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The Train Driver

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Drama can be metaphorical, but metaphors are not inherently or essentially dramatic. Similarly, life may be theatrical, but it is not necessarily or inevitably so. After all, existence in itself is neither a poem nor a drama. Rather, it is a chaotic and meaningless flow of energy; that is, until someone or another attaches an allegory or symbolism to it. When someone ably makes such a connection, coherence and meaning emerge from the mists of apparent disorder. When that happens we call that individual an artist and his or her creation an art form.

Surely, esteemed South African playwright Athol Fugard, at 78 years-old and with nearly 50 plays to his credit, is among the most admired theater artists in the world today. But, if his record of produced and lauded scripts over the decades--including Master Harold...and the boys--leaves any doubt as to Fugard's place in the canon of Western Drama, all the proof that is needed of Fugard's aesthetic prowess is on stage now at Hollywood's Fountain Theatre.

The show is titled, with deceptive simplicity, The Train Driver. It is inspired by a news article Fugard read in the South African summer of 2000. The report told of a black woman named Pumla Lolwana and three of her children who were hit by a train while walking on a Cape Town railroad track. All four died at the scene. Not only was the incident considered a suicide, it was also thought to be a hopeless act of infanticide.

That account of facts has "haunted" Fugard since he first learned of the tragedy, according to a recent feature in the Los Angeles Times. In an attempt to excise the tragedy from his fertile mind, Fugard began penning The Train Driver. But what started as a therapeutic exercise for Fugard has now been transformed into a powerfully emotional simile on the so-called Truth and Reconciliation process that took place in the country after South Africa's government officially ended its policy of apartheid in the late 20th century.

In a Beckett-like set-up, The Train Driver has but two characters on stage. One is Roelf Visage (the marvelous Morgan Higgans), a white man. The other is Simon Hanabe (a profoundly soulful Adolphus Ward), a black gravedigger and cemetery caretaker. Roelf one day visits the desolate site where the "unknowns" are buried. He's in search of the spot where a woman and child are laid to rest (in the text the mother has but "one baby on her back"). The graves are unmarked, so Roelf enlists the assistance of Simon in finding the burial place he's looking for.

Meanwhile, Roelf can't resist expressing his outrage over the seemingly unkempt nature of the graveyard, with hubcaps and other debris covering the ground. Roelf is surprised to hear Simon's thoughtful explanation of the condition of the necropolis. Simon is more startled to learn of Roelf's motivation for wanting to see the woman and child's gravesite.

Affectingly directed by Stephen Sachs--with a stirringly barren set design (by Jeff McLaughlin), a mood-inducing light motif (by Ken Booth), and a chilling soundscape (by David B. Marling)--The Train Driver is simultaneously personal and political. Metaphor is not drama and theater is not life, per se. But, through Fugard's considerable skill as a dramatist, we get what seems like a raw glimpse of life served-up with searing sense of allegory.

"The Train Driver" is having its American premiere at The Fountain Theatre--5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles--through December 12. Show times are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, dial (323)663 - 1525. For online ticketing, visit www.FountainTheatre.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.