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Vigil

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Vigil, Morris Panych’s 1995 play now onstage at Los Angles’ Mark Taper Forum, through December 18, is a cruel comedy laden with unnerving action and disquieting dialog. Schematically directed by Panych, the show opens with arrival of Kemp at the home of the bedridden Grace, his terminally ailing aunt.

It’s been three decades since Kemp has seen his Aunt Grace, but suddenly Kemp has left his banking job and has taken it upon himself to provide a sort of hospice care for Grace. Though Grace has requested it, Kemp’s motivation as a would-be caretaker is based solely on his desire to be the heir to Grace’s will. Not that Grace has much to offer her inheritor. She lives in apparent urban squalor; confined to a junk-strewn room, she whiles the way the hours in silence.

Kemp, on the other hand, is verbose, self-absorbed, and quite difficult to like. With Kemp making disheartening comments such as “Let’s not talk about anything depressing,” followed by, “Do you want to be cremated?” he is kept so obviously out of range of compassion and so void of empathy that it’s our natural inclination to despise him. And that’s where much of the problem lies in this two-character play: The despicable Kemp has the lion’s share of dialogue in this two-hour (with one intermission) production; so much so that the script actually amounts to a running harangue of a monologue delivered by the unenviable Kemp.

The design quality of Vigil is high. Ken MacDonald’s costuming, as well as his slightly abstract scenic display is effectively morose. The assisted-suicide contraption supposedly constructed by Kemp is a Rube Goldberg sort of sight-gag. Cricket S. Myers’ sound motif is appropriately evocative, as is Meg Roe and Alessandro Julian’s original music and various acoustic contributions. Additionally, Alan Brodie and Robert Hahn’s lighting is indispensible to the proceedings.

The issue is with Panych’s monotonous conceit. Kemp, as characterized by Marco Barricelli, bellows, moans, and berates Grace with a vengeance that can only be described as elder abuse. Kemp, as portrayed by Barricelli, appears irredeemable. Nevertheless, those audience members who remain for the show’s duration (several theatergoers left early) are stuck with this insufferable misanthrope.

The tragedy of this misguided staging exists in the casting of the singular Olympia Dukakis in the nearly thankless and mostly mute role of Grace. Though Dukakis brings a sly wit to this generally stealth part, it still seems to be a large waste of her enormous talent.

Vigil last about 120 minutes and the payoff is a one-note joke and a couple of surprise comments by Dukakis’ character. I wish I had my minutes back.

Vigil continues at the Mark Taper Forum – 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles – through December 18. Show times are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m. Matinees are on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. Sunday evening performances are at 6:30 p.m. (with no nighttime show on Sundays, December 4 and 18). For reservations, dial (213) 628 – 2772. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.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.