Path for Guthrie world premiere pleasant for creators
L-R: Roger Rees (photo by Tom Bloom), image from a promo poster, and Crispin Whittell (photo by Mike Habermann)
For years, actor and director Roger Rees has loved Ivan Turgenev's second novel, even though it never was all that popular outside of Russia. One issue? An awkward title that translates, at best, as "Home of the Gentry."
So when Rees teamed up with playwright Crispen Whittell to adapt the novel, they knew they needed a new title. Enter Shakespeare, and The Primrose Path.
"It is there in the 'Scottish Play' and Hamlet. It's about attractive ideas that very often lead to misery. It is a very apt title for the play. Things that look fancy may not be so good. If you eat a big piece of cake, you'll get fat," Rees says.
In the story, Lavretsky has fled Paris to return to his Russian estate. Jaded and lonely, Lavretsky finds hope in the guise of Liza, a young woman who promises to break him out of his spell.
"It is a beloved novel. It is funny and sad at the same time. The hero, Lavretsky, is desperately in need of a hug," Rees says.
Rees was the artistic director at the Williamstown Theatre Festival when he met Crispin Whittell, a young English playwright looking for a novel to adapt to the stage. "He read it and loved it," Rees says.
They met with Joe Dowling at the Guthrie, who signed on for the development. Along the way, Dowling liked what the playwright had to offer, as he had Whittell craft the new adaptation of A Christmas Carol that the Guthrie has used for the past three seasons.
Writing in the middle of the 19th century, Ivan Turgenev crafted a novel very much of the times, presaging the writing of Chekhov by 60-some years. "You see the seeds in all of these tumultuous pieces of Russian history and literature," Rees says.
That doesn't mean the story is for lovers of Russian literature only. "It's about everybody," Rees says. "Falling in love with someone can lead to embarrassment and heartache. All these things are universal."
For audiences, Rees is likely best known for his roles in front of the camera, as he has acted in shows like Cheers, The West Wing, and Elementary. As a director, he has had triumphs as well, including helming the Tony-Award-nominated Peter and the Starcatcher.
Developing the play in Minneapolis with the Guthrie has been a joy for Rees. "It is one of the three great [regional] American theaters. It is astonishing to be considered for development," he says. "It's a fantastic organization. Here is a parent figure for all the other great theaters and actors and writers in this town."
The company and creative teams feature a mix of local and national artists, including Kyle Fabel and Suzy Kohane as the romantic leads, along with Sally Wingert, Hugh Kennedy, and Candace Barrett Birk.
"I believe they will be deeply moved and enchantingly diverted by this funny and deeply human play. The theater holds the mirror up to nature. This is about our story and everyone's family, but it is wonderful and big and ravishing to look at," Rees says.
IF YOU GO:
The Primrose Path Opens Friday, through June 15 The Guthrie Theater 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis $29-$71 For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.
Photos: Roger Rees
Credit: Tom Bloom
Credit: Mike Habermann
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