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Jitney

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Whether we call them The Pittsburgh Cycle or The Century Project, the late dramatist August Wilson’s ten plays assaying the African-American experience decade by decade throughout the 20th century is a singular accomplishment. Ninety percent of those plays are set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an area in which Wilson himself grew-up.


 Jitney, written in 1979 (and substantially revised in 1996), is the only one of Wilson’s scripts penned in the same decade in which it takes place. It is now receiving a sturdy, if slightly ponderous, staging at Costa Mesa’s renowned South Coast Repertory Theater, through June 11. Given straightforward  direction by Ron OJ Parson, the show is a little slower than it ought to be and slightly less engaging than it should be (the program says the staging with one intermission takes two hours and ten minutes; in reality the running time is two and a half-hours).

Still, even a less than perfect production of a Wilson play is a cut above what the majority of contemporary (and capable) playwrights have to offer audiences. The plot is thin and sinewy; it’s about rogue cab drivers working to make ends meet in a section of the city where white taxi drivers dread to tread. But the ambiance is thick, and the characterizations are richly textured.

Becker (a credible Charlie Robinson) runs the under-the-table operation with an authoritative hand, but overseeing a company full of cabbies is akin to herding Siamese cats. Throw into the mix a motor-mouthed gossip called Turnbo (played with relish by Ellis E. Williams), a lady’s man named Youngblood with girl troubles (a jovially intense Larry Bates), a quietly conciliating Doub (James A. Watson, Jr.),  and a boozing driver dubbed Fielding (David McKnight), and we have a motley squad of workaday people struggling for their daily fares.

When we learn that Becker has a 39 year-old son, Booster (a commanding Montae Russell), who’s been released from state prison after serving 20 years for homicide (he killed a woman who falsely accused him of rape), the anticipation heightens. Will Becker be the forgiving father Booster wants and needs, or will Becker disown the offspring on whom he had placed such high expectations?

With gunplay that defies the old Chekov axiom that when a pistol is introduced in act one, it must be shot by play’s end, the dramatic stakes are raised as is the hair on audience members’ heads. And, with lines of dialog debating who is more beautiful, Lena Horne or Sarah Vaughn, or suggesting that we oughtn’t  “… put (our) business in the street,” we get testosterone soaked verbiage that sounds authentic and appears real.

On a detailed set-design by Shaun Motley showing the grime and grind of a driver’s day, and with characters sporting loud, period-pitched costumes of the era by Dana Rebecca Woods, we theatergoers do get the sense of being transported back to the day. Also, Brian J. Lillenthal's mood-altering lighting design and Vincent Olivieri's sound effects accentuate the rawness and emotionality evident throughout the production.

Despite the magnetism of the robust cast (which also includes Rolando Boyce as Shealy; Greg Daniel as Philmore; and Kristy Johnson as Rena – holding her own against this otherwise all male ensemble), and regardless of Wilson’s word-wealthy script, there is too much tedium still present in the show. Indeed, director Parson would be wise to take a note from another auteur, Billy Wilder: Less is more.

Jitney continues at South Coast Rep – 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa – through June 11. Evening performances are Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Thursday – Saturday night shows are at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For reservations, dial (714) 708 – 5555. For online ticketing, visit www.scr.org.

 

Spotlight

Hollywood Fringe Awarded 10K from National Endowment for the Arts

Hollywood, CA -- The Hollywood Fringe Festival is proud to announce that it has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Art Works grant of $10,000 to support the Fringe Scholarships program. This grant stems from more than $82 million approved by NEA Chairman Jane Chu to fund local arts projects and partnerships. The Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields.

“Hollywood Fringe began only seven years ago and has grown into a festival reaching tens of thousands of people,” says Festival Director Ben Hill. “This funding allows us to sustain that growth by supporting artists and programming that is diverse, inclusive, and relevant to the local community. We are truly honored to have been selected a recipient."

The Fringe Scholarships program strives to provide a platform for artists to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view, by offering unique and underserved artists scholarships to participate in the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Scholarships will be awarded to artists whose festival participation will increase festival attendance and participation by local Hollywood residents, increase arts participation of ethnically diverse and/or low-income artists, and enrich audience experience through the presentation of unique, underrepresented themes and/or narratives.

“The arts are all around us, enhancing our lives in ways both subtle and obvious, expected and unexpected,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Supporting projects like the one from Hollywood Fringe Festival offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”

ABOUT HOLLYWOOD FRINGE

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual, open-access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community. Each June during the Hollywood Fringe, the arts infiltrates the Hollywood neighborhood: Fully equipped theaters, parks, clubs, churches, restaurants and other unexpected places host hundreds of productions by local, national, and international arts companies and independent performers. The 2016 festival runs June 9th - 26th and offers over 1,400 performances in over 30 venues.

Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored. This free-for-all approach underlines the festival’s mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer. Additionally, by creating an environment where artists must self-produce their work, the Fringe motivates its participants to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurialism in the arts. 

Want more information? Contact us at press@hollywoodfringe.org or by visiting the website at www.HollywoodFringe.org/press.

 
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.