February 16, 2006.By John Townsend, Lavender.

They’re flocking to Knock! once again. If you enjoyed the inventive comedy that won Best of the 2004 Minnesota Fringe Festival, you may want to catch its reprise. This time around, it’s better, frankly. It has new material, it holds together as a more unified piece, and it has evolved into an even sharper look at boys on the brink of puberty.

Jim Lichtscheidl’s hilarious script and concept do for male preadolescence what Heidi Arneson’s work has done for girls in the same phase.

Codirected with Peter Rothstein, Knock! spoofs, albeit gently, the family-sitcom genre of 1960s and ‘70s television. A tight ensemble vibrantly navigates interaction with projected film footage. It manifests with kinetic impeccability stock nuclear-family  characters engaged in madcap antics. And choreographed physical action cleverly is matched with music.

Imagine a phone cord stretching for yards around flats on either side of the stage, with two prepubescent kids played by adults strumming it like a guitar string.

“Sister” is played with astutely observed cold wit by a grown man, Ken Rosen. She taunts her brother, protagonist Toehead (Lichtscheidl), with a love note she has stolen from him. But is the writer a boy or a girl? You decide.

Nutty professor.

February 10, 2006.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

I.W. well appreciates the peril of invoking the specter of Jerry Lewis to recommend a show. But “KNOCK!” by Jim Lichtscheidl is such a sharp and clever mix of styles that it evokes the young, happy and inventive work of the nutty genius. But if you still can’t shake the image of sullen Jerry staring at you on Labor Day, conjure up the imaginative Ernie Kovacs as an example of what Lichtscheidl is up to at the Loring Playhouse in Minneapolis. With video backgrounds, musically inspired pantomime, unabashedly childlike animation and loads of winking irony, this is the most distinctive new show on a Twin Cities stage right now. It’s art and it’s entertainment. Go to for details.

Review: Knock!

February 6, 2006.By Ed Huyck, Backstage.

Mixing music, dance, and expressive physical performances, Knock!, which opened in an expanded production Jan. 13 at Theater Latté Da, is a 90-minute delight that proves you don't need dialogue to tell a story or to have a good night at the theatre. Apart from the occasional groaner of a knock-knock joke, this revival of a 2004 Minnesota Fringe Festival show has no understandable speech. Yet anyone who remembers the seemingly eternal days of growing up will understand perfectly what is going on.

Knock! is set in the active imagination of 12-year-old Toehead. It presents the everyday activities of his fairly normal life within his early-1980s-era family as some kind of afterschool program aimed at precocious preteens. So a trip to the dentist turns into an epic loss of innocence, set to the strains of the Doors' "The End." Or a typical night at the dinner table turns into a wild festival of eating, all to the sounds of "Hoe-Down" from Aaron Copland's Rodeo.

It helps that the five actors completely sink into their roles. At the center, of course, is Toehead, played with complete abandon by the creator and co-director of the show (with Peter Rothstein), Jim Lichtscheidl. His Toehead lives in a world of games and candy, of hassling his sister, of feeling the first twinges of romance. As if he were channeling his own 12-year-old self, Lichtscheidl lets the audience feel every high and low of his character.

Toehead's big sister is his main foil, and Ken Rosen is certainly up to the task. Although he does little to disguise his gender -- just a long wig and clothes drawn from the androgynous fashions of the era -- Rosen quickly disappears into the character, making it clear where Toehead's sister is on her own journey: in that awkward spot between child and adult.

Leading the family is Eriq Nelson as the father and Lisa Spreeman as the mother. These are more than faceless autocrats: They have their own foibles and desires (Mom, for example, is both a bit of a drinker and a real talker), which are used to great comic effect throughout the show. Rounding out the cast is Michelle Hutchison, who takes on numerous roles, giving each its own personality.

The final player here is the sound and set design. Each piece of music chosen is absolutely brilliant, making every scene move with its own distinct rhythm. A video screen extends the action: The play includes video, hand-drawn illustrations, and dialogue cards created by the ever-imaginative Toehead himself.

The sold-out audience kept calling the cast back for more curtain calls. It wasn't just that we appreciated what the actors had done; we wanted more episodes. In a short time, the creators and the company had drawn the audience into a world that none of us were ready to leave.

Knock! runs Jan. 13-Feb. 19 at the Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets: (612343-3390.


January 29, 2006.By Quinton Skinner, Variety.

