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Max Frisch's The Chinese Wall: If the Chinese Could Do It...

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Although we remember Brecht as the pre-eminent mid-20th Century European playwright, his contemporary, Swiss playwright Max Frisch, was just as important after the Second World War.  The concern then, having ostensibly defeated fascism, was the threat of nuclear war, made more fearsome by the recent destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


TFrisch’s The Chinese Wall begins with the impulse to wall off a country from enemies, and it concludes with the fear that grows as a result of such protectionism. Frisch may have taken a cue from Brecht’s plays when he created fictional encounters between the 3rd Century Chinese Emperor, Tzhin Zhe Huang Ti (a Trumpian Mark Atha) and an array of historical characters from a Magoo-like Pontius Pilate (Steve Shaw) to Napoleon (Kevin Hoffman Jr.), with stops in between.  All have contributed to a world that impedes individual freedoms, either through power manipulation or “fake news.”


Director Larry Eisenberg has taken this allegorical play and literalized it by equating many of the characters with the Trump administration, beginning with the emperor portrayed as Trump himself.  For instance, Cleopatra (fetching Gina Yates) becomes a particularly effective Melania clone. Throughout, the director reinforces the conceit through telling video clips that quote Trump’s scriptural proclamations.

Despite the 21st century update, though, the voice of reason, Patrick Skelton, threads his way through the action anachronistically sporting wide tie and mid-20th century jacket, and he expresses, well, a mid-20th century voice of reason.

Group Rep’s hardy technical group has worked hard to create the backdrop and baggage to realize this production: Chris Winfield creates the rudimentary setting, Steve Shaw provides sound effects, and Tor Brown designs lighting.  But the key element, video projections (by Christian Ackerman) using multimedia screens situated to right, left, and rear of the stage, leave much of the backdrop blank at key intervals, thus impoverishing the look of the stage.  The costumes by Angela M. Eads, along with hair and makeup by Judi Lewin, help solidify the historical characterizations.

Sadly, Eisenberg’s inventions are so “on the nose,” as we say, that we are robbed of the fun of discovering for ourselves the message that Frisch was intent on delivering. I am bewildered that the director chose to downplay his warning against nuclear annihilation. In this age when we see the possibility of trading tit for tat with North Korea, it is more important than ever to point out the destructiveness of this weapon.

The Chinese Wall continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 P.M. and Sundays at 2:00 P.M. through March 11, 2018  at the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601.  Tickets are $25.00 with group, senior and student discounts available.  For tickets and information go to or  phone (818) 763-5990.





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.