34 West Theater Company has made a name for itself adapting biblical stories into dramas like Daniel, Waiting for Joshua, and Abraham & Sarah. But these aren't your typical Sunday School productions. "I've seen many Bible dramas gone bad," says Baldwin. "We wanted to put a new spin on it." In the case of My Name is Ruth, performed at last year's Piccolo, they set a popular Bible story in 1950s Minnesota.
The company returns this year with We Go Everywhere Together, a comedy centered around two popular geriatric characters from an earlier 34 West holiday production. Henry, played by artistic director Jeffrey Querin, is a lovable curmudgeon with bad vision and every kind of medical condition possible, including an ongoing gastronomic issue. He's often led around by George (creative director Stephen Baldwin), who's hard of hearing, always the loudest person in the room, and has an aptitude for sticking his foot in his mouth.
"We were looking for the right show that would be a good fit," says Baldwin. "We had Piccolo in mind when we created My Name is Ruth, and we needed something portable — we could take it to different places for a low cost." They also wanted a project that was so accessible, Amish farmers would ride a motor vehicle to witness it — something that actually happens in the company's home state of Ohio.
According to Baldwin, Amish people don't typically go to entertainment-type events, "But we've had Amish groups and small communities attending. Fifteen to 30 of them rent a van or buggy to get to the venue. Everyone's flabbergasted — that's never happened before."
34 West prides itself on producing theater with this kind of universal appeal. Their shows are original, positive, uplifting, and family-oriented. In this particular play, youngsters should respond to the physical comedy, while older audience members should be able to relate to the characters.
On a quest for love, the main characters attempt speed dating, a situation that is ripe with comic opportunity — when the daters are half-deaf, half-blind, or cantankerous, laughs are guaranteed. However, the show's creators say they're careful not to poke fun at old age in a mean way. "I've seen younger people portraying older people," says Baldwin, "not necessarily in a negative way, but almost like they're making fun of them." Baldwin and Querin keep their characters positive. "We want to see them achieving their goals, being triumphant. They never sink to the depths of despair."
The grumpy old men reflect classic double acts like Laurel and Hardy or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, but there's also a realistic side to their characters. "Absolutely I'll end up like Henry or George," Baldwin says. "They're not too far off from the truth."