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Paul Robeson

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He was a graduate of Columbia Law School (1922). Before that, he attended Rutgers University on an academic scholarship, where he was an All-American football player, and the first African-American ever to enroll in the university. After his schooling was complete, he won international praise as a singer, and he acted on stage and in film. Later he became a noted political activist – railing against fascism and social injustice. His association with communism resulted in his being blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy era and unable to work in the film industry for several years.

Who was this remarkable 20th century man? His name is Paul Robeson, and his story would certainly qualify as an entry in Howard Zinn’s controversial text, A people’s History of the United States, if there were ever a volume two. After Zinn’s death in 2010, however, another edition of A People’s History…seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, for those interested in the life and/or times of Paul Robeson, Los Angeles’s Ebony Repertory Company is presenting, through April 20, Phillip Hayes Dean’s 1979 biographical play, Paul Robeson. Also directed by the playwright (Dean should have enlisted a more objective eye to helm this effort, and to edit the script), Paul Robeson is essentially a one-man show – though pianist Byron J. Smith is on stage performing from the start to the finish of this nearly three-hour production, often fulfilling narrative and voice-over duties. Still, the bulk of this heavyweight drama is on the back of Keith David, who does tow the show along without quite reaching the gravitas of the actual Robeson, either in physical presence or voice (Robeson was a basso; David is a high baritone).

The production values here are high in quality, but minimal in terms of the scenic design (by Edward E. Haynes Jr.). Aside from several decorative chairs, which seem suited for seating at a royal repast on the grand proscenium stage (of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center) and a grand Steinway piano at center, it is the lighting (by Dan Weingarten) that provides the focus of this staging, effortlessly guiding our eyes from one scene to the next. Further, the costuming (by Wendell C. Carmichael) is formal but timeless tuxedo-wear, fitting the proceedings perfectly.

Unfortunately, Dean’s script is a by-the-numbers affair, literally. The two acts are ordered more or less chronologically, and – in the program – assigned numbers; act one, for example, includes, “Rutgers: I. Waiting Room II. Cafeteria III.Winants Hall,” etc.  While this provides a historical and geographical context, it also results in a presentation more didactic than dramatic, more pedantic than theatrically pleasing.

For a play worthy of the legacy of the courageous and multitalented Paul Robeson, Dean should consider revising the script to include several other characters, greater enactment of conflict, and more dialogue (rather than monologue). This would allow for the combustion of chemistry among the performers that could energize the proceedings and more fully engage the audience. With apologies to Professor Zinn, this is, after all, theater – not a textbook lecture.

Paul Robeson continues at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, through April 20. The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center is located at 4718West Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles. Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 3 p.m. (schedule varies). For reservations, call (323)964-9766. For online ticketing and further information, visit



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.”


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.