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EST/LA 2017 One-Act Festival

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Having missed the A and B portions of the Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles’ (EST/LA) 2017 One Act Festival, I was happy to find time for Program C. Catching all three programs would introduce audience members to 12 new plays culled from the company’s playwrighting programs.

In "Things that Matter," playwright/lyricist Elin Hampton takes a light-hearted look at the detritus in our lives. Items at a garage sale come to life, singing about their disappointment in being let go after a break-up and their hopes for a fulfilling new life. While Hampton’s book is cheerily buoyant, and the singing sale items brightly animated, the language makes this mini-musical off-limits for young audiences.

Patty Cornell briskly directs a genial cast including Oliver Muirhead’s distinguished Grandfather Clock, Jody St. Michael’s blunt-speaking Drum Set and Hampton herself as a fretful, discarded Wedding Dress. While Christopher Reiling charms in his role, his hilarious reveal as an unopened VHS Tape Rewinder tops anything the script allows him to do. Susan Rudick has the strongest voice and does a good job of keeping her taps unnoticed as the spunky Indescribable Stuffed Animal, a plush toy of unknown genus.

Gerald Sternbach’s score is tuneful and includes a particularly lovely, lilting waltz. But the short playing time doesn’t really allow the songs to develop. The same can be said of Hampton’s book which moves beyond jokiness to slightly more somber issues by the end. A minor expansion might allow both the musical and dramatic elements to blossom.

With "How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall?," Nick Ullett has not only crafted a canny and surprising short play but written himself a wonderful role. Backstage after a performance, world-renowned violinist, Victor (Ullett), is complaining about his audience, his rivals, and the general vicissitudes of the life of a performer.  Charlie (Peter Basch), Victor’s dresser, helps him change, soothes his spirit, and cuts through the man’s ego with practiced professionalism. But even Charlie will be surprised by this evening’s post-concert visit from John (Graham Sibley).

Ullett’s dialog crackles with backstage bitchery and a genuine understanding of classical music. Under Jenny O’Hara’s attentive direction, an imperious Ullett preens and protests without ever going over-the-top. Basch is wonderfully sympathetic and understated, while always letting us know the power he wields, and a nicely-grounded Sibley makes a strong impression as Victor’s late-night visitor.

Tony Foster’s "My Jesus Year" focuses on Jerry (Christopher Reiling), who is sitting in a hospital room awaiting a colostomy. His family medical history makes this procedure more ominous than usual. Jerry’s sister, Tish (Tarah Pollock) is visiting in an attempt to keep his mind occupied. They both flirt with the handsome Nurse (James Bane) and play a bizarre game featuring martyrs and their modes of execution. (It makes perfect sense if you attended Catholic school.)

Shaina Rosenthal directs the piece with an eye to varied characterizations. Reiling is goofily charming and ably anchors the piece, though he can’t quite make the audience asides work. Pollock is feisty, but he finds an undertone of sadness. Bane fulfills the eye candy requirements and offers quiet warmth and a memorable kiss. Foster is a playwright who likes to push the envelope, which is commendable. But the number of important themes touched on—religion, sexuality, gay-bashing, family relations, and mortality feel a bit overwhelming for the length of the play.

Katherine Cortez’s, "Between Friends," is the longest of the plays in the program. Valerie (Susan Wilder) has been visiting her longtime friend, Judy (Jayne Taini), before starting rehearsals on a production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The idea was for her to support Judy as she scattered her late husband’s ashes. But Judy has been unable to let go, so they reminisce and spar and eventually uncover a secret that could destroy their friendship.

Cortez’s dialog is well-wrought and flavorful. It is definitely enhanced by June Carryl’s subtle direction and the vivid performances of both actresses. Taini’s Judy is the wisecracking earth mother who knows her old friend’s tricks too well. Wilder creates a tightly-strung and nervy Valerie who is, nevertheless, built on a solid foundation.

Program C of the EST/LA One Acts is a solid evening of entertaining plays with strong performances all around, though "How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?" is the standout.

Atwater Village Theatre    July 7  16, 2017






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.