Al & Tipper Gore: Life imitates art (dissolving marriages on local stages)

Categories: Theater
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Michal Daniel
Angela Timberman as Marty in "Circle Mirror Transformation": one of the people in that mirror might not be married to her much longer
​The mysteries of why any couple stays together or splits apart are pretty much unfathomable, even to the people involved, though it was a surprise this week when Al and Tipper Gore called it quits after 40 years. After taking in recent local theater shows, though, maybe we should have seen something like this coming. 

There was the just-closed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Jungle, which depicted marriage as an alcohol-soaked battlefield of mutually reinforcing sickness. It was a show in which a husband picked a bouquet of flowers from the garden, then proceeded to throw them at her (one at a time, like javelins). 

Meanwhile, the Guthrie is offering up a trifecta of marital disfunction. In M. Butterfly, a lonely foreign-service employee is stuck in a passionless marriage and embarks on a long-term affair with an opera singer whom he thinks is a woman but is really a man. An endorsement of marriage it ain't (although it does seem to recommend gender-verification measures at some point during extra-marital activities). 

Down the hall at the Guthrie proscenium, we have Dollhouse. Rebecca Gilman's Ibsen update features a couple circling one another amid a web of control, deceit, disrespect, and evasion. It's a take on contemporary middle-class marriage as a sham and a facade, and Gilman writes a surprise ending that ratchets up the pain in a strange, sideways fashion.

Take the elevator upstairs to the Dowling Studio, and you have Circle Mirror Transformation. Annie Baker's story of a small acting class in a Vermont community center is a fascinating group character study, depicting (among other things) affections sliding between people in ways appropriate and not, and (wait for it) a marriage that hides all kinds of disconnect beneath its placid surface. 

Of course art imitates life, and vice versa. I was at halftime at a Guthrie show recently and noted to the person next to me that every play I seem to watch lately features a failing marriage. Out in the real world, the Gores call it quits after four decades. You simply can never entirely predict where these stories are going to take us. 

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