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Tesla: A Radio Play for the Stage

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With six chairs, four microphones, and a fairly elaborate sound effects set up, playwright Dan Duling's intriguing glimpse into inventor Nikoli Tesla's life is aided by an enviable ensemble of seasoned actors who play a gaggle of luminaries in the early world of electricity. Full of intrigue and ruthless competition among early pioneers like Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, George Westinghouse, and even Mark Twain, Tesla's story makes physics and electrical engineering the stuff of high drama.

Led by French Stewart as Tesla, the company of Gregory Harrison, Hal Linden, Dan Lauria, Charles Shaughnessy, and Vanessa Claire Stewart takes what might be rather dry biographical material and helps develop portraits of these early players with humor and vitality. On script throughout, they play an assortment of supporters and friends of Tesla as well as his adversaries.

Stewart has the meatiest part, as Tesla was a complex character plagued with probable obsessive-compulsive disorder and zealous ambition for bringing his theories to life. Duling chooses to focus on the bulk of his early life and fame rather than delving into the melodrama of his later years. As a futurist, he was driven to pursue ideas that were ahead of his time, and Stewart neatly captures his complicated character with emotional intensity. It is noted that our current cell phones might not be in our hands today without Tesla's contributions.

Claire Stewart also stands out as the lone woman in the story who was the daughter of a friend and supporter of Tesla in his early days. In love with him throughout their lives, she adds the emotional heft to elevate the tale. Linden is also good as the ruthless Edison, who conspired to discredit Tesla's inventions, as they were in competition with his.

Harrison plays Westinghouse and others with charm, and Shaughnessy fills in as a number of characters associated with Tesla. Notable, too, is Lauria, particularly as his longtime assistant who adds a very human touch to the story.

As this is a radio play, sound effects artist Tony Palermo is onstage bringing the background sounds to life. From the cooing and fluttering of pigeons Tesla kept in his labs to the sounds of Tesla's electrical inventions, Palermo is as fascinating to watch as the actors. A radio dramatist, director, and composer, he is the linchpin of the production.

Michael Arabian's direction helps the dynamic of actors reading scripts. Moving them briskly about the stage as they bring multiple characters to life, he focuses on characterization and nuanced delivery.

Duling's research into this largely forgotten character in the history of wireless communication gives the play its substance. However, the collective experience of the seasoned actors energizes the production in a way that might not be achieved by lesser folks. With only four productions at the Laguna Playhouse, it is hoped that this group might re-emerge somewhere else so that more audiences could see this absorbing story.



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.”


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.