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Every Five Minutes

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San Francisco’s Magic Theatre’s Artistic Director, Loretta Greco, has staged the world premiere of Linda McLean’s Every Five Minutes, but shortly into the performance I began to wonder why.

The play concerns poor Mo (Rod Gnapp), who has been abducted, tortured, and held sleepless and isolated for the last 13 years and is now reunited for a dinner celebration of his newly found freedom with his wife, Sara (Mia Tagano), and close friends, Ben (Sean San José) and Rachel (Carrie Paff), who have suffered and devoted themselves to achieving Mo’s release during his imprisonment.

 

Through the course of the pre-dinner conversation, Mo lapses into and out of a long series of intense memories of his life prior to and during his imprisonment.  These experiences are heightened in an expressionistic style by the Magic’s creative team of Scenic and Lighting Designer Eric Southern, Costume Designer Alex Jaeger, Sound Designer Sara Huddleston, and Video Designer Hana Kim.  Without the effective support of these technical elements, the audience's sense of Mo's chaos and confusion would have little chance of making any sense at all.

 

McLean never provides any background exposition for Mo’s persecution, and in spite of the performers’ tremendous skill in making acting moments believable, frightening, and intimate, it is not possible for this viewer to really care about his plight.  Perhaps the playwright’s intention is for us to feel compassion for someone who is subjected to an abusive situation without regard for any compelling circumstances.  She uses the symbol of water repeatedly during Mo’s imprisonment scenes, and I can only infer that she is saying that random, irrational suffering leads a human being through purgation and cleansing to find salvation and solace.

To further alienate the audience from sympathizing or empathizing with Mo, his captors are portrayed by two buffoons, Bozo the Clown (Patrick Alparone) and Harpo Marx (Jomar Tagatac), who are neither funny nor menacing.  Their initial entrance includes a clichéd, simultaneous mime entrance that does not display any special skill in comic clowning, and their bits with scooters, tricycles, and wheeled bathtubs, and as drag chorus-girls are anything but spectacular physical theatre.

The play’s final scene involves the arrival of Ben and Rachel’s teenaged daughter Molly (Shawna Michelle James) to the dinner.  She has been raised with affectionate stories and visual images of Mo that are provided by her parents.  As Mo begins to lapse into one more of his intense flashbacks, the dinner attendees try to bring him to consciousness by drawing his focus to concrete objects in the room.  During this attempt at redirection, Molly inadvertently produces a succession of loud, flatulent emissions, and the party then settles into what seems to become a pleasant evening.  Somehow, this gaseous, unintentional symbolic act of an innocent child provides me with a glimmer of a moral for the entire play.  Life can be a stinker, but eventually the unpleasantness will dissipate.

Most mysteriously inaccessible to me is the play’s title which, in theory, should provide a clue to the essential meaning of the play.  Just how does Every Five Minutes relate to the thematic message?  Is it because Mo is overcome by his horrors every five minutes?  Every five minutes I look around and see audience members shifting in their seats from one bun to the other, grimacing at the person next to them with a helpless shoulder shrug, looking at their watches, turning the pages of the program, and even a few walking out long before the conclusion.

The production has many redeeming qualities, but the script misses the mark when it comes to engaging the audience and moving them on a visceral level.

Every Five Minutes runs through April 20, 2014. $20-$60. Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, S.F. 90 minutes sans intermission. (415) 441-8822. www.magictheatre.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.