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‘The Syringa Tree’ returns to the Jungle Theater

In the winter of 2008, the Jungle Theater had an unexpected hit with “The Syringa Tree,” Pamela Gien’s one-woman show about growing up in South Africa. Much of the buzz about the show was Sarah Agnew’s tour de force performance (I thought it was definitely the best local turn of the year), as she took on two-dozen characters over the course of 90 minutes. The buzz was big enough that the show’s final weeks were sold out.

Now, those who missed out the first time, ­ or who just want to revisit the show and Agnew’s performance, ­ have a second chance as the Jungle remounts the show for a four-week run starting Friday.

The popularity drove the revival, says director Joel Sass. “We ended the run with sold-out houses and turning people away. Our hope is that we’ll be giving those people an opportunity to catch a marvelous play they may have missed the first time around.”

And he thinks those who caught it the first time will also find it worth a revisit. “Some things just get even better with the passing of time — and that applies to wine, and Sarah Agnew’s performance in this show.”

Agnew and Sass have worked hard in rehearsals to recapture the original magic, starting with the role’s tough demands.

“It’s very much like training for a marathon,” Sass says. “A special focus for Sarah in rehearsal is rebuilding the vocal and physical stamina to portray 22 different characters who range in age from 6 to 80 years, and speak in about 7 different dialects.”

Beyond that, crafting the new production is a lot like the first time through, though with new discoveries along the way.

“Working on a play for the first time is all about uncovering the story and how to tell it,” Sass says. “In remounting a show, the excitement comes from rediscovering the journey, and exploring all those exciting little side paths you may not have noticed the first time. If you do your work well, the play becomes richer and even more amazing.”

“The Syringa Tree” runs July 31 to Aug. 30 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis. Tickets are $28-$36. For more information, call 612-822-7063 or visit online.

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