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What do Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown ("This Is Us"), Oscar winner Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight") and Emmy nominee Morena Baccarin ("Homeland") have in common?

Before becoming charismatic screen stars, each spent a respective summer honing his or her craft at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Now a new crop of future stars is back at the theater for the Guthrie Experience, the company's graduate actor-training program.

The program, which serves as a bridge between school and the professional acting world, has drawn a myriad of talented artists from across the nation since it was launched by the late Kenneth H. Washington in 1997. He worked in tandem with Marcela Lorca, now artistic director of Ten Thousand Things Theater, from the start, and Lorca ran it after Washington's death.

Oye Ehikhamhen plays Estella in “Valor,” this year’s showcase production being staged at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio.
Oye Ehikhamhen plays Estella in “Valor,” this year’s showcase production being staged at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio.

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

Guthrie Experience returned this year after a four-year hiatus, with 10 performers hailing from places such as Brown University, University of California, Los Angeles and Juilliard School. Abigail C. Onwunali of Yale University is the assistant director of "Valor," the showcase production that tops off the experience and runs Wednesday through Sunday at the Guthrie.

The program has had a profound impact on the careers of dozens of theater artists but also on the field, Guthrie director Joseph Haj said in a statement. He added that it is "an absolute joy to welcome these vibrant artists into our theater community and [to] witness this vital program re-emerge with ingenuity under [director] Maija García."

García, a respected theater artist who served as creative director of the national tour of "Fela" and choreographed Haj's memorable production of "West Side Story" at the Guthrie, is the theater's director of education and professional training. She is the third leader of the Guthrie Experience.

This year's show is a departure from years past in that it is not a work devised by the company.

"Joe asked, what's emblematic of this theater?" García said, alluding to the reputation of the Guthrie as a home of the classics. "So, I said, challenge taken."

She looked at the usual suspects, including the Greeks, the Bard and Brecht before stumbling across a translation of a work from the Spanish Golden Age. It was "Valor, Agravio y Mujer" by Ana Caro de Mallén (known popularly as Ana Caro), a Spanish contemporary of Shakespeare.

Rodd Cyrus plays Don Juan and Nick Saxton is Tomillo during a rehearsal of “Valor” at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio.
Rodd Cyrus plays Don Juan and Nick Saxton is Tomillo during a rehearsal of “Valor” at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio.

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

Born into slavery and adopted by a wealthy family, Ana Caro grew to be one of the most notable Spanish poets and playwrights of her era. The play that we will see as "Valor" had been translated at UCLA for an initiative called Diversifying the Classics. García found the title used in that translation, "The Courage to Right a Woman's Wrongs," a bit clunky.

García sought and received permission to retitle it as "Valor," with a Spanish pronunciation but meaning the same as in English. Ana Caro's original Spanish title "splays your imagination open" with its three overarching concepts, García said.

A woman with power at the center

"Valor usually means courage in the face of battle and is not a word usually associated with women," García said. The second word, "Agravio," usually means outrage and grievance. "Mujer," of course, is Spanish for woman.

"The way Ana Caro presents these concepts, we land on 'woman.' So, it's almost like, 'And what will she do about it.' "

The "it" is a betrayal. For "Valor" is a revenge comedy of honor with a rare woman with full agency and power at the center. In the play, Leonor seeks revenge on Don Juan, who seduced her and promised to marry her before callously casting her aside.

Leonor dresses as a man, styled Leonardo, who, in turn, beats Don Juan at his own game. Leonardo wins the heart of Duchess Estrela, Don Juan's latest paramour and further inflames Don Juan by telling him that Leonor also is his.

Wracked by jealousy, Don Juan acknowledges his misdeeds and restores Leonor's honor by marrying her.

"When you first read the play, and even when you first see it, you think, this guy is a jerk, why is she going after him," García said. But she sees it as speaking to so-called cancel culture and to the movement for restorative justice.

In some African societies, when someone commits an offense, instead of casting them out, the offender has an opportunity to own up to their misdeeds in a public way — almost like mini truth and reconciliation commissions, García said.

"In our modern day ... it's so easy to cancel someone, to cast them out," García continued, adding that "Valor" is exciting because it's a classic that speaks to contemporary audiences even as it broadens the canon.

"Not only are we reintroducing an acclaimed playwright of the Spanish Golden Age who transcended her place and her time, we're also interrogating the play and refreshing it for our time," García said. "That's very exciting."

'Valor'

When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Fri.; 1 p.m. Sat. & Sun.

Where: Dowling Studio, Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.

Tickets: $20. 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org

Famous alums

Marcela Lorca, who helped run the Guthrie Experience for more than 20 years, spoke about some of the famous actors who participated in the graduate actor-training program.

