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Now playing: Riffing the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Hardcover Theater's show concerns Civil War veteran John Carter, who is mysteriously transported to the red planet, where tribes of Martians live in a state of perpetual warfare. His Earth-acclimated muscles make him a great warrior, but his interests lie with a beautiful Martian princess. Does she love him in return? Carter must fight his way across the planet to find out. Through June 4; Playwrights' Center, 2301 Franklin Ave. E., Mpls.; $18; 612-581-2229. — Dominic P. Papatola

'Princess' combines romance and some ecological breakdown
Hardcover Theater adapts Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 science-fiction novel
with a blend of romance and manly action.
By John Townsend, Special To The Star Tribune
Minnapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune ~ May 16, 2006

Hardcover Theater enjoys a solid reputation for transforming classic fiction into staged drama, so the choice of sci-fi might seem too ridiculous.

However, its enchanting production of "A Princess of Mars" at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis winningly blends romance with manly action while subtly commenting on the destructiveness of war and ecological breakdown.

There's little subtlety in the execution of Steve Schroer's adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 novel. Like Burroughs' Tarzan books, it's pure pulp -- a cartoon come to life. Cheryl Willis has designed delightful bug-eyed Martian heads with saber teeth carried around on big sticks by a raucous band of Neanderthal types called the Greens. Their tribal existence hasn't evolved to the point where they understand Mars' environmental crisis, which has engendered clan wars.

Their violent lives are disrupted however, when Civil War veteran John Carter (Jami Rasmussen) is abruptly transported through an intradimensional portal to Mars and held captive by Green warriors. Rasmussen brings endearing innocence to Carter, enhanced by his lyrical Southern vocal rhythms.

Such heroic purity deserves a damsel in distress. So when Dejah Thoris (Amber Swenson), a princess of the Greens' enemy, the Reds, is also taken prisoner, the chivalrous Carter finds true love. He also finds himself caught up in the machinations of the war culture that ensnares both sides. Imagine Luke Skywalker in a Jules Verne novel.

Under Schroer's brisk direction, the two-dimensionality of Burroughs' figures is played to heightened effect. The corny dialogue is delivered with utmost earnestness, which is not only funny in itself, but also a reminder of how much more seriously the average reader of its day would have taken it.

Nathaniel Churchill is giddily camp as Red monarch Sab Than, whom Dejah Thoris feels she must marry for the sake of ending war. Kevin Carnahan finds depth and pathos as her father, Tardos Kosis, a patriarch weary of senseless destruction. And Hiram Titus' ethereal score gives the 85-minute piece an epic feel. Children will love the show's bright, snappy style, and adults will appreciate its wisdom.

Who: Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Directed by Steve Schroer.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends June 4.
Where: Playwrights' Center, 2301 E. Franklin Av., Minneapolis.
Review: Sci-fi fairy tale is a wise and snappy adaptation.
Tickets: $15-$18. 612-581-2229 or
©2006 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Spotlight: A Princess of Mars
That giant puppet-head on a 12-foot pole?
Don't laugh: He's here from space to conquer the world ~ May 17, 2006 ~ by Quinton Skinner
John Carter has a nasty historical hangover: a pile of useless Confederate currency and a history as a hero on the wrong side of the Civil War. So it is that the leading man of A Princess of Mars goes west in search of fortune. What he chances on instead is an involuntary trip to the Red Planet and an outlandish adventure. This Hardcover Theater adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's novel is a game, frequently silly, appealingly angst-free sci-fi adventure with an imaginative low-budget staging. Director and adapter Steve Schroer tackles the challenges of presenting an intergalactic space battle with a series of small-scale innovations. Actors portray the show's giant, multi-armed aliens by holding green Martian heads at the end of long poles while they snarl and shout gibberish. Two actors and a mask portray a huge monster dog. And a high-speed aircraft chase is rendered in frenetic miniature. The entire enterprise is just this side of barmy, but it's relentlessly good-natured while embracing the mile-a-minute fun of pulp sci-fi. Small touches, such as a plain but versatile desert set and dramatic incidental music composed by Hiram Titus help keep this train from careering off the tracks. The romance between Carter (Jami Rassmussen) and Dejah Thoris (Amber Swenson) isn't quite convincing. (Rassmussen, who sports a swaggering Southern twang, is suitably goggle-eyed, however, when he falls into a Martian ambush.) On opening night, the show evoked what seemed like its share of inadvertent laughs amid the intended stabs at humor. Resisting the call of camp could be an epic battle for the cast here. Hopefully the production will be able to keep a straight face in subsequent performances. After all, bloodthirsty extraterrestrials have their serious side to be considered.

City Pages is the Online News and Arts Weekly of the Twin Cities


A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

May 11 - June 4
Thursday, Friday & Saturday 8:00pm ~ Sunday 2:00pm
Playwrights' Center
2301 Franklin Ave East, Minneapolis
TICKETS: $18; $15 Students/Seniors
Phone: 612.581.2229

A Princess of Mars begins when Civil War veteran John Carter is mysteriously transported to the red planet, where tribes of Martians live in a state of perpetual warfare. His Earth-acclimated muscles make him the greatest warrior of them all; but martial honor means nothing to him, because he has fallen in love with a beautiful Martian princess. Does she love him in return? He must fight his way across the planet to find out.

This production – written and directed by producing artistic director Steve Schroer – will be staged with more raw theatricality than any previous Hardcover show. Masks and puppet heads will help to present Martians and the weird native wildlife. Costumes and other design elements will draw upon Earth cultures from Africa to China to ancient Egypt. And our hero will leap a hundred feet! (Theatrically, not literally.)

 A Princess of Mars is a good old-fashioned pulpy adventure story – fun even for people who aren’t big fans of science fiction. Although the show contains scenes of stylized violence, we consider it suitable for anyone who isn't frightened by actors talking like scary monsters.

This production is not authorized by the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs, 
nor is it related in any way to any movie project or comic book.

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