Among the more resonant memories of boyhood was its furtiveness, the rich ardor of its conflicts and the monumental importance given to small triumphs and frustrations. It was the stuff of comedy, or so one is inclined to believe after viewing Theatre Latte Da’s “Knock,” a performance with music. The work charts the delights and travails of Toehead, the little brother in a nuclear family, and does so with consistent charm, precise craft and an entirely winning tone.

Show creator, star and co-director (with Peter Rothstein) Jim Lichtscheidl initiates the action in a video sequence, angrily affixing the show’s title to Toehead’s bedroom door, all the while casting about paranoid glances – he has a big sister (Ken Rosen, appropriately haughty and disdainful), and battle can be engaged at any time.

What follows are a series of performance interludes set to music, which the cast has honed with a preceision that enhances the comedic value. Chamber music paints a picture of Dad (Eriq Nelson) shoveling the sidewalk and trying to start the car in winter, with jagged violin strokes punctuating his futility (and ultimate triumph). A similar number illustrates a family dinner, with each fork jab and knife slice echoed in brass and strings.

Performed on a bare stage, “Knock!” relies on intricate projections with which the cast continually interacts. In a distinctive visual theme, rooms are crudely rendered on lined notebook paper and projected against the back wall, evoking the hastily drawn lines of youth.

The show is quite catholic in its musical tastes; in addition to classical sounds, it draws on Michael Jackson and the doors (a trip to the dentist is recast as dark phantasmagoria to the tune of “The End”). When Toehead goes on a candy-buying binge, it’s to the obliging strains of “Hey Big Spender.”

There is a fair amount of ‘70s kitsch involved (a hilarious sequence in which Toehead’s sister upends board game after board game after board game upon losing could have been the result of a product placement deal with Milton-Bradley), yet somehow it doesn’t chafe. Probably this is due to the production’s mix of amateur surfaces with polished professionalism, and its resolute good humor in the face of childhoo’s terrors and cherished pleasures.

Mostly, it’s a dialogue-free (save for a few intentionally bad knock-knock jokes) night that evokes-guiltless laughs and an ultimately optimistic take on the funhouse ride of existence. One’s inner Toehead comes away satisfied.

Knock! at Theatre Latte Da History Theatre.

January 26, 2006.By Ed Huyck, Talkin' Broadway.

More proof that you don’t need dialogue for a fantastic night at the theater. Apart from a few “knock-knock” jokes tossed into the action, Theatre Latte Da’s Knock! features no spoken dialogue. Instead, the action of this imaginative and engaging show is presented via music, expressive onstage action and dance, and the occasional handwritten dialogue card.

Created by co-director and star Jim Lichtscheidl, Knock ! - a hit at the 2004 Minnesota Fringe Festival - takes us into the life and, more importantly, mind of 12-year-old Toehead. The show is presented as episodes of Toehead’s inner TV show about his family. So, seemingly mundane activities as going to the dentist, eating dinner or taking a long vacation by car become fodder for his active imagination.

Here’s an example. Toehead and his best friend sit down for an afternoon of playing video games together. Since the show is set somewhere in the dark days of the late 1970s and early 1980s, they use a pair of vintage Atari 2600 controllers. Gaming to the strains of Hot Butter’s “Popcorn,” the two are eventually forced outside, where their game of basketball has the same stiff actions as their vintage game - down to the giant pixel they toss around.

It helps that the quintet of performers are more than willing to go with the flow here, bringing life to every scene in the show. Alongside Lichtscheidl, Ken Rosen (Toehead's sister), Eriq Nelson (Dad), Lisa Spreeman (Mom) and Michelle Hutchison (a variety of additional roles) breathe so much life into the concept that by show’s end, it seems perfectly natural for the family to dance through their lives.

And, again, there is little irony or cynicism here. Lichtscheidl connects with his pre-teen self here, obsessed about playing games and eating candy, while at the same time feeling the first pangs of maturity. It’s still early in 2006, butKnock! is certainly play of the year material.

Theatre Latte Da’s Knock! runs at the Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, through Feb. 19. For information and tickets, call 651-209-6689.

Fun and marvelous opportunity knocks.

January 15, 2006.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Theater Review: With “Knock!” Jim Lichtscheidl creates a new way to enjoy the innocent fun of childhood with a fey wit. Bring the kids.

Now for something completely silly – and clever, and witty, and innovative, and, well, you get the picture. For those who saw Jim Lichtscheidl’s “Knock!” at the 2004 Minnesota Fringe Festival, you know what this is about. To you, I say, this expanded version is worth revisiting. To the rest of you, see it for the first time. It won’t be the last.

