APPROACHING MINNESOTA FROM BEHIND, Van Chester Productions, at Heartland Studio Theater. Sean Farrell’s most recent play comes to life in a rich, honest way, filling the small black box of the Heartland studio with his character’s hopes and longings. In this monologue an actor named Michael travels through the haunted world of childhood memories in order to move on from his present pain and inertia. And although Farrell delves into subjects that have become daily fodder for tabloids and talk shows–dysfunctional relationships, alcoholism, mental illness, cancer, physical abuse–his character is not a victim or speaking out to be part of a trend but courageously chooses to move beyond his sorrow. Farrell’s poetic voice is distinctive, making Michael’s family come to life through visceral details–the memory of his mother’s hands or of his brother listening over and over to “Dear Prudence” when he returns from the mental hospital.

Dean Schmitt plays Michael honestly and simply. With seeming ease he not only sustains his energy throughout the 75-minute solo piece but keeps the audience riveted.

The text could still use some editing, eliminating some of Michael’s more philosophical ponderings; the unraveling of memories is the soul of the piece, which works as theater because of the simple staging and soft performance but might be equally enjoyable as a short story.

–Gabrielle S. Kaplan