V.R. Dunne is a storytelling show that narrates the life story of Vincent Raymond Dunne (‘Ray’ for short), a soft-spoken but intelligent man who was among the union leaders during the 1934 truck drivers’ strike in Minneapolis. The story of the strike is actually quite exciting, but the direction chosen by artist/performer Howard Petrick stifles this excitement into a much more subdued show than is strictly necessary.
Petrick plays an older Dunne 35 years after the strike, telling his first-person view to the audience as if they are a camera crew filming a documentary. It’s a totally valid choice that works in theory, but it’s not the most engaging choice either.
The History Channel stopped showing black-and-white documentaries narrated by anonymous old men for much the same reason that so many Fringe shows tend to fall into the category of raunchy/quirky comedies – if you want people to pay attention, you have to be entertaining while still staying true to your material/message (Duck Dynasty is an historical documentary, right?). There’s a lot of material to work with too: urban warfare and riots, the entire city of Minneapolis shut down with no coal right as a cold snap hits, and the stark reminder that although working conditions may still be imperfect, things were a lot worse less than a century ago for so many (and also the chilling realization that class inequality may be starting to reassert itself…).
Because Petrick plays Dunne as an old man there’s a tendency to ramble – the actual strike story comes about 20 minutes into the show, after some mildly interesting but mostly pointless exposition about Dunne’s previous time in labour camps and meeting his wife. The writing includes a lot of information that could be implicitly referenced; at times the descriptions of the crowds in the main market square come off a little Wikipedia-ish from the amount of numbers and names thrown around. It’s not the place of the critic to make suggestions for a show (unless it’s for a simple fix or an obvious issue), but to do the show as documentary theatre is one direction that this story could take (the media release kit includes archival photographs of the crowds and police violence, although they don’t appear in the show). Again it’s not really my place to make suggestions, but the story is engaging and interesting enough to warrant another look and consider a direction that brings in a little more dramatic tension.
Created and Performed by Howard Petrick
At ODD Box