Director Addie Gorlin-Han was on standby for two debuts — one from heart and head, the other from her tummy.
She's staging her first mainstage solo show at the Guthrie Theater and it's the high-stakes family tradition "A Christmas Carol." Gorlin-Han hopes to infuse the story of Scrooge's transformation from misanthropic humbuggery to sprightly humanitarian with revelatory light.
But she will not get to see Friday's opening night performance of her handiwork in person for a splendid reason. She was heavily pregnant three weeks before opening with her second child and gave birth to a healthy boy on Nov. 10. Artistic director Joseph Haj took over directing "Carol" for the last week of preview performances.
The most produced work by America's nonprofit professional theaters, according to American Theatre magazine, "Carol" has been a family favorite and bestseller since 1975 at the Guthrie, where it grew over the years into an unwieldly bauble.
Since 2021, the Guthrie has been running Lavina Jadhwani's streamlined adaptation of the Dickens classic. It has been envisioned and staged by Haj with Gorlin-Han as his associate. She's remounting it with the same Scrooge, Broadway actor Matthew Saldivar, but with several new cast members. The show also has updates to the music and transitional dances.
Passing the baton
"This is a bit of a baton pass," said Haj. "Addie was there at the inception of this, and we've always known that she would take over in Year Three. There are new actors in the play and it's Addie's job to get them into the vision of the production."
Even before Gorlin-Han came aboard "Carol," the show served as a catalyst and signpost for her. She was a kid newly arrived in Minnesota from Boston when her Jewish grandmother, Marilyn Gorlin, gave her a Christmas stocking made from scraps of leftover "Carol" costumes. The stocking was made by Marilyn's close friend, Sasha Chervenka, who worked as a stitcher in the theater's costume shop.
At Chervenka's suggestion, Gorlin-Han tried out for a part as one of the young people in "Carol." She did not know the protocols of the industry and was totally untrained.
"They asked for a headshot, and I sent in a picture from camp," Gorlin-Han recalled. She sang an excerpt of "Cielito Lindo," a mariachi song she had learned in Spanish class at Breck School, for her audition.
Unsurprisingly, she did not get cast. But the experience fired her interest, and from then on, she would act in shows at Breck, where Tom Hegg, a longtime Guthrie actor and also an author, became one of her teachers. She also immersed herself in children's shows all over the Twin Cities, and would study theater at Dartmouth and Brown universities, where she earned an MFA in directing.
Haj became her mentor soon after his arrival in the Twin Cities in 2015. Gorlin-Han was his assistant director on "Pericles," the first show he directed at the Guthrie.
Gorlin-Han is smart and insightful, Haj said, adding that he trusts her fully with a show that both describe as a gift to this community.
"Franz Kafka once said of books that they're an ax to break the frozen sea inside us," Haj said. "In the world of plays, there's no better story to break the frozen sea inside us than 'A Christmas Carol.' It reminds us that we're responsible to something and someone other than ourselves, and that we belong in community and not in isolation."
And no one is better to swing that ax than Gorlin-Han, who is breaking not just ice but new ground with "Carol" by being a model of what is possible as an expectant mom working in the theater.
Of motherhood and miracles
In the rest of the world, pregnancy is an everyday miracle that moms navigate and work through. But in the entertainment world, it's still a tricky negotiation, owing to schedules and industry practices.
On TV and film, directors use angles and furniture to conceal the pregnancies of stars whose characters are not expecting. But in theater, family planning can be risky business even for industry pros who do not face the audience. There are costs and trade-offs associated with it, not to mention lost opportunities.
Early in her career, she was afraid to share anything on social media related to her first pregnancy for fear that she would not be hired. Gorlin-Han has been advised by mentors that she would have to choose between career and parenting, but that she may not have both.
"I remember that right after undergrad, I met with a woman who I admire and she said I had to choose between being a director and being a parent," Gorlin-Han said. "I felt so lost."
Now, as a director and associate producer at the Guthrie, she's offering a new model for an industry that's lagging in this area.
"Why do you have to choose? I don't think you do," Gorlin-Han said. "And being visibly pregnant means that I can illustrate that."
It may not be as dramatic a change as Scrooge's transformation in "Carol," but in an industry that still lags in many areas, including work-life balance, Gorlin-Han's example is probably just as important.
No humbug here.
'A Christmas Carol'
Who: Adapted by Lavina Jadhwani. Original direction by Joseph Haj. Remounted by Addie Gorlin-Han.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 & 7 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. next. Wed. Ends Dec. 30.
Tickets: $24-$134. 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.