Mahershala Ali, left, and Alex Hibbert in “Moonlight.” Ali won his first Academy Award in 2017 for his performance in “Moonlight” and a second Oscar two years later for his role in “Green Book.” They were both for Best Supporting Actor.
Mahershala Ali, left, and Alex Hibbert in “Moonlight.” Ali won his first Academy Award in 2017 for his performance in “Moonlight” and a second Oscar two years later for his role in “Green Book.” They were both for Best Supporting Actor.

David Bornfriend, A24/Associated Press

Mahershala Ali
Known for: Academy Awards for "Moonlight" and "Green Book."
At the Guthrie: "A Long Walk."
He came to the program questioning whether he wanted to be an actor at all.
"Mahershala was a very special actor — physically expressive with an incredibly big heart."

Morena Baccarin as Elena Federova, left, and Ryan Michelle Bathe as FBI agent Val in “The Endgame.”
Morena Baccarin as Elena Federova, left, and Ryan Michelle Bathe as FBI agent Val in “The Endgame.”

Eric Liebowitz, NBC

Ryan Michelle Bathé
Known for: Playing an FBI agent in "The Endgame." Also was in "First Wives Club."
At the Guthrie: "Twelfth Night" and "As You Like It."
Ryan and Sterling K. Brown were a couple when they came. "She's extraordinarily talented, deeply adventurous and very smart. She was hired immediately to be in Guthrie productions."

Sterling K. Brown as Randall in the NBC series, “This Is Us.”
Sterling K. Brown as Randall in the NBC series, “This Is Us.”

Ron Batzdorff, NBC

Sterling K. Brown
Known for: Emmy winner for "This Is Us."
At the Guthrie: "Intimate Apparel."
"Sterling is a singularly talented actor with a huge range and emotional availability ... he really is present with you. He's very warmhearted, very skilled. He can go to the dark depths and be a light comedian. You get a sense with him that there's always more there, he doesn't play all the cards, that he has something else to play, so you keep waiting for that."

Cassandra Freeman as Vivian Banks in “Bel-Air.”
Cassandra Freeman as Vivian Banks in “Bel-Air.”

Adam Rose, Peacock

Cassandra Freeman
Known for: Matriarch Vivian Banks in "Bel-Air."
At the Guthrie: "Intimate Apparel."
"Cassie is so full of life and talent. She's exuberant, a great comedian and just a lovely person. I remember her so fondly. Twenty years ago, actors of color were not as celebrated as they are now. One of the doors that Ken Washington opened, and both of us really cared about, was bringing diverse teams together."

Morena Baccarin had her breakout TV role, playing a courtesan, in “Firefly.”
Morena Baccarin had her breakout TV role, playing a courtesan, in “Firefly.”

Fox

Morena Baccarin
Known for: "Firefly" and "The Endgame."
At the Guthrie: "Blood Wedding."
"Morena was very young when she came to the Guthrie — she was still at Juilliard— but she was so talented. She was in the same group as Mahershala was in, so she got to work with a great team. We did this mythical and magical piece, 'A Long Walk,' about a lost people in a desert world that dealt creatively with a lot of issues of race. She was so talented that as soon as she graduated, I invited her to play the bride in 'Blood Wedding.' "

Ricardo Chavira as Peter Stockmann, left, and Billy Carter as Tom Stockmann in the Guthrie Theater’s production of “An Enemy of the People.”
Ricardo Chavira as Peter Stockmann, left, and Billy Carter as Tom Stockmann in the Guthrie Theater’s production of “An Enemy of the People.”

Dan Norman, Dan Norman Photography

Ricardo Chavira
Known for: Was the husband of Eva Longoria's character in "Desperate Housewives." Also played Selena Quintanilla Pérez's father in Netflix's "Selena: The Series."
At the Guthrie: "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "An Enemy of the People."
"Ricardo has worked with Mixed Blood Theatre. One of the things that was important for me was to introduce them to the Twin Cities communities."

Josh Radnor (Ted) proposes to Cristin Milioti (The Mother) in “How I Met Your Mother.”
Josh Radnor (Ted) proposes to Cristin Milioti (The Mother) in “How I Met Your Mother.”

CBS

Josh Radnor
Known for: "How I Met Your Mother."
At the Guthrie: Guthrie Experience showcase.
"Josh got that big series and is huge. One of the things that happens with actors who go to these major universities is that sometimes they come out with a lot of debt. If they get offered a TV series, they have to take it because they have these huge debt loads. One of our goals also was to affirm and reaffirm a love of theater so they knew they had choices in the years to come."