Joe Dowling on haters, home, the Guthrie legacy, and how to (politely) walk out of a show
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Last year, when Joe Dowling was being attacked for the Guthrie Theater’s perceived lack of diversity in its programming, the theater’s longest-serving artistic director was exasperated and, by all accounts, genuinely hurt. He had led the Guthrie since 1995. He oversaw its move to the Mississippi River, he expanded its community outreach, and he encouraged its ongoing efforts to bring other, smaller troupes into the building—where they perform on a stage with his name on it. Don’t people know me by now? he wondered. Perhaps not. Recently, Michael Tortorello sat down for a long lunch with Dowling. No cameras. No soundbites. No agenda.
Noon at Sea Change restaurant, the table closest to Chekhov.
Michael Tortorello: How many times have you eaten here?
Joe Dowling: The real question is how many times I’ve eaten here this week.
MT: Are you the kind of person who orders the same thing every day?
JD: Oh yeah. I’m a creature of habit, but that’s a family trait. If we do something twice in our family it’s a tradition.
MT: You were just in Ireland directing The Dead.
Waiter: Good afternoon. Welcome. Can I offer anything to drink for anyone right away, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or anything?
JD: Water is fine. I’m going to do the Cobb salad.
MT: I’ll have the lobster roll. Has it always felt like home when you go back to Dublin?
MT: Did that ever change?
JD: No, I was too old when I left—it was 17 years ago and I’m 64 now. So, do the math. I think if you leave somewhere when you’re in your 20s, it’s different than if you are settled and have family.
MT: You lost your mother—
JD: Five years ago.
MT: Your friends have gotten older.
JD: Everybody does. Even you will. When my mother was alive and Siobhan’s mother was alive, we were there probably once every six weeks. So not much changed without us being aware of it. And we live in two places. There’s no question about that.
MT: Do you have a home in New York, too? I know you’re there a lot.
JD: Yeah. In New York I have a room. It’s a studio apartment that we bought some years ago. It’s on 57th and 6th.
MT: Is that agreeable? Being in so many places?
JD: It’s very agreeable. I don’t feel rootless in any sense. Anybody in the theater in a way is rootless. You work where the work is, and you develop relationships wherever you are. But home is Ireland, there’s no two ways about that. There’s Dublin and everything else.