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In the Valley of the Shadow

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In commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Rogue Machine Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Katherine Cortez’s In the Valley of the Shadow. This taut, gripping, and intensely moving new play is a powerful tribute to the lives lost that terrible night.

Rafi (Dylan Arnold) sits in a police station waiting room, clad in a blood-spattered t-shirt, and trying to light a cigarette. Jack (Larry Poindexter), a sympathetic police officer, escorts a traumatized Carmen (Tania Verafield), into the waiting room. Hours ago, she watched the shooter gun down her cousin in the club.

Rafi has only recently begun to explore his sexuality, a process helped by his relationship with a personable Puerto Rican waiter named Enrique (Ethan Rains) and hindered by his fundamentalist mother, Bette (Rachel Sorsa).

Cortez’s script brilliantly unfurls a series of short, non-chronological scenes which present a complex portrait of Rafi, his friends, the nightclub, the shooter, and the agonizing wait at the police station to hear who has survived and who is dead. There is not a wasted moment in the play, and Cortez’s ability to reveal the beating heart of each of her characters, without pandering or resorting to cheap sentiment, is an extraordinary achievement.

Of course, the direction and performances need to hit the same level for the production to truly soar. Luckily, Elina de Santos is at the helm. Her detailed and cogent direction is all the more effective for being invisible.

The six-member cast is uniformly superb, with all but Arnold and Sorsa playing dual roles. Arnold’s easy access to Rafi’s dizzying array of emotions is an impressive feat, but he also manages to provide a solid foundation for the play. Rains is sexy and funny as the loving Enrique, but equally chilling and effective as the troubled shooter, Uriel, who will try to exorcise his demons with gunfire.

Poindexter makes a weary and caring Jack, but he gets the most mileage out of donning a frock and becoming the hilariously incisive MS Francis. Karen Malina White beautifully delineates her two roles – a disapproving police officer and the club’s warmly welcoming, earth mother. Verafield is touching as the psychologically wounded Carmen, but her portrayal of Hawk, the spiky lesbian bartender, is so unrecognizable that you’ll be double-checking your program. Sorsa manages to make her difficult role as the conflicted mother work by simply playing the woman, without commenting on her.

One of the delights of the Fringe is scheduling two or three performances in a row. You may want to carefully consider seeing anything immediately after In the Valley of the Shadow. The production is such an intense emotional roller coaster that you may need some time to process the experience. I know I did. But, do not miss this show.

Rogue Machine at the Met    June 2 – 24, 2017    http://hff17.com/4749

 

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.