THEATER | “When We Are Married”: The Guthrie slides in safe at home


This Tuesday night, my family—like millions of others—will have the TV tuned to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game and the preceding Home Run Derby. What’s the point of the Home Run Derby? Given easy pitches, baseball’s best hitters handily knock one after another over the fence. A home run hit in the Home Run Derby isn’t nearly as thrilling as a touch-em-all blast fired in an actual game, but still, a homer is a homer. Such is the case with When We Are Married at the Guthrie: J.B. Priestley’s 1938 farce lofts a volley of softball laugh lines at a seasoned cast who, predictably, hit them out of the park.

The plot is the very quintessence of inoffensive amusement—the WLTE of dramatic scenarios. Three couples, meeting in 1908 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their joint wedding day, are surprised to learn that due to a technicality regarding the minister’s qualifications, they were never actually married. Learning this fact after a quarter-century of partnership, the couples are at first horrified, but gradually realize that the situation affords them an opportunity to reconsider whether they actually do want to be married. In the hands of Albee, Miller, or O’Neill, this might lead to a dark night of the soul; in a Kushner play it might be revealed that they’ve all been boinking each other anyway and thus are relieved to discover that at least they’re not adulterers. Priestley has no such cruel intentions: a little henpecking is the worst any of his characters are subjected to.

when we are married, presented through august 30 at the guthrie theater, 818 s. 2nd st., minneapolis. for tickets ($24-$60) and information, see

Show for show, the stage probably has more plum roles for seniors than does the screen, but nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see a show built almost entirely on an older cast. (In fact, the Guthrie cast seem oddly old even for their roles. The average age of marriage for women in 1883 was under 21, so the central characters in the play should be in their mid- to late 40s; all of the actors in this production, though, are—or are made to appear to be—in their mid-60s.) The actors in this production include Peter Michael Goetz, who has appeared in many plays and movies including both recent Father of the Bride films; Raye Birk, a multi-year Scrooge in the Guthrie’s Christmas Carol; and Sally Wingert, who has been in more than 75 Guthrie productions since 1985. They slide into this material like the comfy old suit it is, and gentle though the laugh lines may be, the actors nail every one with perfect pitch and precise comic timing.

Whatever your age, this is a show your parents will love. You may or may not love it yourself, but unless you’re a surly teenager bound and determined to be bored, you’ll find yourself laughing quite often. At the end of the brief second intermission, my date and I found ourselves in a small cluster of young adults standing around a trash can chugging beers as the PA exhorted us to return to our seats. We raised a silent toast, knocked ’em down, and slipped back into the theater for a final act of good clean fun.

Jay Gabler ( is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.

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