When director David Mann suggested to actor/Torch Theater founder Stacia Rice that for this year’s benefit they should adapt scripts from the classic “Mary Tyler Moore” TV show, she had a simple first reaction.
“No way. I was afraid we’d screw it up, honestly,” Rice says.
Not surprising, as the vintage 1970s program is not only recognized as one of the best sitcoms of one of TV’s golden ages, but also made Minnesotans proud by being set in Minneapolis.
Still, “after running it by a respected theater friend who is also a diehard MTM fan and having him give us the thumbs up, we decided to try and do it.”
Audiences can judge for themselves starting this weekend, when the production starts a three-week run at the Theatre Garage in Minneapolis. Along with Rice, the cast includes Patrick Coyle, Julie Madden, Katharine Moeller, Seth Patterson, Mo Perry, Matt Sciple, Edwin Strout and Lauren Vlach.
Of course, saying you are going to mount a TV sitcom on stage is quite a bit different from actually doing it.
“There are many challenges, actually,” Rice says. “First of all, it’s written for TV, so there are jump cuts and quick changes and new scenes in new locations every couple of minutes. It requires a lot of scene shifts and costume changes and some tricky directing since you can’t do a close up or pan back and forth between characters.”
For the actors “the main challenge is trying to give the audience the essence of the character that they really know and find a way to also make the lines seem authentically mine. It’s an unusual process to be familiar with someone else’s performance of a character that I’m trying to inhabit,” Rice says “It’s a weird process because we have to know what was done originally and try to capture what people love, but we also have to not try and do a hollow imitation of an actor playing their character.”
The production features a number of special guest performers, including WCCO’s Mark Rosen, Julia Cobbs (of FM107’s Lori and Julia Show) and Linda Kelsey, an actor reprising her original role (as Sue Ann Nivens) for the final weekend of the run. “(She) is a good friend of mine. When we started thinking about this she was the person I turned to first because she’d been on the show. She agreed to come back to the episode she did in 1974.” (If you want to see Kelsey, act fast — two of the three performances are already sold out.)
The benefit production is essential for Rice to keep Torch up and running. “We don’t yet receive grant money or have any corporate sponsors or donors so the money we raise outside of the cost of doing the show will all go toward producing more work and keeping a tight focus on our mission of accessibility,” she says, explaining that the last point — ranging from ASL interpretations, audio descriptions and tactile tours of the set — is vital for the theater.
“The ticket prices are a little higher but we try to make it a special production, which I think it will be,” Rice says. “The people on board from designers and actors to backstage crew are all working at a reduced rate to support Torch and they’ve been fantastic.”
“The Mary Tyler Moore” show runs Friday through Sept. 26 at the Minneapolis Theater Garage, 711 Franklin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets are $25 to $35. The Sept. 14 performance is pay-what-you-can. Tickets for the opening gala are $50 and $100. For tickets and information, visit online.