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Samsara

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Lauren Yee, the resident playwright at the lauded Chance Theater in Anaheim is having the West Coast debut of her topical 21st-century comedy, Samsara. Performed on the Chance's newly inaugurated Bette Aitken stage, Samsara addresses modern-day issues of international parental surrogacy, labor outsourcing (pun intended), and the new mindset mandated by the ethics of globalism. What's more, it offers a talking fetus (Ray Parikh, sweetly mastering a challenging characterization).

Lee cleverly titles her surprisingly philosophical play Samsara, which in Sanskrit translates into “passing through.” In the theology of Hinduism and Buddhism, samsara is the indefinitely repeated cycles of birth, misery, and death caused by karma. Under the lucid direction of Benjamin Kamine, the religious implications of samsara become amusingly entangled with the secular practices of human bonding as well as with questions regarding human bondage and women’s rights.

The set-up is simple. Try as they might, Katie (a pleasantly credible Jennifer Ruckman) and Craig (a naturalistic James McHale), a youngish married couple, find themselves unable to conceive a baby. The trying part is humorously enacted again and again. This not only provides a hearty amount of good-natured adult entertainment (this show is for more mature audiences), it also demonstrates that, depending on the circumstances, sexual activity can be more a burden and bodily function than a romantic pleasure.

After much fornication and frustration, Katie and Craig learn of a surrogacy program in India. For $25,000 or so, couples can rent the womb of an Indian woman, therein implanting the female “customer’s” egg and a donor’s sperm in order to incubate an embryo. In this instance, the sassy surrogate is named Suraiya (Anisha Adusumilli, as believable as a breaking-news bulletin as Suraiya, but overused in an inexplicable turn as an imaginary baby girl). In this peculiar residency program where the surrogates live in the clinic's dormitory, Suraiya aspires to be a real doctor who heals people, unlike the clinic's staff. This surrogacy is a means to achieving her goal.

Inspired by a true story recorded in the New York Times in March of 2008, Samsara is a fanciful conceit featuring a fantasy Frenchman (a charming Jason Paul Evans, who also plays the obstetrician at the surrogacy clinic) and a strange anti-bonding process portrayed between Suraiya and the unborn child. The talking fetus refers to Suraiya as “Microwave” and she refers to him good-naturedly as “Shithead.”

Bruce Goodrich’s scenic design efficiently evokes the feel of Katie and Craig’s Bay Area abode, as well as the sense of being in India. The multitude of sights and sounds are also well enhanced and reinforced by Jeff Brewer’s lighting design and Jeff Polunas and Ryan Brodkin’s sound motif, while Carole Zelinger’s costuming proves indispensible to the proceedings.

As current and comical as Samsara is, it is also a relatively new play, having been staged earlier in Chicago, and, therefore, has some rough edges and some foggy plot points, which should and could be worked over with minor rewrites. As it is, the 85-minute (with no intermission) play is thought-provoking and uniquely charming; it could be more focused in its delivery, however.

Samsara continues on the Chance Theater’s Bette Aitken Stage through May 31. The Chance is located at 5522 East La Palma Avenue, Anaheim. Show times are Thursdays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 5 p.m.; and Sundays at 7 p.m. For reservations, call (714) 777-3033. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.ChanceTheater.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.