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Persona

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Ingmar Bergman’s complex and perplexing film Persona is one of the high points in the director’s long and distinguished career. If the film is less familiar to general audiences than it once was, Persona has been such an artistic touchstone for subsequent filmmakers that most filmgoers will recognize its cool ambiguity. Its iconic images have been purloined for everything from fine art to cosmetic commercials.

 

Adapting an acknowledged classic into another medium is a daunting task, but composer Keeril Makan and librettist/director Jay Scheib create a compelling chamber opera in Persona. Scheib’s libretto closely follows the narrative of the film. Elisabet (Lacey Dorn) has a crisis while performing in a production of Elektra and stops speaking. Alma (Amanda Crider) is a nurse hired to look after Elisabet at a remote island cottage. Inspired, or perhaps prompted, by Elisabet’s silence, Alma moves from sharing secrets to possibly losing her unique identity. The major change from the film is the replacement of the film’s famously elliptical prologue with an amorous encounter for Alma.

 

Persona was developed by Beth Morrison Projects which again proves itself as an important incubator for challenging new works of music drama. It also is a welcome return to collaboration with LA Opera who is presenting the provocative production for a short run in their Off Grand Series at the Redcat.

Scheib’s directorial vision favors placing the film onstage as much as possible. 9 or 10 monitors hang over or into the playing space and extend out into the audience. A large tripod with a mini-crane stands center stage. Two female camera operators move through complicated camera choreography which is likely more detailed than the performer’s blocking. This effectively blocks most of the onstage action, forcing the audience to watch the monitors.

Companies like the Wooster Group have long used onstage video during performance, but those productions use the action on the screen merely as an addendum to the stage performance. And none of those productions have ever offered shots as elegantly and cinematically staged as Scheib has created on the fly in this production. While the lingering close-ups and two-shots are not always direct recreations of the film’s images, they ably capture its visual style.

Makan’s score moves swiftly from jagged to lyrical as the emotions dictate, though even the most lyrical passages contain an underlying edge of discomfort and apprehension. Under the sensitive baton of Evan Ziporyn, an extraordinary group of eight instrumentalists bring Makan’s complex sonic landscape to vivid life. Instruments occasionally squeal and scrape in alarming ways to punctuate the raw terrain of the characters’ psyches.

The always watchable Peabody Southwell makes the most of her moments as the Doctor, as does Joshua Jeremiah as The Man. But the performances will be covered in greater detail in a companion review on the Showmag site.

Persona’s less than 90-minute running time is more than enough to capture you in its haunting spell.

Redcat    November 9 – 12, 2017    laopera.org

 

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.