Friday, July 20, 2018

‘Sweet Land’ is a Satisfying Experience


Hugh Hastings, Michael Winters, Pam Nolte, Molli Corcoran, Tyler Todd Kimmel, Daniel Stoltenberg, April Poland and Chris Shea. (Photo by Erik Stuhaug)


Seattle’s Taproot Theatre often takes chances presenting plays and musicals based on works that are not that well-known instead of tried-and-true favorites. It can be difficult to drum up interest in such productions. Even though the theatre’s current production of Sweet Land is based on the 2006 movie of the same name, it is an independent movie and not too many people are aware of it, but they should. Taproot has the distinction of being the west coast premiere location for the musical which just might be the start for this new show.

The story of Sweet Land is a simple one. In 1920, a young German woman named Inge (Molli Corcoran) agrees to cross the sea to marry Olaf (Tyler Todd Kimmel) a Norwegian man whom she has never met. She knows very little English and on her journey has worked hard with one phrase, “I could eat a horse” finding that it isn’t as useful as she might have thought. The plan was for Olaf to pick up Inge at the train station and head straight to the church to be married. But there is a hitch. Still bruised from World War I, many residents of Park Rapids, Minnesota as suspicious of Germans thinking that Inge could be a spy. This includes Pastor Sorenson (Hugh Hastings) who refuses to marry the couple unless they can come up with some sort of references for the girl, preferably from a clergy member from her hometown. The justice of peace in town also refuses. The couple can’t get married and they can’t live in the same house as it would appear to not only scandalous but also against Inge’s and Olaf’s own religious upbringing.

To make matters even more difficult, Olaf is extremely shy and actually avoids his bride who is having her own hard time fitting in. Alvin and “Brownie” Frandsen (Chris Shea and April Poland) take in the girl to live with their rather large family while things get sorted out. Brownie shows Inge how to read American recipes and despite his uncertain feelings for Inge, Pastor Sorenson agrees to teach Inge English using the Bible as his guide. Still, suspicion and prejudice abound.

On top of everything else, Sweet Land has a rather “sweet” message about the value of sexual purity of all things. As the audience, we get to see how this innocent romance between two strangers bloom. Both Inge and Olaf avoid any act or behavior that could be considered improper. The romance grows naturally and the two long for the day when they can finally be wed to experience all the joys that marriage has to offer. The story is a refreshing one and speaks volumes to many people today who hardly scoff at a one-night-stand.

I haven’t seen the movie and suspect that it is considered more of a drama than anything else. But the stage play has plenty of laughs in this fish out of water comedy. Kimmel and Corcoran are especially good as the potential love birds. I don’t know if Corcoran spoke German before she was cast in the play, but you’d never know if she hadn’t. Both she and Kimmel are very animated and their facial expressions are tell us everything that they are thinking without saying a word. The story moves at a good pace and music is pleasant enough and doesn’t pull the audience away from the story. There is an auction scene that is tied to a musical number that is especially good at creating tension. The musicians include Michael Matlock (piano), Dexter Stevens (reeds), Emily Ravenscraft (violin) and Leah Pogwizd (bassist). The cast is rounded out with Jenny Cross, Michael Winters, Pam Nolte and Daniel Stoltenberg, all equally good.

The only negative I found with Sweet Land is the portrayal of Pastor Sorenson. While on one hand he is scene a pillar of the community and one that is fully involved in helping the various neighbors during their crop’s harvests. On the other hand, he is shown as a judgmental jerk who assumes the worst about Olaf and Inge’s relationship and even spreads rumors about the two. Haven’t we had enough stories about judgmental clergy members? Isn’t it time to have stories that represent pastor and priests with good hearts and good examples for a change? They do exist.

Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 206-781-9707 or in person at the Box Office. Tickets range from $27-$50 depending on the performance. The theatre does offer some discounts, so be sure to visit their website to take advantage of them. Sweet Land is recommended for those age 12 and older. Taproot Theatre is located at 204 N 85th St. in Seattle.

Norwegian Press in Seattle!

