Guthrie Theater The Falls and
The same is true of The Falls, Jeffrey Hatcher's exploration of Minneapolis' history. Using St. Anthony Falls – a signature location in the city's downtown riverfront district – as a focal point, the play moves forwards and backwards in time, with the ever-changing waters of the Mississippi connecting the various characters. With Thornton Wilder's The Long Christmas Dinner as inspiration, The Falls brings all of that history and the people who made it to the Guthrie's new Dowling Studio theater.
Hatcher and the Guthrie worked with Los Angeles' Cornerstone Theater Company to craft the show, but the key contributions come from the residents of the area (which, not coincidentally, is the home of the new Guthrie). It is through these eyes that we see the area's history and culture unfold. That stretches from Father Hennepin, the French missionary who "discovered" (the area Native Americans knew damn well where it was) the Falls, to the modern day, when waves of immigrants have left their mark on the area.
Hatcher has done a good job encapsulating the history and character of the area without resorting to familiar Garrison Keillor or Fargo routines. Instead, there is a real sense of the people, from early settlers to rabid Vikings' fans, and how the unique landscape affects and changes them.
The story is messy, and the pace sometimes seems languid, but the stories all do pay off in the end. The same can be said of the acting. The cast is made up of theater professionals and local members of the community, and the gulf in their on-stage experience is very clear. Still, the earnestness of the performances win out in the end – you know these people are sharing their lives and experiences with you, and trust that the seasoned professionals do the same with their characters.
The Guthrie commissioned The Falls, I'm sure, as a way to connect to the community in its new home. But the location became a weakness in the end. While the space is a technical and theatrical marvel, it doesn't have any history of its own as of yet. In the show, one character is shocked that she isn't considered to be a local yet, even though she's lived there for 25 years. The same is true of the Guthrie, which creates distance between the action on the stage and the surrounding neighborhoods. Still, as a present to the community, The Falls certainly is a wonderful way to greet the community.
The Falls runs through Sept. 10 at the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. For tickets or more information, call 612-377-2224 or visit www.guthrietheater.org.
Photo © Michal Daniel, 2006
Messy history is also key to Last of the Boys, Steven Dietz's powerful new drama about the Vietnam War and its continuing affect on those who served and the rest of the nation. In the hands of a strong cast and the phenomenal direction of Bain Boehlke, the show not only brings back the era's tumult, but does a fine job of exploring the conflict that drags friends apart and hinting at the possibility of forgiveness for horrible sins of the past.
We follow Ben and Jeeter, two U.S. Army buddies who have stayed friends over the intervening decades. Cracks are showing, however. While Jeeter is a middle-aged hippy – a college professor who is deep into New Age philosophy and follows the Rolling Stones – Ben has retreated into himself, living alone in an ancient camper in an isolated part of California. Ben's father has just died, and while Jeeter attended the funeral, Ben did not.
Their tensions are only heightened by the arrival of Salyer, a restless woman that Jeeter has taken on his cross-country jaunt, and Lorraine, Salyer's mother. Both were affected by Vietnam from the home front. Lorraine's husband (and Salyer's father) was killed while serving in the undeclared war.
Yet in place of easy melodrama, Dietz digs deeper, bringing in Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense during the first half of the Vietnam War. Through this character, the politics of the conflict, and how that changed the lives of all the others in the story, come in sharp relief.
Dietz explores further than most stories about this era, and brings home the lingering affects it had on everyone. The script is sharp, both in its humor and drama. The cast is more than up to the task, led by a fine performance by Stephen D'Ambrose as Ben, the conflicted heart of the story. Extra credit goes to Boehlke, who gives the actors the space and time they need to not just bring their characters to life, but drive them into your heart.
Last of the Boys runs through Oct. 1 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis. For tickets and more information, call 612-822-7063 or visit www.jungletheater.com.