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The Country House

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Most of the appeal of this Donald Margulies play is in the upper-crust Berkshires home this family of actors has created. The ceiling doesn’t leak during summer downpours, the doors and windows remain open because no baddies are around to pilfer or maim, and the highest level of anxiety its members confess, at least openly, is the difficulty in memorizing lines for their Williamstown Theatre Festival starring roles. What Halcyon days.

Daniel Sullivan directs here as smoothly and crisply as the script calls for. The lolling conversations pass by pleasantly, and the timing-critical moments play well, particularly at the Act 1 curtain’s visual joke. But it seems a long slog to get to that joke, probably because of all the exposition required to set up characteristics of and relationships among the characters.

These personages include matriarch Anna (Blythe Danner), who devoted her life to the theater, likely ignoring both her children, one of whom died one year before this gathering. Anna’s surviving son, Elliot (Eric Lange), simmers in self-loathing and survivor’s guilt. His sister left behind a husband, Walter (David Rasche), and daughter, Susie (Sarah Steele). Two outsiders mess further with the dynamic: flirtatious actor Michael (Scott Foley), who’s here because his rental doesn’t smell quite right, and Walter’s new fiancée, Nell (Emily Swallow), whose presence galls the still-grieving family members.

The script’s relationships, and quips, evoke Chekhov’s plays. Elliot, deeply in need of his mother’s attention and affection, has turned from nonworking actor to first-time playwright. He had been in unrequited, perhaps even unsuspected, love with Nell more than a decade before. Susie is remarkably dour for one so young, dresses in dark colors, and falls for inappropriate men, but she has a wry sense of humor very much on display. And by the end of the play, the grande-dame Anna may be “moved” to acknowledge the feelings of her child and perhaps even her own.

John Lee Beatty’s set is comfortable and aspirational. For those of us not from the area, however, the appearance of shingled walls inside the house is puzzling. Also, here’s hoping joint producer Manhattan Theatre Club’s sightlines are better than the Geffen’s, because actors can’t be seen here when they’re lounging on the floor downstage.

Emotions swirl within the characters, some gently revealed to and some violently thrust on startled recipients. Sullivan keeps a steady hand on the actors, so by the end of the evening, much like with Chekhov, we’re not sure whether we’ve seen a comedy or a drama. There’s not a fake moment with this skilled cast: No one forces the laughs, and all live fully and truthfully in that delicious house.

“The Country House” plays through July 13 at Westwood’s Geffen Playhouse. It’s located at 10886 Le Conte Ave. (across from UCLA). Performance times are Tuesdays through Saturday at 8 p.m., Matinees are Saturdays at 3 p.m. and

 

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.