miðvikudagur, maí 17, 2006

lake wobegon, iceland

Last night we went to see the live taping of A Prairie Home Companion at Iceland's National Theater, a fortress of a deco building in downtown Reykjavík. The lobby inside was abuzz pre-show in a mix of American and Icelandic voices. I was playing a little game to myself of "guess who's American/Icelandic". Most of the time I was right on (dress is a big clue) but a couple people stumped me completely and I had to perk up my ears to discern a "já já" or a "ya shure". I couldn't help wondering which one I looked more like.

The show started promptly at 8 p.m., perhaps setting an Icelandic record for "first ever on-time performance", to the surprise of some seat-tripping stragglers. Garrison Keillor came onstage, looking like a giant bullfrog wearing a dark suit with a red tie and red sneakers. He immediately connected with the audience, rumbling in his soothing baritone, by saying how springtime was special, for both Icelanders and Minnesotans, because it was such a fleeting time in both lands and came on the heels of such long, tough winters. The crowd was his. A few jokes and stories, and a pause for the beginning of the local radio broadcast (where we all watched G.K. alternately stare out into space and look down, eyes closed), and the show was off and running.

Acts included Icelandic singer Diddú, who also joined in as an actor on a skit featuring the glacier Snæfellsjökull and a visiting George Bush. Filling the air with beautiful deep-voiced magic on a number of Icelandic classics was the Fóstbræður male choir. Robert Altman's favorite actor John C. Reilly played guitar and sang a number of tunes. And the guys in the All-Star Shoe Band were amazing to watch; they are one of those musical groups that just knows exactly what to play and when, how to pick up any song, and how to sound good with nobody asking. Garrison himself was a treat to watch: waxing poetic about the majestic beauty of Iceland, remembering a childhood of house-deep blizzards in Minnesota, singing a somnolent Danish tune, and keeping the whole loose jangle of performers and skits and transitions together onstage with a mastery that can only come with years of practice.

The thing that stuck with me most after watching the whole production was that it wasn't really being staged for us, the in-theater audience. The true audience is really the millions of radio listeners, with the theater audience looking on and providing laughter and reactions. But we in the theater got to peek through that fourth wall and see all the backstage machinations of a radio show in live production: the cue-card guy walking across the stage, the piano player signalling his fellow Shoe Band musicians that an impromptu song is wrapping up, Garrison moving a music stand in the middle of a duet so his fellow singer can see the words. These glimpses into what made the show hang together were perhaps the most entertaining of all.

The show goes out across America this Saturday, May 20th, so you American readers can tune in to a little slice of Minnesota in Iceland.


Blogger cK said...


I remain conflicted about Keillor, though. We live in the same small neighborhood of Saint Paul (Cathedral Hill) so pass one another in the paper store, or at the Russian bar, or just out taking a walk. But he's leaving the Fitzgerald Theatre in downtown Saint Paul, perhaps for mildly larger venues in Minneapolis.

I love the guy still, and the distance between the Cities is zero feet - zero inches, but many of us in Saint Paul are so fiercely loyal to the city that we just feel a little, well, not quite betrayed, but uncomfortable. Hmmm.

Glad you got to see the show live.

Blogger JB said...

Hey CK, it's just like the "twin cities" of Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki here in Iceland. You gotta learn to think of them as the same place, since you can never tell them apart.

Blogger Skúli said...

I was there too! I had a great time.

Blogger tsduff said...

I'm looking forward to hearing it this weekend - love that show, and love Iceland.

Blogger Mo'a said...

Thanks to you and ECS I was able to listen to the show with my Mother and Husband yesterday. We listen to him most every weekend and have been doing so for almost 30 years.....OH!!!NO!!!I just realised that you have probably not lived that long!!!!! This weekend we would have missed it as we were helping Mother with her garden....Thank you both.
I did love how he pronounced the Icelandic words with a Danish acent.

Blogger JB said...

Yep, I have lived that long and then some. Glad you enjoyed the show!


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