Spotlight: The Falls

Michael Dixon

And so it goes that the physical space in which we live tends to serve up the hardiest of metaphors. In our case, we live on either side of the Mississippi River, which has probably spawned poetic images in sufficient quantity to rival the number of fish that have swum between its banks. "A waterfall is always the same. But it changes every moment while you stare at it. It's never the same waterfall," said playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, reached last week and obligingly going with the flow in regard to his new play, The Falls. Opening for previews this Saturday before its official premiere next Wednesday, The Falls inaugurates the Guthrie's Dowling Studio in a collaboration with Los Angeles' Cornerstone Theater Company. It's based loosely on Thornton Wilder's The Long Christmas Dinner, but the deeper waters of its inspiration derive from the people who have arrived and made a go of life around St. Anthony Falls in the long now of history: Victorian-era women, 20th-century immigrants, Somali families, and, crucially, Vikings fans. "The play is about the space, more than anything else, in which the new Guthrie has found itself," Hatcher added. "It's about the many different communities clustered around the falls. It goes back and forth in time, sometimes moving sideways, sometimes sliding through time." Cornerstone's usual mode of operation is to adapt a classic work for modern themes; for instance, a recent production cast Romeo and Juliet through the prism of interracial romance. The concept of depicting the inhabitants of the upper Mississippi through time proved a bit less tidy, though Wilder's use of a dinner setting was a sturdy enough ship for Hatcher to pack everyone on board. The new Guthrie's aerial perspective on St. Anthony Falls has broadened the way the city looks at itself, and The Falls aims to do the same. "Joe (Dowling) has been talking about Tyrone Guthrie coming to town and wanting to build on the Mississippi," Hatcher said. "And one of the things that struck me was how, when something new comes to that part of the river, the dynamic changes immediately. It's about a clash of cultures, obviously, but also the fact that when someone new walks into the room you reorganize all of your perspectives again."

 
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