Mann, a professional actor, director and playwright, is known in the Twin Cities for his directing, at Theatre in the Round and Park Square Theatre, as well as for his acting, at the Guthrie Theater and Chanhassen Dinner Theatre.
Mann's explosive vocals, robust physicality and refined technique captured the audience's attention in an instant as laughter, gasps and cries from the audience expressed a sense of investment in Mann's plot and sundry character developments.
Hosted by the St. Olaf Artist Series, "Revelations of Mann" showcased the personal woes of a recent Northwestern University graduate (Mann himself) teaching theater for the first time at an archetypal Catholic high school in Maplewood, Minn. His slant was both comic and reflective.
"Revelations of Mann' reminded me of my own high school experience," chemistry and English major David Rysdahl '09 said. "I went to a small Catholic high school in rural Minnesota like the school in Mann's story. I sat at the performance and couldn't believe the similarities. Mann talked about how everyone knew his business. And when new teachers came to our school, everyone instantly knew everything about them."
My question is simple: what does a world in which theater stereotypes prevail make of a production like "Revelations of Mann?" It laps it up.
We expect theater to be stilted and inaccessible. However, Mann delivered differently.
His active, first person storytelling engulfed the stage props, vocal inflections and soundtracks adorning his tale with depth, shape and texture reminded the skeptic of what theater can be.
Theater can glorify the mundane and contort minutiae until a non-descript crotchety colleague like Mann's Mr. Jones becomes so funny it hurts.
The performance began in darkness. An accelerated version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" swept through the theater. The music faded, and a spotlight struck to illuminate Mann perched on a stool, his eyes alert, his body primed for quick, deliberate movement.
Mann became Jenny, a flirtatious pre-teen and then rapidly morphed into Barb, a secretary with a heinously thick Minnesotan accent.
Next, swiftly transforming into Mr. Jones, the embittered theater department chairman, Mann began folding his body to convey Jones' unique physicality.
Seamless transitions between 40 different characters rendered Mann delightfully schizophrenic as he dedicated the majority of his production to enacting the quirks and spirit of his students and colleagues at the Catholic school.
In fact, character changes occurred so quickly that Rob, the stoned hippy (who sounded exactly like the sea turtle in "Finding Nemo"), began a sentence only so Jane, another flirtatious pre-teen, could complete it.
"I walked out of the theater and had to convince myself that that was only one man," biology major Solveig Hagen '09 said. "Mann channeled such a variety of characters, it might as well have been a whole troop of actors."