Adaption of Sweet Land onstage in Seattle

From movie to musical

Sweet Land, the Musical

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

When Sweet Land was released in 2005, the independent film written and directed by Ali Selim quickly gained critical acclaim. Set in the Midwest farmland prairie of Minnesota in the 1920s, it is the story of a small Norwegian immigrant community that is jolted when a young German woman comes to settle there in an arranged marriage. It is a sentimental tale of both love and friendship that flourish as the community learns to open its hearts and minds to an outsider. The story struck a chord with the creators of a new stage version, Perrin Post and Laurie Flanigan Hegge, and they knew immediately that they wanted to craft it into a stage play.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I had the pleasure to chat with Post and Hegge when they came to Seattle for the West Coast premiere of Sweet Land, the Musical at the Taproot Theatre in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. It was a project over 10 years in the making, and as I would learn later that evening, well worth the wait. Both natives of Minnesota, the two playwrights have a strong affinity for the roots of the play. Post told me about her proud Swedish-Finnish heritage, and Hegge is Scandinavian by marriage. A chance connection gave them easy access to the film’s screenwriter. One of Hegge’s son’s friends had appeared in the movie and set up a conversation with Selim, and without hesitation he granted the two women the stage rights. They learned that Selim had based his filmscript on the 1989 short story “A Gravestone Made of Wheat” by Will Weaver, another Scandinavian American from Minnesota, and soon he was also on board to provide inspiration and support.

The basic plot of Sweet Land is simple: Olaf Torvik is a Norwegian immigrant farmer on the prairie. He is hard working and successful, but lonely. His mother back home in Norway had found Inge, a young German war orphan, and understands that she is the one for her son. She sends Inge to America, but upon arrival, it is learned that she is German, not Norwegian, and she is not accepted. Even worse, her only papers indicate that she may have socialist leanings, and the locals treat her with even more suspicion.

Sweet Land, the Musical

But the determined Inge is not willing to give up. Against all advice, she goes to Olaf’s farm, and with time she falls in love with both the land and its owner. They gain the support of Olaf’s friend Alvin Frandsen and his Irish-born wife Brownie, who strive to teach Inge American ways. Unable to marry because of the authorities, Olaf and Inge buck all common conventions and live together as husband and wife. They remain on the land they love and choose to be buried there in the wheat fields, leaving a legacy of love for their son, Lars. Wheat is central to the meaning of the play as symbol of fertility, bounty, and resurrection: once it is successfully harvested, the community has come together and will thrive for generations to come.

Early on, the playwrights understood that their stage version was destined to become a musical. Whereas the film lives largely from its cinematic scope, with gorgeous views of sweeping landscapes and close-up shots to convey inner life of the protagonists, the stage play takes life from music. Quiet unspoken moments are conveyed by songs that sound out as a stream-of-consciousness narrative. At other times, the story lends itself naturally to the music, as with the big community barn dance. Fortunately, the writers were able to find the right collaborator with Dina Maccabee, whose score fits perfectly with Hegge’s lyrics. Much of the music finds its inspiration in Scandinavian folk, as well as the vaudeville and ragtime genres popular in the 1920s. The orchestration has been scaled down to a small ensemble that appears onstage: strings, woodwinds, piano, percussion, and of course an accordion.

Sweet Land, the Musical premiered last year in St. Paul to rave reviews, and then toured the rest of the state, lovingly received by audiences wherever it went. Theater in the Twin Cities took the script to the National New Play Network, and with time it came to the attention of director Karen Lund, Associate Artistic Director at the Taproot Theatre, a match made in heaven. The topic of immigration is timely, and with the opening of the new Nordic Museum in May, the play seemed like a natural choice for Seattle audiences. Lund reached out to the Minnesota playwrights. Soon she and Hegge realized that they had studied together at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana together—another personal connection.

At the Taproot, Sweet Land moved onto a much more compact stage, with a thrust configuration, in which the audience surrounds the actors’ arena on three sides. Scenes are set with a minimum of props and the projection of simple images above the stage: a train station, a farmhouse, a barn, a church, a courthouse, etc. With the audience so close to the actors, there is a sense that they, too, are part of the rural Norwegian community of the play. While the scope and grandeur of the farmlands is lost in a theater setting, the actors are able to convey the expansiveness by looking beyond the audience into the fields, as the sounds of barnyard animals are at times heard in the background. Theater-goers are drawn into the immediacy of the moment with an intimate setting that nonetheless creates the illusion of openness needed to convey the story. Virtually every aspect of the Seattle production has been well conceived and executed—the casting, the stage design, orchestra, the sound, the lighting, and the choreography—to make for a perfectly enjoyable evening at the theater.

Those who liked the movie Sweet Land—and those for whom it’s new—will undoubtedly fall in love with Sweet Land, the Musical. Ten years ago, Post and Hegge had no idea that their play would become more than a regional production, but it has proved to be much more. With its energetic, emotional music and universal message, Sweet Land, the Musical brings the message of the tolerance, love, and humanity that we need to keep the American Dream alive.

