Saturday, December 31, 2011


This afternoon my middle brother and Joshua and I went downtown to attend a matinee performance of “Charley’s Aunt” at The Guthrie Theater. The classic comedy by Brandon Thomas was The Guthrie’s popular holiday offering this year; the production has played since late November, and will continue until mid-January.

The production was dreadful. The actors were a troupe of hams, grossly overplaying their parts. Of style and wit—and Englishness—there were none. The production was one of the most depressing things I have ever seen on the Guthrie stage. Summer stock in the Pocono’s surely is better than what we observed this afternoon. The director and cast members should be mortified over the vaudeville shtick they delivered to a paying audience.

There is something wrong with The Guthrie, and I have concluded that a change in management is necessary.

Guthrie productions are always beautifully designed. Stage design, costume design, lighting design: all are invariably exquisite. Current Guthrie management seems to have adopted a policy of “show them the money”: the company’s physical productions are lavish if not ostentatious.

However, the company increasingly seems to believe that a theatrical production begins and ends with the design team. If the public is presented with a conspicuously-costly production, The Guthrie views its mission as largely accomplished. Poor casting and poor direction, in the company’s eyes, are minor considerations if the physical production is sufficiently complex and sufficiently expensive-looking.

In this afternoon’s “Charley’s Aunt”, not a single actor onstage should have been cast in the play. No one onstage had a clue how to bring off a 19th-Century British comedy of manners. No one delivered dialogue skillfully, no one knew how to shape 19th-Century British prose, no one understood the class distinctions at work—and no one knew how to move onstage in a manner appropriate for his or her role.

The director was equally clueless. He had directed the production as if it were a television situation comedy, which led me to believe that he did not even understand the material. What is the point of presenting “Charley’s Aunt” if the production is directed like “The Odd Couple”?

It was a dispiriting afternoon.

My parents and my older brother and my sister-in-law had attended a performance of “Charley’s Aunt” earlier in the week. (My middle brother had stayed home to watch my nephew and niece that evening.) They had disliked the production, too, but they had been circumspect in articulating their thoughts about the production, not wanting to ruin the performance for us even before we had a chance to experience it and form our own opinions. In hindsight, I wish they had been forthcoming, and recommended that we stay home.

Like me, my parents are of the view that The Guthrie needs new leadership—with the proviso, in my father’s words, “Be careful what you wish for” (by which my father means that The Guthrie might end up with worse leadership than it has now).

Myself, I have witnessed my quotient of elaborate Guthrie physical productions in which the actors, ambling through massively-impressive stage settings, are insufficiently talented and insufficiently guided to warrant continued employment of either cast or director. A top-notch British director needs to be called in to get The Guthrie house in order, even if that would rile up a portion of the current Guthrie constituency (and would inevitably result in the wholesale dismissal of the current directorial house staff, none of whom would be missed).

Tonight’s New Year’s Eve Dinner was built around Norwegian fish balls. It was the second time this winter my mother has prepared Norwegian fish balls, which are not particularly easy to make, and we were all pleased to eat them a second time.

Our dinner began with lobster bisque, and continued with a minced-salmon/pasta salad, served cold. With the Norwegian fish balls we ate riced potatoes with cream and chives and a vegetable casserole made with fresh vegetables, cream, cheeses and bacon.

The dog was given beef tips and a serving of potatoes for his dinner. As a general rule, he does not like seafood, and we wanted to give him a dinner he would enjoy, especially since tonight was New Year’s Eve.

For dessert, we had Breudher (a Dutch New Year Cake made with cream, butter and raisins) for the second night in a row. My mother had baked eight Breudher cakes yesterday, three for the family and five as gifts—already delivered—for friends from church.

Tomorrow we shall have Norwegian fish chowder, another dish that is not particularly easy to make, for a special New Year Lunch. My mother made the chowder this afternoon while my brother and Josh and I were downtown suffering through “Charley’s Aunt”.

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