In the forty+ years I’ve been attending plays at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, I’ve had my share of hits and misses. When the new building opened seven years ago anticipation was high; it now had the space it needed to properly support three venues (the old theater relied on remote workshops to build sets, make costumes, rehearse, etc.) and offered the opportunity to become a true cultural hub. I’ve never had occasion to find fault with the acting and the directors were generally competent and often inspired. So why did I approach a gifted ticket to a Wednesday matinee with a sense of duty, rather than that of excitement?
I’ve changed over the years but live theater is still capable of giving me a thrill, although it seems I have to travel to Reykjavík to capture it. The Guthrie just isn’t much fun anymore. A big part of that is the architecture of the complex. Designed by ‘starchitect’ Jean Nouvel, the building is a menacing hulk, infected by with dismal lobbies and awkward restaurants. A ‘bigger’ problem is the size of the organization. The building was heavily subsidized with taxpayer money so any play presented has to be ‘safe’: suitable for high school audiences. I told my companion that I doubted that I would ever live to see a play by Bertolt Brecht again performed there.* The plays which are chosen have to be ‘pre-sold’, meaning they must pander to the masses (i.e., Neil Simon). I don't know what the solution to this dilemma is (although I have consistently enjoyed the smaller ‘experimental’ productions in the Dowling Studio.) Because there isn’t so much at stake in that smaller venue the drama, rather than the production, remains the primary concern.
Concerning The Crucible (the play I saw last week), the production fulfilled the ‘New Guthrie’ criteria: competent, safe and uninspired.
I think I’ll have give the Guthrie (with the exception of the Dowling Studio) a pass for a while, there are too many other options and not enough time. Maybe it’s me?
*In the late sixties and early seventies, Brecht was a staple of the Guthrie repertory, with many highly acclaimed and successful productions. On a somewhat related note, Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle had its world premiere at the Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1948!