Director Honors Friend and Colleague in TRP's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Dani Pazurek, Anna Olson, Thalia Bea Kostman, and McKinnley Aitchison.

Dani Pazurek, Anna Olson, Thalia Bea Kostman, and McKinnley Aitchison.

Dann Peterson has a longtime love for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. He's a fan of the famed 1969 film, which earned star Maggie Smith an Academy Award. As a (now retired) teacher, he connects to the story, which is set in a 1930s boarding school in Edinburgh.

"A friend and former colleague played the role in the mid-'80s. When I saw her do it, I thought she was terrific. I thought, 'Someday, I want to direct that show,'" he says.

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So when the opportunity to helm the play at Theatre in the Round came up, Peterson jumped at the chance. He also brought his friend Marsha Smith on board as an assistant director and dramaturg for the show.

But the plans were not to work out. Smith passed away in November from cancer. "She had already done the dramaturgy work. I had to go ahead with this project, and have dedicated this production to her," Peterson says.

The production also continues a longtime relationship with TRP. Peterson first performed with the company in the late 1960s in Hay Fever, just as he was starting his career as an English and drama teacher in Roseville. Since then, he's performed and directed in dozens of shows at the longstanding Minneapolis theater.

"I love this space. It has great challenges, but also great intimacy," he says. "I have a fondness for the concept of TRP and the people who are here. They demonstrate a real love for what they do."

The play follows the titular character at the Blaine School for Girls in the early 1930s. Miss Jean's magnetic personality and unorthodox teaching methods make her a magnet in the school, for both her students and the other teachers.

In the core role of Miss Jean, Peterson cast Anna Olson.

"I was not looking for a mimic of Maggie Smith. I wanted someone I knew had strong chops as an actress and could carry such a strong part," Peterson says. "[Olson] is really just marvelous in the role. She has made it her own."

Early on, Peterson decided that the actors would employ Scottish accents for the production. Jean Wolff was brought in to work on the dialects.

"She listened and helped them to get the accents right. We didn't want to go so far that an American audience wasn't going to understand them," Peterson says. "We started early, and that allowed them to get comfortable with their words before we worked on pace. Then we could let the meaning -- and the irony, innuendo, and humor -- come through."

Peterson hopes audiences will enjoy the production, and be able to see the work done by his longtime colleague and friend, Marsha Smith.

"Even if one or the other was the director, the other would be around for auditions and usually helped with any problems that came up," Peterson says of their years working together in Roseville. "We always supported each other through the rehearsal process."


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Friday through February 1 Theatre in the Round Players 245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis $22 For tickets and more information, call 612-333-3010 or visit online.