Lichtscheidl’s show, which opened Friday in a Theater Latté Da production at the Loring Playhouse, mixes video, rudimentary animation, live movement and music – always music – to articulate the foibles of family and the everyday adventures of a 12-year-old-boy. The only words spoken in the 75-minute show are a handful of “knock knock” jokes. Any other spare dialogue comes in word bubbles projected on a screen – a human cartoon, as it were – and those are rare.

Lichtscheidl creates what he calls “storieographies.” The best approximations might be the work of TV comic Ernie Kovacs, who matched pantomime to music, or Jerry Lewis (really funny Jerry, not sad, bitter Jerry). Working with director Peter Rothstein, Lichtscheidl has plumbed his childhood for simple memories, then extruded them through imagination and exaggeration.

So we have a trip to the dentist’s office fashioned through the prism of The Doors’ doom-laden “The End.” Two friends work their video game joysticks to the rhythms of Hot Butter’s ‘70s synth hit “popcorn.” Aaron Copland animates the frantic face-stuffing of dinner time.

There is so much more. Trips to the toy store, simple rides to amusement parks in the family car, sleepovers, games in which older siblings get fed up and throw the board on the floor.

“If you don’t tell mom I gave you a concussion, I’ll let you hang out with us,” says on word bubble directed at big sister. What kid could turn down that offer? And it’s all done with such precise, exacting movement and emotional detail. When you contrast those arch elements with the childish crayon drawings that provide video backdrops, you begin to appreciate the delicious irony of innocence and cheeky adult wit. Lighting designer Jennifer DeGolier and production manager Justin Hossle enhance every accent in Rothsteins’ production.

Lichtscheidl’s onstage conspirators are exceptional. Eriq Nelson plays the dad and best friend Perry. Ken Rosen straps on a bobbed wig and becomes big sister. Lisa Spreeman, who in real life was that big sister, plays mom. Michelle Hutchison pops in for guest spots. They get the attitude, the intent of the form, the whole deal. It’s a terrific ensemble.

I really cannot say enough good things about this show. See it.

Knock! Knock!

January 13, 2006.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Who’s there? Jim Lichtscheidl, who reaches back to the innocence of youth in making “Knock!”.

Jim Lichtscheidl is as happy as a kid with a new toy.

“This is what I used to dream about, making a play with my friends and my sister,” said the actor-cum-auteur. “It’s what you write about in your seventh-grade journal – ‘I want to make a show with my friends.’”

The source of Lichtscheidl’s joy is his eclectic “Knock!” which opens Saturday at the Loring Playhouse in Minneapolis. An early version was one of the top-selling shows in the 2004 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Now Lichtscheidl has worked with director Peter Rothstein of Theatre Latté Da to expand the piece to about 90 minutes with intermission. As they were in the Fringe, Eriq Nelson and Ken Rosen – buddies since their days at Mankato State – and sister Lisa Spreeman are Lichtscheidl’s play mates.

“Knock!” collates recorded and live video, animation, live performance and music in an effort to capture the world of a 12-year-old boy. Lichtscheidl plays wide-eyed Toehead, and the others fill in as mom, dad and big sister. There can’t be more than 20 words of dialogue in the entire work, but the Fringe version felt terribly witty and heady. Lichtscheidl rummaged through his childhood memories and old videos for ideas. One scene, for example, is a video of Toehead’s sister in ecstatic frenzy after opening a Christmas present; it’s based on a video of Lichtscheidl’s sister on the Christmas she got a watch.

In interviewing Lichtscheidl, it seems like his whole life has pointed at this project. He talked about using his sister’s video camera as a kid and making such movies as “Toro, Toro, Toro” about a lawnmower that attacked children. Or the time he and a friend did a music video with tennis racquets as guitars.

“They’re my muse,” he said of the tapes.

Lichtscheidl grew up in Lino Lakes with five siblings, including his older sister, Lisa.

“She’s probably the reason I became an actor,” he said, recounting how he watched in awe as she performed in “Godspell” in high school.

He followed her onto that stage and did well enough that he won a theater scholarship to Mankato State University. He intended to become a speech communications teacher but the scholarship required him to spend time in the theater and he met Nelson and Rosen.

Critics in the early 1990s heralded Lichtscheidl as a bright new face in the Twin Cities theater scene as he built his reputation as a rubber-limbed clown. He found a seminal training ground at the Brave New Workshop in the mid-1990s

“Improv lifted the top of my head,” he said. “It let the air in and a huge light bulb went on.”

