Sunday’s (3/19/06) review of the new Guthrie Theater season by Rohan Preston in the Star Tribune is just one more example of the snobbish elitist attitude of the arts and croissants crowd. The new season isn’t bold enough. It isn’t new enough. It isn’t politically correct.
By Mr. Rohan’s admission, and the Guthrie’s own mission statement, the purpose of the Guthrie is to be “devoted to the traditional classical repertoire that has sustained us since our foundation and to the exploration of new works from diverse cultures and traditions.” This they have done over the years, performing works by Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Shaw, Williams, Stoppard and Fugard.
Mr. Rohan says that the Guthrie “has retreated into the safety of the familiar at exactly the moment when it needs to assert a grand vision and bold leadership through its play selection.” Well, perhaps another view is that the theater has stayed true to its vision of performing a “traditional classical repertoire.” The 2006 – 2007 season includes Shaw’s “Major Barbara”, Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, and Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” It also includes a new play, “The Great Gatsby” and a piece called “Boats on a River” by Julie Marie Myatt. There’s room for all genres. The Guthrie is already that big and they’ve been doing experimental work for years. As a matter of fact, I’d love to see a Shakespeare play that wasn’t so experimental.
What’s wrong with including some crowd pleasers such as Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” or the musical “1776” along with lesser known works. The bills have to be paid, after all, and it’s no shame to want to spend an evening at the theater that provides pure enjoyment. In 1971 audiences enjoyed “Cyrano de Bergerac and The Taming of the Shrew, both of which were artistic and box office successes.” The current director, Joe Dowling brought us “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, described as “the Guthrie's most attended play ever.” (Again quoting from the Guthrie’s website.)
Mr. Rohan gives his agenda away when he says, “ Myatt and …Barbara Field are the only women playwrights on the bill. Only one female director was named. And there are no playwrights or directors of color in the announced line-up.” Are we looking for good theater or an affirmative action utopia? Who cares what gender the playwrights and directors are or what color they are? Is it more important to fulfill some artificial political agenda or bring the ticket-buying public the entertainment they want? I’d think that the Guthrie, or any theater, would be more interested in filling seats.