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Barrie: Back to Back

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Most of us associate James Matthew “J.M.” Barrie with his evergreen story, Peter Pan. But it’s regretful that the archetypal Pan fairytale has overshadowed the rest of Barrie’s substantial literary canon. After all, over a long lifetime spanning from 1860 (Barrie was born in Scotland) to 1937, Barrie became a journeyman author whose bibliography is evidence not only of his stellar work ethic but also of his palpable aesthetic sensibilities.

Currently two fine examples of Barrie’s flair as a dramatist are on display at Venice’s Pacific Resident Theatre. Packaged and billed by PRT as Barrie: Back To Back, we are treated to a couple of Barrie one-acts. The initial staging is from a 1912 script and is titled Rosalind (though the program erroneously puts the year at 1914).   The second play was written in 1918 and is called The Old Lady Shows Her Medals. Seeing each show is nearly equivalent to swallowing a sweet-treat of a time-capsule that catapults you back to a century ago.

Rosalind is about an actress (director Dana Dewes effectively understudying for Lesley Fera at the reviewed performance) who is acclaimed for her characterization of the role of Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The celebrated thespian’s alter-ego is Beatrice Page, an inventively sensuous and quite-a-bit younger stage performer.

When Charles Roche, a callow male admirer (remarkably embodied by Kevin Railsback) comes calling to express his infatuation for Miss Page, he is admonished by the graying matron, who Charles at last encounters, to “never ask an actress’ age.”

In casting corridors, the rough rule-of-thumb is that an actor can play a decade younger or older than themselves. But, in order to perform the part of Rosalind, the player must age from twenty-nine years-old to somewhere in her mid-forties. The trick in Barrie’s conceit is that the diva here must accomplish the opposite. To once again become the coveted love-object of young Charles, the grand actress retrofits herself into the twenty-something Beatrice Page.

Not only is this a sensational feat for the protagonist in Barrie’s play, it is also an interpretive challenge for the actual actress portraying that character. Nevertheless, Dewes, doing double duty both as able auteur and lead performer, does not disappoint, and neither does the rest of this cast—including Ann Bronston as the servile Dame Quickly.

After a fifteen-minute intermission, theatergoers gather for the second Barrie-tale on the playbill, The Old Lady Shows Her Medals. As it begins, we see several women seated around a dining table at Mrs. Dowey’s basement home in London. As World War 1 rages across the European Continent, these London Ladies congregate to recount the stories of their off-to-battle boys, while also sharing the mail they’ve received from their sons in war. The undertone of the women’s exchanges soon takes on an air of one-upmanship as each lady attempts to outdo the other in tales of her offspring’s professed love and purported acts of heroism.

Soon we learn that Mrs. Dowey (a terrific Penny Safranek) has been less than honest with regard to her supposed son. When the soldier she’s claimed as her child, Kenneth Dowey (the marvelous Joe McGovern) shows up after having his arrival loudly announced by the local clergyman, Mr. Willings (a convincing William Lithgow), Mrs. Dowey suddenly has a lot of explaining to do. The revelations here are heartfelt and heartrending.

Though Old Lady is a tragedy-tinged drama through-and-through, the comedic moments are so spritely as to serve as light counterpoints to the cavernous despair that is inherent in Old Lady’s mise en scene.

What’s more, it is players such as the women in Old Lady’s opening scene—Roses Prichard as Mrs. Twymley and Ann Bronston ( also featured in Rosalind) as Mrs. Mickleham—prattling on about their various sons-in-service, who put the label of character into the notion of character actor. These pros and their fellows are as good as it gets when it comes to the craft of acting. That these performances are rendered in a manner that seems both effortless and true is striking in a way that is purely and uniquely theatrical.

Further, directors Dewes and Marilyn Fox (who, with Dewes, co-directs The Old Lady and Her Medals) oversee a crew of stage craftsmen who are able to segue from one show to the other with ease. Nick Santiago’s set design is so evocative of the era and culture from which the stories spring that we speedily suspend our disbelief, easily carried away by the fast rising action of each play.

Also, Audrey Eisner’s costumes (including the kilt worn winningly by McGovern appear as if they were found, well-preserved, in a suitcase from the 1900s. Along with William Wilday’s lighting and Keith Stevenson’s sound design, these production elements add up to a total theatrical experience weighted with authenticity and loaded in verisimilitude.

Barrie: Back To Back offers trips to a hundred years ago. Get a ticket and get onboard. You’ll be Barrie-Happy you did. Pacific Resident Theatre is located at 703 Venice Boulevard, Venice. Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 3 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, dial (310) 822 – 8392. For online ticketing and further information go to www.PacificResidentTheatre.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.