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Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion

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Nearly forty years after her controversial trip to Vietman, there are those who can't forgive Jane Fonda for her anti-war activism. This world-premiere staging in Santa Monica is bound to challenge both that notion and the commotion surrounding Fonda's foray against the American government's imperial adventurism in that southeast Asian country.

The play is written by Terry Jastrow and efficiently co-directed by the playwright and Michelle Danner. Anchored by the magnetic Anne Archer in the title role, the scenario is based on a real-life incident that unfolded in Waterbury, Connecticut on June 18, 1988.

Jane Fonda was set to start filming Stanley & Iris with her co-star, Robert De Niro. But a group of war veterans objected to Fonda’s presence in their hardscrabble New England town. In an effort to find a reconciliation of sorts between Fonda and the vets, the Oscar-winning actress agreed to meet with the former warriors – in spite of a warning from the opposing faction that she may need a bodyguard (ultimately no such security measures were required).

In Jastrow’s program note, the dramatist states, “There were no recording devices present (at the meeting).” Further, Jastrow writes, “The play is in no way an attempt to re-enact what happened (there).” It is, therefore, all the more remarkable how true the dialogue in "Jane Fonda" rings and how compelling this highly manufactured drama turns out to be.

With documentary-like effects, the narrative of the play is driven forward by archival footage from the Viet Nam era. We see black and white images of Jane Fonda sitting atop North Vietnamese weaponry projected on a huge TV screen hanging above center stage.  We witness, in living color, the carpet-bombing of the verdant Vietnamese countryside, as ordered by President Nixon. We are able to eavesdrop on a taped conversation between Nixon and then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Nixon is heard imploring Kissinger to “Think Big, Henry” with regard to nuking North Viet Nam; this after Kissinger suggested that such action might be “Too much.”

Anne Archer’s portrait of Jane Fonda is not at all a physical replication. Archer is a distinct beauty in her own right. Nevertheless, Archer captures the staunchness of Fonda as well as Fonda’s innate intelligence. And, believe it or not, we go away from this performance not only with fresh insights into the time period and historical circumstances, but also with a new-found (or, perhaps, renewed) empathy for Jane Fonda and her passion for peace.

The payoff comes after an intense dramatic arc through which Fonda attempts to come to terms with six other unyielding characters – all war veterans, each resentful of Fonda’s alleged “treason.”On display here is Fonda’s tenacious diplomacy and willingness to hear and respond to the complaints of the ex-soldiers. It is a lesson in courage and the therapeutic benefits of authentic interchanges among those who heartily disagree.

In addition to Chauntae Pink who bookends the show as a local TV reporter attempting to cover the Fonda forum, Ben Shields plays Fonda’s press agent and Steve Voldseth acts as pastor of the Episcopalian Church where the meeting is held.

But the dramatic conflict of Jane Fonda is found in the sparks created by the half-dozen recalcitrant characters encountered by Fonda at that makeshift summit. These roles are fully and masculinely  embodied by Terrence Beasor as Archie; Robert Foster as Tommy Lee; Marc Gadbois as Anthony; James Giordano as Buzzy; Jonathan Kells Phillips as Larry; and Don Swayze as Don Simpson.

On Chris Stone’s ingeniously taut set-design, this cast and crew of theater artist are able to convey the faceted sensibilities that are part and parcel of that long ago war’s legacy. What’s more, "Jane Fonda" begs the question of forgiveness. It’s been said that to understand all is to forgive all. This play provides for us a more complete understanding of our shared history. It’s up to each of us to discover forgiveness in our own hearts and minds.

Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion continues at the Edgemar Center for the Arts – 2437 Main Street, Santa Monica – through December 4. Show times are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Sunday performances are at 7 p.m. For reservations, dial (310) 392 – 7327. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.edgemarcenter.org.


 

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.