Sweet Land, the Musical will play on the Jewell Mainstage at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St. through Aug. 18. For tickets and more information, call (206) 781-9707 or visit

Lori Ann Reinhall is a multilingual journalist and community activist based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association and state representative for Sister Cities International, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.

This article originally appeared in the July 27, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Sweet Land West Coast premiere at Taproot Theatre, Seattle, WA!!

BWW Review: SWEET LAND at Taproot Theatre

by Kelly Rogers Flynt Jul. 15, 2018



Molli Corcoran (Inge Altenberg) and Tyler Todd Kimmel (Olaf Torvik) lead the cast ofSweet Land at Taproot Theatre.  Taproot cast.jpgPhoto Credit: Erik Stuhaug

Sweet Land at Taproot Theatre is a sweet treat of a show. Full of humor, wit, challenges, and struggles, the story of Inge Altenberg and Olaf Torvik becomes an everyman’s story. The path to the American dream is paved with suspicion and hardship for immigrants both past and present. Their trials and travails parallel the stories of so many others. In the end, we find that their differences are much smaller than our commonalities. Communities can unite or divide. It is up to each person to decide where and with whom they will stand.

Sweet Land is a quiet, little story that simply tells the truth. What is it like to leave everything you’ve known and start over? What is like to be an outsider, to be called different? What is it like when you don’t understand the language and traditions of your new home? What is it like when people who don’t know you fear you? What is it like to constantly live with uncertainty? What is it like to work hard day after day for a life you might not even be allowed to have? These are the things that face Inge in her new homeland.

While tackling these heavy subject, Sweet Land also serves up a healthy portion of humor. Between Inge learning to speak English and Inge and Olaf learning about each other, there are plenty of reasons to laugh. Olaf’s friend admits that he was worried about Olaf agreeing to marry someone without even seeing a photo. But upon meeting Inge at the train station, he pronounces her “Ducky” and proceeds to sing about it. Perhaps even funnier is Inge’s insistence that Olaf shouldn’t worry that she took a bath at his house since only the farm animals were there to witness it. She takes to music to tell the animals all about it.

Molli Corcoran (Inge Altenberg) has you in her corner from the first moment. Her bright eyes fill with sadness, dance with delight, and implore you for understanding. Her voice is bright and powerful and terribly missed in songs in which she does not sing. Tyler Todd Kimmel (Olaf Torvik) has a wonderful transformation on stage. He is quiet, almost brooding, a person full of worries without a lot of outward affection. Kimmel manages to portray this in such a way that reminds you that people are complicated and worthy of much more than your initial reaction. April Poland (Marta “Brownie” Frandsen) is simply delightful. She combines ease with fortitude letting you know at once that Minnesota farm wives are a plucky bunch. Hugh Hastings (Pastor Sorenson) has the unenviable task of playing the pastor who repeatedly blocks the marriage of Inge and Olaf. He provides a constant reminder of how little thoughts and prayers really help those who are in dire situations.

A small ensemble of four (piano, reeds, violin, and bass) provides the music in the show. Quite often they sound bigger than their size, but mostly the music of the show is understated. Songs often begin or end a capella. However, one song Barn Dance is a full-on, heel-tapping good time elevated even more by the choreography of Katy Tabb. Despite the small stage, the couples whirl about in patterns that remind us how much of the Old World has grown roots in the New World.

The beauty of the show is revealed in Inge’s openness in the face of closed minds. Her nervousness about marrying a man she has never met turns out to be the least of her problems. Her unwavering spirit threads its way throughout the show. Her hard work and perseverance win not only Olaf’s love but the respect of the community. Through sheer force of will, she makes her new homeland into the sweet land of her dreams.

Sweet Land is playing at the Taproot Theatre through August 18th. For tickets or information,

11 Best Things To Do in Seattle in July 2018

Our hand-picked list of best bets for entertainment this month

Mickalene Thomas’ 2008 chromogenic print, “La Lecon d’amour” at the Henry Art Gallery

This article appears in print in the July 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Mickalene Thomas
Fresh from Seattle Art Museum’s excellent Figuring History group exhibit, which challenged ideas of black representation in western art, New York City–based Thomas heads to the Henry for a solo show in which she functions as photographer, designer (staging a reconstruction of her studio) and curator. Photographs and tête-à-tête is a collage of her own photographs along with images by others that have inspired her. Times and prices vary. Henry Art Gallery, University District, 4100 15th Ave. NE; 206.543.2280.

