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PEN/MAN/SHIP by Christina Anderson is a new play being presented at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco under the direction of Ryan Guzzo Purcell. Anderson's tale presents a world-of-the-play with well-defined characterizations, historical and social symbolism, interesting ironies, contrasting imageries, and challenging points-of-view.

The play tells the story of four black people en route to Liberia, an African colony of freed slaves in 1896.  Charles (Adrian Roberts) who is with his son, Jacob (Eddie Ray Jackson), and Jacob’s female companion, Ruby (Tangela Large), are sailing in an old whaling ship, The Turner, with a crew of all black men.  One crew member, Cecil, (Tyee Tilghman) serves as a confidant to Charles.   Each role is performed with impeccable skill and detail, and the audience empathizes with the characters as their strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and failings are worked through.


Charles has been hired by a group of financiers to assess a plot of land in Liberia for the development of a penal colony to house black criminals from the U.S.   This purpose has not been divulged to anyone as Charles suspects that some may choose to put an end to his effort.

Jacob is a devoted, dutiful son whose prior indiscretions have resulted in a dire financial situation from which Charles is desperate to recover.

Ruby has been invited to join the journey by Jacob. She is determined never to set foot again on U.S. soil as she has suffered personal, racial persecution and the Supreme Court has recently handed down the "separate but equal" decision.

Charles's fears come to fruition as Ruby presses to know the true purpose of the voyage.  She persuades the crew to stop the ship in the middle of the ocean until the truth is divulged, but Charles, through his stubbornness, fear, and self-imposed isolation commits a selfish act of treachery and deception that leads to his ultimate demise.

The powerful, intense action of the play is staged in the hold of the ship, but the significant plot points take place outside of the small, cramped rooms of the stage.  The intentions of the actors' dialogue are clearly calculated, deliberate, determined and effective, and the confined quarters magnify the conflict between the characters.  Unfortunately, the descriptions of the offstage occurrences serve as a deterrent in effectively building the tension and clearly explaining the intensifying conflicts, and the confined spaces present visual sight line problems while upstage entrances and exits are awkward and uncomfortable as the actors duck underneath a suspended wall.

The technical aspects of the play are otherwise highly effective, and the production team of Angrette McCloskey (scenery), Ray Oppenheimer (lighting), Sara Huddleston (sound), Antonia Gunnarson (costumes), and Jacquelyn Scott (properties) deserve kudos for their beautiful contributions to a fine, well-coordinated performance.

The drama runs through June 15, 2014. $20-$60.  Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., S.F. (415) 441-8822.



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.