Theater is a funny business — both peculiar and ha-ha.
Kate Wetherhead knows this. She has lived with the quirks, the oddball personalities and unexplainable absurdities for 20 years. But rather than mutter under her breath about the latest indignity or weird meeting with an agent, Wetherhead has used the stories of her chosen profession as grist for a Web series that lampoons the casting and audition life of Broadway.
“Submissions Only,” which she created with Andrew Keenan-Bolger, is a hit with theater people and has made Wetherhead, who stars in the Guthrie’s fall production of “The Heidi Chronicles,” an underground celebrity in her business. She writes the show and plays an actor who works for a casting director. The satire is couched with great affection, but the characterizations carry a delicious bite.
“If there are negative responses, people have been polite enough to keep them to themselves,” Wetherhead said, when asked if she is soiling her theater nest.
Wetherhead moved to New York shortly after college. Her parents took her to a community theater production of “West Side Story” when she was 6, in Burlington, Vt., and that was it. She was going to be an actor.
When she came to New York, she had a plan: enroll in Circle in the Square theater school. It would give her a daily routine, a support system and instant friends in a town that intimidated her.
It took her many years, though, to fully understand the adage about talent not being enough. You gotta be tough; you gotta have moxie and smarts and drive.
“At a certain point, unless you have been sprinkled with fairy dust, you have to take matters into your own hands,” she said. “Waiting for that magical job, that happens only for a small percentage of people. After years and years of highs and lows, I realized if I want any autonomy or control, I would have to make something of my own.”
On Broadway, Wetherhead has been in two shows, “Spelling Bee” and “Legally Blonde.” Her credits also include off-Broadway and regional theater — in Dallas, at the Goodspeed in Connecticut and Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. This is her first visit to the Guthrie. Her husband is a lighting designer, so the two always discuss the relative merits of going out of town.
“For this there was not much conversation,” she said. “If the Guthrie asks, you say yes.”
The heroine in Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning play reminds Wetherhead of herself. Heidi ages 20 years, revealing the layers of experience and understanding that come to define her.
“It’s almost overwhelming how much this role is coming to mean to me,” she said. “I feel an immense responsibility to her. Where she ends up in the play, in her life, is where I am in mine.”
Graydon Royce's and Rohan Preston's fall theater picks
"Radio Man": Actor Pearce Bunting stars as a rangy, disheveled guy who finds his groove with an old-fashioned radio show, beloved by many. If that sounds as though this play is about Garrison Keillor, you would have to ask the playwright, Garrison Keillor. This is the “A Prairie Home Companion” host’s first full-length play, and he uses his experience to sketch scenes, on- and off-stage, through the eyes of the Host. Keillor has tapped this material previously with Robert Altman in the 2006 “PHC” film. But a play captures more of the electricity inherent in live performance. Ron Peluso directs at the History Theatre, just across the street from Keillor’s playground at the Fitzgerald. Veterans Angela Timberman, Jon Hegge and Peter Thomson are also in the cast.
“Busytown the Musical”: Celebrated Minnesota raconteur Kevin Kling, also a clever lyricist, teams with composer Michael Koerner in a world premiere at Children’s Theatre. The pair has done the musical adaptation of Richard Scarry’s children’s book “What Do People Do All Day?” The show brings to life Huckle the Cat, Mistress Mouse, Lowly Worm and other humanlike characters. Chicago director Sean Graney stages this cabaret-style, boogie-licious production that features puppets as well as humans Reed Sigmund, Autumn Ness, Dean Holt and Gerald Drake.
Sept. 16-Oct. 26 • Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls. • $15-$58 • 612-874-0400 • www.childrenstheatre.org
“Gabriel”: Walking Shadow Theatre Company, one of the best young troupes here, produces a play about women who find a mysterious naked young man washed up on the English shore during World War II. Is Gabriel an angel or a demon? British playwright Moira Buffini (who scripted the 2011 film “Jane Eyre”) wrote this drama in 1997. Amy Rummenie directs a cast including Ross Destiche, Katherine Kupiecki and Wade Vaughn.
Sept. 26-Oct. 11 • Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin Av., Mpls. • $22-$30 • 1-800-838-3006 • www.walkingshadowcompany.org
“Seedfolks”: Formidable Twin Cities actor Sonja Parks gets to showcase her protean skills in the premiere of Paul Fleischman’s story about a community in transition. Parks plays more than a dozen characters — young and old, male and female, of myriad ethnicities — in this production that orbits a vacant, garbage-strewn lot transformed into a garden. Parks, an Ivey Award winner who has earned fellowships from the McKnight Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, has been a standout in roles at Ten Thousand Things, the Guthrie and Children’s Theatre, where she brought fire and heart to the title character in “Antigone.”
Sept. 30-Nov. 16 • Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls. • $10-$48 • 612-874-0400 • www.childrenstheatre.org
“Master Class”: Actor Sally Wingert and Theater Latté Da director Peter Rothstein bring to life the enigmatic genius of Maria Callas. Playwright Terrence McNally put Callas, the great and reckless soprano, in the context of a class she is teaching on the art of performance at Juilliard. Wingert, one of the best-known actors in the Twin Cities, was the Star Tribune’s artist of the year in 2013. She and Rothstein have a long history together (“Cabaret,” “Woman Before a Glass”). Rothstein is aiming for realism in staging the performance at MacPhail Center for Music.
“33 Variations”: James Rocco, the Ordway Center’s producing artistic director, walks across downtown St. Paul to direct this play at Park Square. Playwright Moisés Kaufman (“The Laramie Project”) used Beethoven’s music to explore the quest for artistic perfection. The play and actor Jane Fonda were nominated for Tonys in the 2009 Broadway production. At Park Square, Karen Landry plays Katherine, who is bent on discovering how Beethoven worked in creating variations on a theme.
“Nice Work If You Can Get It”: George and Ira Gershwin were so masterful that you could do an evening of their songs, sans narrative, and call it a day. That was not good enough for the producers of this musical, who added a Roaring ’20s story that includes a wealthy playboy who is about to get married until he meets a gorgeous bootlegger. Tunes include “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
“On the Way to Timbuktu”: Penumbra kicks off its Claude Edison Purdy one-person play festival with this work, written and performed by former “Guiding Light” actor Petronia Paley and directed by Talvin Wilks (“The Ballad of Emmett Till”). A New York powerhouse, Paley based this coming-to-consciousness play on her experience and research. It is about history and womanhood, poetry, power and sexuality.
“New Jerusalem, the Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656”: Playwright David Ives has a thing for history. His two-hander “Venus in Fur,” a play-within-a-play about the adaptation of an 1870 Austrian novel, was a hot ticket on Broadway. “New Jerusalem” centers on a would-be chief rabbi accused of atheism. Kurt Schweickhardt directs this production, which continues the 20th season of Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.
Oct. 18-Nov. 9 • 1978 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul • $19-$28 • 651-647-4315 • www.mnjewishtheatre.org
“On Golden Pond”: Bain Boehlke and Wendy Lehr continue their 50-year stage partnership with Ernest Thompson’s charming and popular play. Friends and theatrical comrades since the early 1960s, Boehlke and Lehr last worked the Jungle Theater together in 2008’s “The Gin Game.” Boehlke will also direct and design the production, which tells of two well-aged souls confronting mortality, their relationships with children and the gift of youthful friendship. Plan ahead. This has the aroma of a hot ticket.