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Coffinating Dr. Strangelove

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Dr. Strangelove returns
In Skewed Visions latest multimedia, site-specific production, Dr. Strangelove returns after 43 years to a new era with the same fears and paranoia.
Photo by V. Paul Virtucio

As in most theater productions, the audience members of Skewed Visions' new show first gather in a lobby. 

But this lobby is not in a theater. It's in an old northeast Minneapolis warehouse built in 1885 that was home to the Northwestern Casket Company for over a century. 

Instead of being greeted by an usher who'll take them to their seats, audience members are welcomed by a character who guides them to a freight elevator. They descend into the basement, and are left alone to face a challenge left by multimedia artist and Skewed Visions cofounder Sean Kelley-Pegg. 

Kelley-Pegg
For the first part of Skewed Visions' "Strange Love," Sean Kelley-Pegg has created a maze. The audience navigates through the maze and encounters a series of surprises, including a carnival photo booth, prison cell, and secret surveillance control room.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

"It's a navigate yourself kind of maze," he says. "You have to figure out where to go. Each room is a little bit of a surprise. You have to make some choices which way you're going to walk."

Audience members will encounter a carnival photo booth displaying Cold War propaganda and contemporary messages from Homeland Security. There's a prison cell and a secret surveillance control room. This leads to an open area patterned after the War Room seen in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film. 

That's where the newly revived Dr. Strangelove waits. 

Skewed Visions cofounder Charles Campbell portrays Dr. Strangelove, the character created by Peter Sellers. In the famous Kubrick movie, a mad, paranoid Air Force general launches a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. 

For the Skewed Visions show, Dr. Strangelove has been brought back after 43 years to a new era, but one with similar fears. 

Northwest Casket Company
Skewed Visions' "Strange Love" is staged in the basement of the old Northwestern Casket Company building in northeast Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

"The movie is an inspirational piece of material," Campbell says. "Instead of taking the movie as a script, we take it as a point of departure, as something that is relevant to us right now. The show is our response to it."

Charles Campbell and Sean Kelley-Pegg have titled Skewed Visions' latest multimedia, site-specific production "Strange Love." The work compares and contrasts the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War with the culture of the post-9/11 world. 

Campbell says they decided to set the work in a coffin factory basement because today's wars seem to be waged with invisible bodies.

"You don't see a lot of death. You don't see a lot of bodies. You don't see a lot of blood for this war," says Campbell. "Its impact on us is minimal unless you have a family member who's directly involved. So I wanted to do something where the performance took place in some sort of location where there was a lingering aspect of dying around, and I thought the coffin factory was quite good." 

Skewed Visions is a small company staging only one work a year. 

Charles Campbell
Charles Campbell says "Strange Love" is mostly a one-person show. He says that makes it both an homage to Peter Sellers, and a metaphor on leadership founded on the principle of a strong single authority.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

Last year's show took place in a long-dormant office building, with the audience moving from room to room to witness scenarios of urban alienation. 

An earlier work had audience members in the back of a car traveling through downtown Minneapolis as the drama took place in the front seat. 

City Pages theater critic Quinton Skinner picked Skewed Visions as Artists of the Year in 2004, and says they create an enveloping sensory experience that is unique.

"They control every moment," he says. "They're on walkie-talkies behind the scenes. They're choreographing everything. They think out every detail. I liken their productions to a very sophisticated version of a fun house."   Skewed Visions opens "Strange Love" for a three-week run on Friday. Charles Campbell says it's the most political show they've presented. 

Yet like the group's other shows, he says there isn't a single, direct point of view. Everything is open to interpretation. And also like the other shows it's filled with humor, but not the satire seen in "Dr. Strangelove." 

"The humor is a little more twisted than that," he says.

As an example, Charles Campbell plays "We'll Meet Again" on a vacuum cleaner nozzle. It's this goofines that critic Quinton Skinner finds especially appealing about Skewed Visions. He says the company shows audiences a good time, but with a high level of artistic integrity.