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The Gospel at Colonus

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Created in New York City in 1983 by Lee Breuer, The Gospel at Colonus is an African-American take on Sophocles's ancient tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus. What's more, this 20th-century redux is an emotional musical that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and later had a Broadway run for which it earned a Tony Award nomination. Moreover, and luckily for So Cal theatergoers, a production of The Gospel at Colonus is now being produced by Los Angeles's Ebony Repertory Company and performed through July 19 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.

A fascinating hybrid of religious sermon steeped in the mythos of a classic Greek drama, The Gospel at Colonus – in the capable hands of Director Andi Chapman, with the words of Lee Breuer, the music of Bob Telson, and the inspiration of Sophocles’s original conceit – provides theatergoers with an experience that is as akin to spiritual rapture as one is likely to get while sitting in a theater.

With rousing musical direction by Abdul Hamid Royal of a quartet of blissful musicians, on a grand scenic design by Edward Hayes, Jr., with bright and beautiful costuming by Naila Aladdin Sanders, impressive lighting effects by Karyn D. Lawrence, and stunning sound engineering by Philip G. Allen, we are given, in two acts, over two dozen song interpretations, each infused with the soulful stirrings of Gospel rhythms and melodies that range from the beatific to the wicked.

What’s more, a full choir is employed, which underscores the church-like feeling of the production while it emphasizes the dramatic trajectory of Oedipus’s life, which plays like a religious parable and is delivered as a mix of sermon and enactment. Oedipus has spent rootless years roving with his daughter, Antigone.

Oedipus is penitent and longsuffering for the sins – the killing of his own father and the incestuous relationship with his mother – he once committed. At last he arrives at Colonus, the holy resting spot he has been promised upon his death. His second daughter, Ismene, discovers him at Colonus. She is there to tell Oedipus of the prophecy, which assures that he is now blessed and that those he blesses shall also be bestowed with blessings. But wait…there’s more. The King of Thebes, Creon, becomes involved, wanting to bring Oedipus back to Colonus in order to get the promised blessing, but Oedipus refuses to make the trip. Unexpectedly, Creon has Antigone and Ismene seized. Meanwhile, Oedipus’s estranged son, Polyneices, comes to gain blessing from his father before going to war. Instead, Oedipus curses him for his past betrayal and sends him away to face death

Interestingly, this Greek classic plays as if it were a story from the Old Testament, steeped in moral questions and filled with the intensity of a passion play. The Gospel at Colonus is more than mere pageantry, it is a blessing to modern-day theater and relevant to current social conditions. Ultimately it is a message to forgive while not forgetting the trespasses and sins of the past

With a huge and marvelous cast that includes Roger Robinson, Ellis Hall, Kim Stauton, William Allen Young, Dorian Holley, Samuel Butler, and LaVan Davis – plus a soul-singing Greek chorus, a church choir made of seeming multitudes, The Gospel at Colonus is superbly cast and nobly executed. It is a sterling sermon for the ages and a meaningful message for our time.

The Gospel at Colonus, a production of the Ebony Repertory Company, continues at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center through July 19. The Center is located at 4718 West Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles.

 

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m.; and Sundays at 3 p.m. For reservations call (323) 964-9766.

 

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.