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Fugue

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With the world premiere production of Fugue, playwright Tommy Smith delves into the lives and psyches of three classical composers: Carlo Gesualdo, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Arnold Schoenberg. Tchaikovsky, of course, is one of the most popular composers of all time, and his musical themes are well-known. Schoenberg, despite his importance to modern music, worked in a style resolutely guaranteed to find him little popularity outside of music critics and academics. Gesualdo, if he’s known at all by the average concert-goer, is more famous for his personal life than his compositions.

But, with Fugue, Smith is unconcerned with conventional biography. The title embraces both definitions of the word—the musical form as well as the mental state. For all of these seemingly disparate composers share one thing: lives that flirt, to a greater or lesser degree, with madness, scandal, and death. Gesualdo discovered his wife and her lover in flagrante and slew them both. Tchaikovsky was tortured throughout his life by his homosexuality and chose to poison himself in a desperate, though largely successful, attempt to protect his reputation. Schoenberg was betrayed by both his wife, Mathilde, and his friend, the painter Richard Gerstl, when they had a brief affair. After Mathilde returned to Schoenberg, Gerstl killed himself.

Smith’s language is a heightened speech which occasionally moves into near poetic flights, leavened with a generous touch of earthy crudity. He also develops several “concerted” scenes in which each narrative shares the stage simultaneously, and the dialog approximates the fugue pattern by weaving in and out of the scenes, while phrases, spoken in unison, punctuate the action.

The production is stripped to its essentials. Blood red draperies surround the stage, and a few sticks of anonymous furniture conjure the playing spaces. This makes the costume design even more critical than usual, as it carries the weight of distinguishing among each of the historical periods. Michael Mullen’s smart costume choices make this easy.

Director Chris Fields clearly delineates the overlapping stories and carefully builds each act to a potent and harrowing climax. While none of the violence is gratuitous, neither is it sanitized. A couple of audience members sharing my row were audibly offended and left at intermission.

Fields’ cast is uniformly strong, led by Troy Blendell’s compelling Schoenberg, Christopher Shaw’s convincing Tchaikovsky as martinet, and Karl Herlinger’s disturbed-from-the-start Gesualdo. Jesse Fair’s Gerstl and Amanda Lovejoy Street’s Mathilde create the kind of erotic sparks which can only lead to tragedy. Alana Dietze’s Antonina, Eric Keitel’s Vladimir (Bob), Jeanne Syquia’s Donna Maria and Justin Huen’s Fabrizio are all well performed, but, as their characters are essentially reactive, they have less opportunity to carry the drama.

Fugue is an adult work which demands concentration while in the theater and may haunt you after the lights go up.

Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre   2/14 – 3/22/15   www.echotheatercomapny.com

 

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.