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Germans may know the name Peter Kurten, and something about the infamous crime spree which earned him the name of “The Dusseldorf Vampire.” If Americans know him at all, it will probably be as a footnote to Fritz Lang’s classic film “M.” The film, which premiered in 1931, the same year as Kurten’s execution, was never intended to be a factual dramatization of Kurten’s life. But “M’s” proximity to the crimes, as well as its undeniable artistry, earned the man who inspired the script, an odd adjacent-fame.

In the early 90’s, Scottish playwright Anthony Nielson revisited the life of Peter Kurten for his play Normal. Though the play has been quite popular and had numerous productions, The Vagrancy is, apparently, producing the West Coast premiere of Normal during the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Director David Mancini has transformed the playing space into an approximation of a Weimar, Germany theatrical venue--one that Kurten might have visited. The setting is simple. Battered display cases line the walls, a well-used scrim defines the upper level of the playing area, a couple of chairs, and a step unit pretty much complete the mis-en-scene. If the look isn’t screaming “Brechtian” to you, the strains of Kurt Weill should clue you in quickly.

Despite using the real names, Nielson isn’t any more interested in a documentary-style drama than Lang was. He is much more concerned with probing the darkness that hides in all of us. Justus Wehner (Arthur Keng) is hired to defend Peter Kurten (Steve Madar). Wehner’s jail cell interviews with Kurten will reveal a biography of pain, abuse, and horror that will shatter the lawyer’s complacency and take him to terrifying places he never dreamed possible. Carolyn Deskin completes the cast, playing Frau Kurten and several victims.

Mancini skillfully guides the trio through a visceral and highly theatrical staging of the play. He makes effective use of the entire stage, and skillfully capitalizes on the eerily looming shadows cast when backlighting actors behind the scrim. But perhaps the most indelible visual is watching normal objects like a hammer and a pair of scissors become instruments of pain and death.

The cast members leap into their roles with absolute conviction. Madar is a surprisingly personable and charismatic Kurten. Certainly, charm would be needed to lure his victims and, of course, the shock of his casual revelations about the crimes are all the more potent when our guard is down. Keng’s Wehner clearly charts the lawyer’s journey from confident savior to the haunted survivor of Kurten’s manipulations. Deskin makes sure that neither Kurten’s wife, nor his victims, are seen as docile lambs to the slaughter.

Lounge Theatre    June 4 – 24, 2017    http://hff17.com/4428

 

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.