Sweet Land
In the lyrical 2005 film Sweet Land, a Norwegian farmer in Minnesota takes a German bride—but since World War I has just ended, the normally warm and welcoming Norwegians (that’s sarcasm, BTW) make her assimilation a challenge. Now, Perrin Post and Laurie Flanigan Hegge (book and lyrics) and Dina Maccabee (music) have transformed it into a musical; it’s receiving its West Coast premiere at Taproot. Times and prices vary. Taproot Theatre Company, Jewell Mainstage Theatre, Greenwood, 204 N 85th St.; 206.781.9707.

Steve Martin & Martin Short
Steve Martin’s career has expanded far beyond what you might have expected 40 years ago, from the “Excuuuuse meeee!” guy to author, playwright, art collector and bluegrass aficionado (that banjo was always more than just a prop). Protean, elfin Second City TV alumnus Martin Short joins him for a show billed as “An Evening You’ll Forget for the Rest of Your Life.” Times and prices vary. Paramount Theatre, downtown, 911 Pine St.; 206.682.1414.

Photo courtesy Jini Dellaccio (Sonics)

Jini Dellaccio
Through 7/11
Few artists made more of lucky happenstance than Dellaccio (1917–2014), who took up photography on a whim in California, followed her husband to Tacoma and ended up the preeminent portraitist of Northwest rockers (the Wailers, the Sonics). Into her 70s, she shot musicians performing in concert—locals and touring acts, from the Stones to the Beach Boys. Fantagraphics shows off a collection of her evocative black-and-white work. Times vary. Free. Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery, Georgetown, 1201 S Vale St.; 206.557.4910.

48 Hour Film Project
Making a movie in (exactly) two days from scratch is tricky enough, but the organizers of the 48 Hour Film Project also assign you a required line of dialogue, a character, a prop—and a randomly chosen genre. Now, get shootin’! Or you could take the easy way and just watch the screening of the results, about 12 to 14 short films. Times and prices vary. SIFF Cinema Uptown, Lower Queen Anne, 511 Queen Anne Ave. N; 206.464.5830.

Chris Stapleton
Don’t assume that just because he has long hair and a chest-length beard and sells belt-buckle flasks on his website that he’s only about outlaw country. Stapleton also recently contributed, alongside Dolly Parton, Rosanne Cash and Miley Cyrus, to Restoration, a disc of country covers of Elton John and Bernie Taupin songs. 7 p.m. Prices vary. White River Amphitheatre, Auburn, 40601 Auburn Enumclaw Road; 360.825.6200.

Seattle Symphony
6/28, 6/30 & 7/1
Camille saint-saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (1886), in which he piled an organ at full throttle atop a large Romantic orchestra, runs the gamut from typical French elegance to violet-scented piety (the composer was a church organist) to one of the more rousing climaxes in the repertory. It’ll make a great finale to the Seattle Symphony’s season. Times and prices vary. Benaroya Hall, downtown, 200 University St.; 206.215.4747.

Desus Nice & The Kid Mero
Some of their more arcane hip-hop and basketball references might as well be ancient Sanskrit to some of us, but the nightly half-hour show on the Viceland network from these two Bronx guys is the sharpest, fastest and funniest talk on TV. Caution: Everyone politically to the right of Congressman Keith Ellison is guaranteed to be offended at some point. 8 p.m. $37. The Moore Theatre, downtown, 1932 Second Ave.; 206.467.5510.

Until the Flood
Pulitzer prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith’s one-act, one-woman show examines the deluge of civil unrest following the fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Drawn from a series of personal interviews with St. Louisans, Orlandersmith presents eight composite characters grappling with the issues. Times and prices vary. ACT – A Contemporary Theatre, downtown, 700 Union St.; 206.292.7676.

See performances at the Seattle Butoh Festival like “Stone Silence by the Kogut Butch which was part of last year’s festival. Photo by Bruce Clayton Tom

Seattle Butoh Festival
The art of postwar Japanese dance/theater gets its own festival each summer, organized by Seattle’s Diapanbutoh Collective and aimed at both the practitioner and the audience. If you’re the latter, July 6‒8 is the central performance weekend, with shows at Shoreline Community College and the Taoist Studies Institute. See the website for the complete lineup of workshops, art walks, outdoor performances and more. Times, prices and venues vary.

Seattle Symphony Plays Star Wars
John Williams’ testoster-ific score will be performed live by the SSO to a screening of Star Wars: A New Hope (aka “the first one” to non-geeks)—the 1977 film that changed Hollywood, launching the comic book blockbuster hegemony, as much as any one film ever has. Times and prices vary. Benaroya Hall, downtown, 200 University St.; 206.215.4747;