“His talent and propensity for Physical comedy – not to mention two wide and curious eyes – have allowed him to work regularly at the Guthrie, Jeune Lune, Jungle, Park Square and Ten Thousand things. In 1998 he was hired for an entire season at the Guthrie and said he was very pleased to write “actor” on his tax return.

Something completely different

At first blush, “Knock!” seems an odd fit for Latté Da, the company fast building a reputation for its musical theater. Rothstein though, feels it’s in line with the mission.

“We create new connections between text, music, artist and audience by exploring and expanding the art of musical theater,” he said. “’Knock!’ is different in that there is no singing, but it’s definitely musical storytelling. The music inspires the story.”

Latté Da has been on something of a roll lately in rethinking the musical, with a chamber version of “La Bohème” (yes technically opera rather than musical theater) last winter and a collaboration last fall with Arena Dance that was primarily a dance piece on the dance marathons of the 1930s. “Knock!” seems another attempt to push at the edges.

“It’s completely new and unlike everything we’ve ever done,” said Rothstein.

The collaboration started when Lichtscheidl did a short snippet of “Knock!” during a Latté Dark cabaret performance a few years ago. Several board members encouraged Rothstein to pursue the work. Following the Fringe success in 2004, the two looked through audience responses for what worked, what didn’t and what people wanted see more of. Lichtscheidl calls the form “storyography,” a combination of movement and music in telling a story.

“The main goal is to get people to laugh,” he said.

While he is thoroughly happy working in Twin Cities theater, Lichtscheidl said he would love to pursue movies – not as a Hollywood actor but as a maker. That kid-like curiosity leads him to sit in front of his computer with iMovie and he sounds very serious when he talks about his dreams.

“Movies can be made with just a little digital camera,” he said. “it’s just a matter of memory in the hard drive.”

For now, it’s lichscheidl’s memory that is the source for “Knock!"


January 2006.By Brian Kevin, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Jim Lichtscheidl’s movement-centered, dialogue-fee, coming-of-age comedy Knock! has garnered acclaim at the Fringe Festival and the Ivey Awards. Theatre Latté Da’s production at the Loring Playhouse features new material, furthering the story of Toehead, the show’s adolescent protagonist. Opens Jan. 14. 1633 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 651-209-6689,

“Knock’ out room on calendar for fun show.

January, 2005.By Renee Valois, Pioneer Press.

“Knock, knock” “Who’s there?” “Knock!” “Knock who?” “Knock ‘em dead with a surprisingly original ‘musical comedy’ that’s as true-to-life as it is zany!”

The show that won “Best of the Fringe” at last year’s Fringe Festival is back, expanded into a full-length production, presented by Theater latté Da. Latté Da is known for entertaiing musicals but this one really colors outside the lines of ordinary musical theater.

“Knock!” offers a look at life from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Toehead, who lives with his mom, dad and tennage sister. Imaginative sketches – both literal and comic – form the core of the show. Childlike drawings provide many of the backdrops (projected on a large screen covering the back wall) and the show uses comic skits to cleverly convey Toehead’s experiences with family life, young love, the dentist, school and more.

Toehead formats his life in “episodes” like a TV show – with a theme song and goofy little dance by the family at the beginning of each segment, and credits scrolling down the screen at the end.

Three key elements – the video screen, the live actors and musical recordings ranging from classical to retro pop – mesh together so seamlessly that the lines between television, comic strips and real life blur in delightful ways.

When Toehead “rides” his unmoving bike down the street, childlike drawings of scenery zip by so fast that it feels like he really is racing – and we’ve entered a cartoon world.

“Knock!” contains practically no dialogue, although sometimes word balloons appear above the actors, or they briefly mouth song lyrics.

Intermittent interactive bits also engage the audience – including overly familiar knock-knock jokes that gain new humor because of how they’re botched.

Mining humor from real-life situations presented in absurd and uniquely goofy ways, the show overflows with clever sight gags and physical comedy.

Casting a man (ken Rosen) as the older sister elicits laughs when “she” sunbathes in a tube top. Rosen brings “her” bossy, mood-swinging antics to life with outraged expressions. Mugging and miming make the show, and Eriq Nelson as Dad, Lisa Spreeman as Mom and Michelle Hutchison as various characters are wonderfully up to the overacting task.

But Jim Lichtscheidl deserves special kudos, not just for his terrific turn as the wide-eyed, likable and hilarious Toehead, but also for creating and co-directing (with Peter Rothstein) “Knock!”

The show has all the exuberant energy of a precocious child, with unexpected humor for fun-lovers of all ages – from kids to crones. My 14-year-old daughter laughed as much as I did.

I bet you would, too.