‘The Rink’ packs a lot of beauty into a small show

October 3, 2001.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Playwright Terrence McNally and the musical team of John Kander and Fred Ebb would probably consider “The Rink” a lesser project in their illustrious careers. And it is, compared with the work they have done together, or individually – “Chicago,” “Cabaret,” “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” and “The Visit,” which had its premiere this week at Chicago’s leading theater, the Goodman.

“The Rink,” on the other hand, is playing in a Theatre Latté Da production at the 100-seat Loring Playhouse in Minneapolis.

SO is this slight piece worth your while? Absolutely. Director Peter Rothstein brings his glorious eye for small spectacle to the Loring stage in a charming, brisk production that finds its heart in the murky and complex feelings between parent and child. A fine cast – particularly the two leads – and musical director Denise Prosek’s evocative orchestra complement Rothstein’s vision.

“The Rink” is about Angel, a 1960s flower child who by 1978 has sown her wild oats and yearns to return to her family roller rink on the East Coast. But her estranged mother, Anna, has sold the rink, and when the daughter returns, the two of them wrestle through their relationship in a series of flashbacks.

Years of bitterness bubble to the surface, proving again that the longer emotion is repressed, the more pain it elicits when finally expressed. The conflict resolves, perhaps predictably, but nor before a surprising and heart-rending twist.

Erin Schwab’s Angel is a wistful bundle of confused melancholy who nonetheless finds strength and resolve when she learns that her childhood touchstone is threatened by the wrecking ball. Schwab and Denise Tabet, who plays Anna, bring an ease and comfort to their portrayals. Either they love working with each other, or they are even better actors than they seem to be. The acidic tension crackles, and the affection feels genuine. Both have good, not great voices, but that’s almost immaterial because each sells her work with empathy and passion. They are a joy to watch.

A men’s chorus handles the role of wrecking crew, bit parts, and in particular Angel’s father,. Which raises the only nit – David Anderson looks awfully Swedish to play the Italian stallion that Anna fell in love with in her youth.

Regardless, Rothstein and choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell use the Loring’s stage to great effect in several small but effective dances. “Round the Rink” is a raucous, rolling batch of fun, a throw-back to big productions numbers, performed on roller skates. Samuel Kivi stands out among the dancers.

This is a beautiful little production of a beautiful little show that deserves to be seen over and over. Rothstein, Prosek and their cohorts are commended for bringing it to life.