‘It Can’t Happen Here’ At Fringe Echoes Timely Events

Kit Bix initially didn’t think of It Can’t Happen Here as a Minnesota Fringe Festival production, but as it slowly evolved she realized the content would be better suited for a local show, and the festival started to make more sense as a home.

The script that Sinclair Lewis and John C. Moffit wrote for the Federal Theatre Project in 1936 was too long for the Fringe and Bix had to cut about 3/4ths of it. But the project fit the mold of creativity and resourcefulness that the Minnesota Fringe Festival is known for. While the adaptation was structured for the festival, Bix maintained the content of the play and is acting in it. To her, the story was too urgent to ignore.

The novel is structured along the lines of an “as if” story, while it imagines the rise of a populist demagogue in America. “Sinclair Lewis thought people were vulnerable to fascist politics,” Bix claims. She hints that bits of the plot are eerily similar to current political happenings, but audiences are encouraged to reach their own conclusions. The production’s fictional president, “Buzz” Windrip who is played by Meagan Kedrowski, feeds upon an undeniable plight of the everyday citizen; something that Bix could relate to human nature. “Those in despair can have a vulnerable to believe a ‘strong man’ who will fix everything. It’s human psychology,” she states.

It Can’t Happen Here and the festival focus on combining theater and the arts with political as well as social action, a notion that deeply resonates with Bix’s upbringing. Being raised in Reconstructionist Judaism left her with a strong sense of translating Jewish principles into everyday deeds. She credits her family with aiding her passion of social action and has sustained this as a longtime member of the DFL.

The story is practically rooted in the notion of practicing social action in response to inequalities. Doremus Jessup, played by Charles Numrich, is a small town newspaper editor who puts his talents to good use (writing), to fight an oppressive dictator. Along the way, Jessup finds his voice and grows into a hero, something initially he had no intuition to become. Once Bix secured Numrich and Kedrowski to play the leads,  she brought in Bryan Bevell to direct and Christopher Mogel to be assistant producer.

Always looking to raise awareness about inequities or threats within society, Bix saw the production as a way to fundraise for worthy causes. The decision of naming the ACLU the recipient was made clear when the production’s motifs of finding one’s voice and using your own resources to fight back, seemed to mirror the organization’s mission, or as Bix puts it, “the content matches the cause.” Looking back on the script, she notes being drawn to the construct of a journalist being a hero. In the nature of philanthropy, all actors are doing the show for free to promote their cause.

During a period of heightened polarization and growing frustration, one can look at her seasoned words that are backed by Jewish principle as simple but sobering rhetoric- “Nothing changes unless you put in the time.” In a blend of theater, politics, and perfect timing, you could say Bix is most definitely putting in the time.

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It Can’t Happen Here is playing at the Ritz Theater (345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis) as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival. The production runs Thursday, Aug. 3 at 10 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 6 at 8:30 p.m.; Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 8:30 pm; Friday, Aug. 11 at 5:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 13 at 7 p.m. All show proceeds benefit the ALCU. Tickets are available via the Minnesota Fringe Festival website: www.fringefestival.org.