Kate Guentzel admits she was a little jealous when she watched John Catron kissing actor Valeri Mudek in “Uncle Vanya” at the Guthrie Theater last fall. Yes, it was on stage, and they were playing characters, but Guentzel felt a twinge watching her husband in another woman’s embrace.
Catron is portraying another romancer in the Jungle Theater’s production of “The Heiress,” which opens Friday. This time, though, Guentzel will be in a better position when Catron starts mashing lips. The two play lovers frustrated by her father’s suspicions that he’s just a cad out for her money. Jeffrey Hatcher, better known as a playwright, plays the father in the staging, directed and designed by Bain Boehlke.
“You have to form an immediate trust with the other actor,” Catron said when asked for his take on stage romance. “You could be kissing a complete stranger. Of course, with Kate we had that trust on the first day, and that’s a gift. You’re ahead of the game.”
Guentzel and Catron two years ago joined the growing ranks of Twin Cities actors married to one another. “The Heiress” marks the second time they’ve played opposite each other, after “School for Lies” last January at Park Square.
“I got a call from Bain, and he said he wanted to hear the two of us read for these roles,” Guentzel said.
Boehlke tried other combinations through a long process of auditioning, but chose Catron and Guentzel in the end. She plays Catherine Sloper, a shy woman who stands to inherit her father’s fortune. Catron is Morris Townsend, who sweeps Catherine off her feet. Her father, smelling a rat, threatens to disinherit Catherine if she runs off with Morris. Love can be a tough business.
Ruth and Augustus Goetz adapted the 1947 play from the 1880 novel “Washington Square” by Henry James. A 1995 Broadway revival starred Cherry Jones as Catherine. Boehlke’s cast includes Wendy Lehr, Jennifer Blagen, Charity Jones, Anna Sundberg and Paris Hunter Paul.
Winning for losing
Catron and Guentzel started to notice each other when they performed in Illusion Theater’s “My Antonia” in 2010. He remembers their first date — playing poker.
“I won $60,” Guentzel said. “I was being coached on the sidelines by this guy.”
Guentzel, a New Prague native who has toiled in Twin Cities theater for 13 years, won an Ivey recognition for her portrayal of the title character in “My Antonia.” During an interview recently, she nodded when reminded that a few mornings after that victory, she was behind a counter selling coffee when a critic and director Peter Rothstein walked into a south Minneapolis shop.
“I do, I still remember that,” she said. “I thought, ‘Great, here’s the reviewer and Peter — and here I am making coffee.’ ”
She has nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s more an illustration of the reality for many very good actors in the Twin Cities. Awards and recognition don’t pay the bills. Among the many reasons Guentzel said she’s happy with Catron is that his work is fairly steady and this has taken some of the pressure off her shoulders to come up with that “$550 a month” for rent. The two live in northeast Minneapolis. Guentzel credits Catron for being good with money.
“Frugal,” he calls it. “You spend your money on the good stuff — wine and cheese. Buy your clothes secondhand.”
Catron grew up in the northern suburbs of St. Paul, attended college at Grinnell and then went to the apprentice program at Actors’ Theater of Louisville. He and a couple of friends started a theater company in Asheville, N.C., and then he returned home in 2006 after three years. Running a company taught him how exhausting it is to run a company.
“Let other people do the fundraising,” he said.
His first job back in the Twin Cities was at the Lights Up Festival at Illusion, where he played Blue Loon No. 2 (“I was completely silent and painted blue”).
“That’s when I first noticed you,” Guentzel said.
Taking your work home
Guentzel admitted to being heartbroken that “The Heiress” prevented her from playing “My Antonia” at the Willa Cather Spring Conference in the author’s hometown of Red Cloud, Neb. She feels attached to the show because, “I loved meeting this person during that play.”
She and Catron take their work home, something they are both happy about.
“He was watching my scene in rehearsal the other day, and it’s a beautiful thing to have him there and I can go home and ask, ‘Did you like that?’ ” Guentzel said. “We’re able to blur the line of giving each other notes, and someone like me, I need a little assurance.”
In their spare time, Guentzel likes to do yoga. Catron is a gardener and cook (“my domestic goddess,” she calls him). He also likes the solitude and quiet of painting — a break from the collaboration of theater.
While they have plans and goals for their personal lives — homes, children, the same dreams many people have — theater dictates that they need to be flexible for their careers.
“Opportunities find you if you follow the work,” Catron said.
Opportunities in more ways than one.