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Hellman vs. McCarthy

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In 1979, talk show host Dick Cavett interviewed noted author Mary McCarthy. Her inflammatory comments about writer Lillian Hellman on the air prompted Hellman to institute a libel suit for $2.5 million dollars against McCarthy. The result of that confrontation is the subject of Brian Richard Mori's play now presented at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills.

McCarthy was, by all accounts, an acerbic intellectual known for her liberal politics and, in particular, antipathy for Stalinism, which Hellman had embraced at one point in her life.

When asked about Lillian Hellman's worth as an author/playwright, she said that Hellman was a liar; furthermore, every word she had written was a lie, "including 'and' and 'the'." That Hellman was watching the program kindled her outrage, and she had the financial means to carry out a lengthy denunciation of McCarthy's statement.

The means by which Mori carries out his play is by enlisting Cavett to appear as if he were re-creating his original talk show. Beginning with his opening monologue, he sets the stage for the drama to follow. He also acts as the narrator, commenting on the interchanges between the two angry women as the four-year lawsuit unfolds.

At 74, Hellman was in poor health, and Flora Plumb effectively brings her to life in the midst of her personal turmoil. Her longtime lover, Dashiell Hammett, had died years earlier, and she is living a sheltered life with a nurse, Ryan (M. Rowan Meyer). She is testy and difficult, and her zeal for personal retribution drives her final days.

As McCarthy, Marcia Rodd brings to life the waspish, Vassar-educated writer of The Group. Refusing to back down or recant her statement, she nervously worries about her finances but maintains her superiority over Hellman.

Meyer makes the most of his limited role as caretaker, even though Hellman is not easy to take care of. When she pushes his patience, he lets loose some anger, but he is still overawed by her achievements.

Director Howard Storm moves his actors briskly through the many scenes effectively. He keeps a fine balance between humor and pathos as the story unfolds.

The play is a very slight re-telling of the larger literary and political story. Much historical detail is left out or glossed over, including the veracity of McCarthy's claims that Hellman lied to the House on Un-American Activities and other instances of Hellman's falsehoods. It is more about the women in a cat fight than a representation of the lives of the two women. One scene shows the two women together in a mannered and posturing confrontation. That never happened, but it makes good theater.

Having said that, it is enjoyable seeing the legendary 78-year-old Cavett deliver his lines with charm and his usual wit. The construction of Mori's play allows for his frequent appearances, and that is worth the 90-minute production.

 

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.