Saturday, June 20, 2009

Caroline, or Change at the Guthrie

Poster for the Guthrie's production of Caroline, or Change
I waited until the second-to-last day of the run, but finally managed to see Tony Kushner's Caroline, or Change at the Guthrie today. I'm really glad I did because it was a revelation.

It sounds like an odd idea for a musical -- a woman sings in the basement while doing the laundry, accompanied by an anthropomorphic washer, dryer and radio; a family has a tense hanukkah celebration; people mourn (or don't mourn) the assassinated JFK. The closest thing to a pivotal plot point is when the child Noah leaves a few coins in the pocket of his pants as they go into the laundry hamper.

As Dave Hawley at MinnPost said, it's not so much a musical as an opera. I've never understood opera, but if this is what opera is, I guess I like opera.

Hawley also said "the Guthrie's production is one of those transcendent events that one experiences only rarely in a lifetime of going to the theater." I don't have enough experience with theater to judge that, but I can say it was a completely seamless, emotionally moving whole, from the music and singing to the acting, sets and costumes. I know I'm a bit of a soft touch, but it made me cry several times, and I felt no qualms at all about joining the standing ovation at the end.

But its heart is in the book and lyrics. It's a pleasure to see a writer draw together so many unspeakable topics -- race and discrimination, religion, class, death, how change happens, and who gets hurt. It's hard to believe it was all done in just a bit over two hours.

It wasn't cathartic, because none of the problems were solved, and people still failed to communicate about the thorny subjects surrounding them. But Kushner allows a glimpse of hope, and that feels like enough.

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