So many actors in this town, so little time/money/patience to sit in front of them and see what they want to tell us. Thing is, most of them are better than, say, Rock Hudson was in his prime. Better than Veronica Lake, better than almost anyone on TV in the ’80s, with the possible exception of Alf. Yeah, us reserved Minnesotans, we act out in strange, but talented, ways.
So what happens when one theater, the Guthrie, installs so many seats that they pretty much have to play to every taste–or have no taste–to fill them? Who’s got time for so much theater–three stages, year-round? You do. Why? Because in a couple short years since moving into its airport-like new digs, the Guthrie has taken off, becoming what everyone either hoped or feared: a one-stop shop for Twin Cities theater.
Now, you could argue–very effectively, in fact–that the Guthrie will never stage the kind of idiosyncratic, intimate shows you’ll find at the Bryant-Lake Bowl or even the Theater Garage (though they are engaging that theater’s head, Stacia Rice, so often she’s had to put her own projects on hold). But no longer can you say you won’t find Penumbra-type shows, or Frank Theatre-type shows there–because next season you will see exactly that.
But first the extravaganzas–the Guthrie is dipping into a big but boisterous fan pool with its world premiere musical Little House on the Prairie, opening this July. It’s hard not to think of this as community theatre fodder, but if the play achieves what its creators hope–injecting something specifically Minnesotan into this specifically Minnesotan story, we might have something all of us–not just those who dress in period clothes and know the breed of Laura’s dog–can appreciate.
Then begins a series of smart, taut, literary plays–literally: Shadowlands, about C.S. Lewis, and Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, which won him the first of three Pulitzers. Meanwhile, on a different stage, the daringly modern Ethan McSweeney (love him or hate him, he’s the first to put Shakespearean actors on motorized scooters) takes a crack at Arthur Miller’s View From a Bridge.
And things arguably get better from there, depending on how you feel about Tony Kushner. Because the Guthrie is making the most of its commission of the so-called country’s hottest playwright by staging shows of his on all three stages at the same time as his promised premiere next spring. It’s rare that Kushner falls flat, in other words, but even if his new show does, hey, you’ve got two other tried-and-true pieces to check out.
But check out the smaller theaters booked into the Guthrie: Penumbra, doing Raisin in the Sun–it’ll be the play’s 50th anniversary–which, if it’s not treated with kid gloves, stands to be the perfect show for an introduction to Penumbra, which this venue will surely provide. Theatre Latte Da, helmed by Peter Rothstein of course, doing a Bradley Greenwald vehicle–excellent. Pillsbury House making its Guthrie Debut with a daring new play about illicit love. And Frank Theatre doing a raucous Irish play about a spurned woman.
One could make the argument that by bringing these frequently provocative companies into the Guthrie’s embrace, the theater is co-opting their spirit–but if the companies aren’t going to make it, I’m not either. Let the actors sort out the nuances. Theater, we’re so lucky to say, is in abundance here, and anyway, anyplace, you can manage to see it, go forth. That’s our only job.