Hardcover Theater travels back for ‘Absolute Pulp’

Ryan Parker Knox and Marit Geston in 'Absolute Pulp'
Courtesy of Hardcover Theater
Ryan Parker Knox and Marit Geston in ‘Absolute Pulp’

Need a break from wall-to-wall election coverage? Want to slip into a place where gumshoes are gumshoes, cowboys are cowboys and all it takes is a little imagination to see two adventurers fight on the top of an Aztec pyramid?

Hardcover Theater has your escape. The small Minneapolis-based troupe presents its latest literary theatrical excursion this weekend with “Absolute Pulp: Trashy Stories From Cheap Magazines.” The anthology evening features five tales drawn from the cheap magazines that not only provided entertainment for generations of readers in the first part of the 20th century, but went on to inform so much of popular culture. (Try to imagine Indiana Jones or the films of the Coen Brothers without the pulps. Go ahead, try.)

Hardcover Theater’s signature approach is born out of a mixture of interest and necessity.

Steve Schroer founded the company after moving to the Twin Cities from Chicago in the early part of the decade. He saw an open niche in the area, one where he could mix his interest in literature and theater. “There were at least three theaters in Chicago that specialized in literary adaptations,” Schroer says. “And all of my education has been in English literature.”

From English literature to theater
In fact, it was English literature that drew Schroer to the theater. “I went to the University of Chicago with the intention of becoming a professor, but discovered that wasn’t the path I wanted to take.”

While at the school, he started a theater program from scratch, eventually producing dozens of shows a year. After moving to Minneapolis, he began again and Hardcover presented its first show in 2002.

For “Absolute Pulp,” the anthology approach allows the group to present five distinct pulp styles, from hard-boiled detective to horror to adventure. The staging takes that idea one step further — presenting the shows as a kind of visual magazine, complete with on-stage ads drawn from the pages of early-20th century magazines like “Weird Tales,” “Spicy Detective” and “Thrilling Wonder Stories.”

The challenge of clearing the bodies
The stories themselves also offered some unusual challenges. For the detective yarn, “What do you do with the bodies on stage after they’ve been shot?” Schroer asks.

After all, having blackouts after every shooting so the actor could clear the stage would be time consuming and slow the play’s pace. Instead, they went back to an old detective-story convention. “The detective narrates the story, so when someone is shot, he describes what happened next, and then gently pushes the actor off stage,” Schroer says.

The company’s low profile and small budget cuts off a large swath of literature, especially that from the latter two-thirds of the 20th century and beyond, where the work is still covered by copyright. That still has led to plenty of interesting productions from the company, from “London After Midnight” to the Fringe Festival’s “Around the World in 80 Days in Under 60 Minutes.”

Still, the lack of name recognition can hurt the box office, and Schroer plans to cut back on the number of shows Hardcover presents this year. “We’re doing this just for the love of it,” he says. “It’s fun to do and always a challenge.”

What: “Absolute Pulp: Trashy Stories From Cheap Magazines”
Who: Hardcover Theater
When: Nov. 8-23; Thursdays & Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m.
Where: Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Tickets: $14-$18 (pay what you can), $12 with Fringe button
Phone: 612-825-8949
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