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Guthrie Theatre

Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

A chat about the Guthrie's new season

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON and GRAYDON ROYCE
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • April 22, 2012 - 4:07 PM

Rohan Preston: Bruce Norris' "Clybourne Park." Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities." "Nice Fish," poet Louis Jenkins' new play starring Mark Rylance. And the Christopher Hampton celebration. The 2012-2013 Guthrie Theater season has "Charley's Aunt" in the rearview mirror. The line-up has strong, contemporary plays. The shows make the Guthrie part of a vital conversation on race and gender, for example. What are you looking forward to?

Graydon Royce: The Hampton festival was envisioned as the season's highlight, but in terms of engaging national interest, Rylance's return is easily the most significant event this coming year. Since he breathed life into the Guthrie's "Peer Gynt" in 2008, Rylance has become perhaps the hottest actor on Broadway who isn't a Hollywood star. He won Tony Awards for "Boeing, Boeing" and "Jerusalem," and stole "La Bête" from David Hyde Pierce. His coming here makes perfect sense. Each time Rylance accepted his acting Tony, he quoted work by Jenkins of Duluth. "Nice Fish" takes place on a frozen northern lake with snowmobiles and blizzards. Could it be the theatrical equivalent of "Fargo" in showing off Minnesota?

RP: I just hope they don't feel a need to slip down the slope of Ole and Lena jokes. I look forward to seeing Rylance. And it's a coup for the Guthrie to have "Clybourne Park" and "Other Desert Cities," each of which is likely to be up for this year's best play Tony. I'm also looking forward to the imagination and inventiveness that director Ethan McSweeny will bring to Hampton's "Tales from Hollywood," about German intellectuals such as Brecht and Thomas Mann. The season is national and international, but also a celebration of local connections.

GR: The return of director David Esbjornson, the Willmar native, is welcome. Once upon a time he was Edward Albee's personal director for new plays. Arthur Miller, too, in the twilight of his career, went to Esbjornson. He staged "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with Patrick Stewart and Mercedes Ruehl at the Guthrie in 2001 and had two Albee plays on Broadway. His "The Great Gatsby" opened the new Guthrie, and he went west to lead the Seattle Repertory Theatre. What he does with Hampton's "Appomattox" will give us a sense of whether the play will be more successful than the opera, which Hampton wrote with Phillip Glass.

RP: Is Hampton the worthiest playwright for the honor of the Guthrie's second season-long festival (after Tony Kushner)? What about Albee? John Guare? Suzan-Lori Parks? Sarah Ruhl? As the largest regional theater in the nation, the Guthrie has leadership responsibilities that it doesn't always assume. The issue of inclusiveness, or lack of it in the new season, with respect to the playwriting and directing talent of women and people of color, has generated controversy. There are holes in the season even as it the theater fills historical ones.

GR: Give Dowling credit for putting "Long Day's Journey into Night" on the schedule. The Guthrie, in 49 seasons, has never done Eugene O'Neill's masterwork? Unbelievable. On the other hand, this piece can become a three-hour-plus effort without a lot of humor for an audience that seems to love to hear itself laugh. "Death of a Salesman" several years back did not draw as well as the theater had hoped. These plays have to be tuned just right, and the production of "Long Day's Journey" needs to steer unafraid into the fog of O'Neill's disillusion.

RP: The Goodman Theatre's "Long Day's Journey" on Broadway ran well over three hours. I don't know if the Guthrie is planning a transfer to anywhere but I'm looking forward to Joe Dowling's take on this classic.

GR: It's a small thing, but good for Joe Chvala, as the longtime artistic director of Flying Foot Forum gets his chance to direct "A Christmas Carol" next winter. Chvala has assisted Dowling the past couple of years, but he deserves a chance to make this show his own. And watch for another singular actor when Steven Epp takes the stage in "The Servant of Two Masters." Epp and director Christopher Bayes took this adaptation by Constance Congdon to the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2010. Epp last year adapted another Carlo Goldoni piece himself -- "Il Campiello" for Ten Thousand Things. The old spirit of Theatre de la Jeune Lune filled that production, and Epp remains one of the best at the commedia dell'arte sensibility.

RP: I look forward to a season of work that will, in the words of Tyrone Guthrie, "astonish me in the morning."

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