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.