A staple in Minneapolis’ skyline, the Guthrie Theater stands out with its strong, deep blue exterior and accents of muted yellow. While being closed for 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this building was only part of the skyline as plays were temporarily halted. The first year back from their hiatus was filled with “What the Constitution Means to Me,” “The Tempest,” and “A Raisin in the Sun.” Now, with Aug. 21 marking the end of the 2021-2022 season, the Guthrie only has two performances remaining: the playful and unexpected adaptation of “Emma,” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Sweat.”
In Jane Austen’s classic novel “Emma”, Emma Woodhouse deems herself to be the matchmaker of the town, and her next target is Harriet Smith, Emma’s new friend. When Emma’s plans go awry, she experiences failure, critique, and self-realizations—all amid discovering love herself.
“Emma” has been performed, even filmed, numerous times, but never quite like this. The playwright Kate Hamill and the director Meredith McDonough have given this story a new life. Adding in eccentric surprises and screwball comedy, this interpretation combines the classic story with modern elements.
Set in a blue-collar town, “Sweat” follows a group of workers who must navigate promotions and layoffs in a changing economy. This economic shift causes a similar one in friendship as strong personalities clash during the stressful time.
“Sweat,” written by Lynn Nottage, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 with its themes of unemployment, race, and immigration. This drama boldly comments on the struggles of middle-class life by portraying many effects the American economy has on working families.
Theaters have struggled to survive during the pandemic with no live audiences. Despite this difficulty, the Guthrie announced in January 2022 that it obtained a surplus of money between 2020 and 2021 from federal grants, state compensation, and private donors. With this surplus, the theater’s 2022 season was possible.
Choosing “Emma” and “Sweat” to close out the first year back is telling of the Guthrie’s commitment to the Minneapolis community. With both comedy and commentary, the two plays offer its audience an opportunity to reflect on the serious world with humor. Audience members will leave feeling both enlightened and lighthearted—in other words, a perfect way to leave the 2022 season.
“Emma” runs now though Aug. 21, and “Sweat” will be performed from July 16 to Aug. 21. Find tickets at guthrietheater.org.