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Declaration of Indulgence

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Marin Theatre Company has opened its 2017-18 season with the world premiere of Thomas Bradshaw's Thomas and Sally under the direction of Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis. The company has presented a wealth of talent in both the performance and technical aspects of this production, but its expansive episodic structure is weak in dramatic action that is emotionally engaging.

The playwright has stated in a press release, "This is my attempt to explore the essence of these characters and the world they lived in. This is a play, and I am playing with history."  True enough, there is plenty of playing at a puerile, sensational level, but the exploration into the essence of these characters fails to rise above the level of the belt.

The play's immature tone is established immediately with two teen-aged females and their conflict over the shared use of a phallic object intended for erotic stimulation. It is revealed that one girl is a descendant of President Thomas Jefferson (Mark Anderson Phillips), and she proceeds to narrate the lineage that brought Jefferson and Sally Hemings (Tara Pacheco), his slave, into a relationship that produced six offspring.

This character provides a disclaimer that she is not an historian and that anything which might be considered factual needs further verification. It is also established that the context of societal mores, conventions, and perceptions between today and the 18th century skew our judgments of the actions of the people involved. Through this device, Bradshaw provides himself with a license to "play" and present contradictory ideas and anachronistic elements.

The acting ensemble is tremendously skilled. All the actors, many portray different characters, convey presence, conviction, and variety to their roles, and watching them work is quite impressive.

The first act is mostly a hurried series of scenes, exposition of the historical events preceding the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings.  Fortunately, the program provides a written timeline of this chronology, but the reenactments do little to establish a motivation driving the protagonist of the play and what is purported to be an examination of character essence.  Reading this program timeline prior to watching the play will aid in comprehending the paths that brought them together.

Language choice is important in live drama, and the pervasive impression left by this playwright's image body is exactly that, a body of references and descriptions of erogenous organs and assorted bodily functions.  Missing is figurative language that might stimulate some imagination or moving reactions in a viewer. The exploration of the relationship reveals no insightful complexity of the characters' conflicting psychological states in the given circumstances.

The use of Jefferson's ideas themselves is an interesting linguistic quality evident in this play that is referred to as a "satirical comedy". Bradshaw presents Jefferson on one hand as one whose life's hopes are to improve the condition of all human's lives. Conversely, his ideas are held up to scorn and ridicule as he is exposed as a hypocrite through sketch comedy and two-dimensional characterization.

At one point, Jefferson himself utters words that undercut his own accomplishments and are common to political pundits of today who choose to focus on character assassination. Through this motif we can only be solaced by the fact that this story is being told by a teenager.

The final scene of the play returns us to the dorm room of the two youngsters who, after this substantive exploration of Jefferson and Heming's relationship,  ultimately deem it to have a happily ever after ending, and the focus reverts back to the issue of the aforementioned pleasure device.

To Bradshaw's credit, the play helps us understand the inter-generational plot line that brought Thomas and Sally together as well as the sincerity and caring between them in a culture that would condemn them, but it misses the mark when it comes to sharing the emotional intimacy between Thomas and Sally in favor of a more corporeal comic agenda.

The technical elements of the play are outstanding. Scenic Designer Sean Fanning's setting provides a variety of locations in an economic and flexible manner, and a metaphorical transformation that commands attention as a cluttered dorm room incrementally gives way to a beautiful rendition of a lavish interior and columns simulating a style reminiscent of Monticello and the Jefferson monument.  As the action of the play deconstructs Jefferson as a myth and exposes the weakness and flaws of a common human being, the stage incrementally becomes barren and stark.

Costume Designer Ashley Holvick has beautifully clad, and alternately unclad, many characters in a myriad of looks that are rich and lively. Mike Post as Lighting Designer provides seamless focus with visual variety and color to amplify the atmosphere of each scene, and Sound Designer Theodore J.H. Hulsker's audio works hand-in-hand with the entire design concept.

The play contains full frontal nudity. Its run time is 2.5 hours with one fifteen-minute intermission and one ten-minute intermission. The play is scheduled to run through October 22, 2017.

The remainder of the MTC season is dedicated to the production of West coast and Bay Area premieres.  Bravo.

Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley, CA 94941-2885; 415-388-5200 marintheatre.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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.