the director, Juliana Skluzacek, had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery. She came home Friday, the day the show opened. Her hard work shone in every scene. It wouldn’t have been the same play without Julianna’s vision. But we would be remiss if we didn’t applaud the cast and crew who rose to the occasion and brought the show home. Laura and I were in awe.

Several people asked us if there will be another in the Santa Diaries saga. We’ll have to give that some thought. If we fast forward too much we’d have to kill off Sandy and Martha and the Merlin Players will never allow us in Faribault again.

 

A Thank You to the Merlin Players

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Laura created an animoto Thank You for the cast and behind-the-scenes crew who did such a wonderful job of producing our play, The Santa Diaries. We couldn’t have asked for more.

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We were made to feel part of the theater community. It was a very special weekend.

Minnesota Nice

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Laura and I flew into Minneapolis/St. Paul on Friday afternoon. We needed to arrive in time for the 7pm performance of our playThe Santa Diaries.

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We rented a Hoodie Hamster car (Kia Soul)and drove to Faribault. We didn’t know that we were heading toward one of the friendliest towns in America. Our suite at Be My Guest – The Loft was amazing. Sleek, modern, but cozy and warm at the same time. And on the table was a welcome basket from the Merlin Players Board of Directors. It was full of all sorts of Minnesota food items. We brought most of it home in our suitcases and plan to have a Minnesota Night Dinner with our husbands after Christmas.

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We settled in and then went in search of a place to get some dinner. The Loft was only two short blocks from the theater and The Cheese Cave had been recommended (more about that in another post). On the way we saw the marquis of The Paradise Theater. A kind of surreal moment. In fact, the whole weekend was rather surreal, but in a good way.

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It turned out the Cheese Cave was closed because that night the restaurant was having its Christmas Staff party. Really, on a Friday night? We ended up at a Subway a few doors down. We knew we’d get to the Cheese Cave eventually. At that point we just needed some food. We’d been on planes all day, surviving on little packets of peanuts.

Merlin Players Director Julianna Skluzacek had asked us to meet her at the theater at 6:40. It was the first time we’d met in person, and she was warm and welcoming and thrilled that we had come to see the show. It felt like we were old friends.

Julianna gave us a brief tour of the beautifully restored theater. It is truly a gem – and it turns out to have incredible acoustics. The auditorium holds 210 people and was full for the three performances we attended.  The dancing Santa logo was on the screens on the stage as we watched the auditorium fill . How would The Merlin Players treat our baby?

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From the opening montage we felt ourselves relax. This was going to be really good. The cast was professional and polished. Even the small children were excellent. No one in the cast wore mics and we could understand every word – those amazing acoustics.

The Casserole Ladies of the original script had morphed into Midwestern Hot Dish Ladies, complete with hot mitts and hot dish carriers. Even funnier than the original. We were told that the reception after opening night had featured a hot dish buffet. Brilliant. I wonder if they had any sweet potatoes with bananas and bacon?

This holiday chorus line will have you laughing out loud. Photo by Edward Brown, courtesy of The Merlin Players.

At the end of play we were presented with flowers and ushered to the stage where the audience whooped and applauded the cast and us. Surreal. I already said that, didn’t I.

We then walked back to The Loft where there’s a party space on the first floor and a cast party was soon in full swing. I hadn’t stayed up that late in forever.

On Saturday we walked around the town. Everybody seemed to be expecting us. I commented to one lady that this was the friendliest place I’d ever been. She said, “It’s called Minnesota Nice.” The world could use more of that.

More about the show and our visit to Faribault in the coming days.

 

 

 

Opening Night

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Stephanie Weiss, who plays Martha in The Santa Diaries, posted on her FB page before the curtains opened: Opening Night of THE SANTA DIARIES!! Break legs to my wonderful cast-mates!! Have a great show Jerry, Michael, Noelle, Jennifer, Pamela & everyone else!!!! Remember to Open Your Heart and Listen! 

After the show, Stephanie wrote: “The audience LOVED it!! What a terrific opening night. High energy, very responsive audience, almost sold out, and the hot dish served at the post show reception was delicious!!!”

She posted a photo of the hot dish ladies (casserole ladies in the original script) on her FaceBook page. FB wouldn’t let me copy it. Search for Stephanie Weiss and you’ll find it.  

Oh, how we wish we could have been there. Friday we’ll be in the air on our way to Minnesota and will see the play Friday and Saturday nights and the Sunday matinee. Friday can’t come too soon.

 

Update from Faribault

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An update from Michael Lambert (who stars as Will Hawes) about the rehearsals of The Santa Diaries in Faribault, Minnesota where it is now officially winter. The play will be produced by The Merlin Players.

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“Hi Mala and Laura –

Winter hit Minnesota pretty hard yesterday, dropping up to 14 inches of snow and ice in some parts of the state. The maple tree in my backyard decided to finally drop its foliage … I wasn’t sure whether to use the leaf blower or the snow blower …

I have a bit of a cold, and the icky weather prompted me to call in and work on lines. My cat, Pippin, had other ideas and wanted to get snugly. Not helpful, Pip! But he’s such a handsome boy …

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Stephanie Weiss (Martha) and I drove down to rehearsal in Faribault together and it was a slow, slick ride. This was our first time out of the rehearsal room and on the actual stage, so that was exciting.

Here is Jerry Fox (Sandy) and Stephanie Weiss (Martha):

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And the Hot Dish Ladies (they’re SOOOO cute!):

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I’ll keep sending pics and stories as we get them. Stay warm!

-Michael”

Thanks for the update, Michael. It’s wonderful to put faces with the characters. Opening night will be here before we can blink!

Mala and Laura