My goodness gracious, my Guthrie is great!

Published 8:45 am Friday, April 2, 2010

Every so often I feel the urge to crawl out of my corner of urban sprawl, and drive deep into the Twin Cities for a little metropolitan delight. One of my favorite places is the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis’ historic Mill District. Last weekend I scored the holy grail of theater seats, fifth row center for “Brief Encounter.” It is the hugely popular play brought to the Guthrie, as part of its World Stage Series by Cornwall, England’s Kneehigh Theatre Company. The play’s run extends through April 10. Tickets are still available!

I know it’s an hour and a half’s drive from Albert Lea to Minneapolis, but this production is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so corral a babysitter, call in sick, hitchhike, DVR the Final Four, leave the laundry for next weekend. Do whatever you have to do to get there, but get there.

After a successful run in England, Kneehigh Theatre launched a stateside tour of this Noel Coward classic in only three cities: New York, San Francisco and Minneapolis. The production merges film, theater and music seamlessly in a romance told with both gravity and whimsy. From the moment I took my seat and the fuchsia current rose, I was in a giddy daze. “Brief Encounter” is the most surprised I’ve felt in a theater since my skirt fell off onstage during my high school production of “The Nutcracker,” but that’s a bird of a different column.

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I expected the melodrama of David Lean’s 1945 film of the same name where boy meets girl, boy and girl meet fate, and fate stomps all over boy and girl. What I got was so much more. Selections from Coward’s canon of jazzy standards are woven into the traditional narrative while the cast jumps in and out of film scenes and eases into song with the agility of plate spinners. The show asks its audiences to extend its willing suspension of disbelief enough to accept a heady multimedia experience without ever stretching it so far it snaps. The play is still the thing, but there is just the right amount of spectacle to be spectacular.

If fortune is against you and you can’t make it “Brief Encounter,” I encourage you to go to any production at the Guthrie. Of course not all plays meet everyone’s taste because not everybody drinks the same theater Kool-Aid, but I assure you I’ve never left that theater without my thirst quenched.

When I first enter the Guthrie, I feel a sense of awe much like I experience entering a cathedral except I don’t hear my dad’s voice saying, “The priest is not going to appreciate that red lipstick.”

The staff deftly administers the antidote to this awestruck feeling with genuine friendliness, and a sense of welcoming community takes over. It is not a place for culture snobs or elitists; instead it feels like a neighborhood playhouse that just happens to be housed in a building of architectural marvel that stages world-class theater.

The Guthrie radiates such a “we’re in this together” vibe that I know if I left the ladies room with my dress tucked into my pantyhose, any number of patrons or employees would rush to my rescue, and yes, it did happen. That’s the feeling of camaraderie that simmers jovially beneath the boil of heavyweights like Shakespeare, Williams, Coward and Ibsen.

I’ve seen productions conceived by many great directors at the Guthrie, but I would be remiss if I didn’t single out the wonder that is Artistic Director Joe Dowling.

When I find out Mr. Dowling is directing, I decide to go before I even know what the play is. I’d stand in line to see him direct an old episode of “Three’s Company” because he’d make it brilliant. I was in the audience for his gut-wrenching production of “Macbeth” over the weekend as well, which sadly closes April 3 (there’s still time!). As far as I am concerned, he is the Guthrie’s greatest asset.

Am I gushing? Am I laying it on pretty thick? Definitely, but it’s well deserved. I know venturing into the Cities takes effort and there are many diversions vying for our time and money: museums, sports, shopping and restaurants are just some of them. If you haven’t yet added the Guthrie to this list, check out and see what you’ve been missing.

There are still wonderful shows left in this season and next season’s offerings are due to be announced soon. You may come for a “Brief Encounter,” but I guarantee you will return again and again.

St. Paul resident Alexandra Kloster appears every other Friday. She may be reached at and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at