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The Hothouse

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Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse is not one of his oft-produced masterworks like The Homecoming, The Caretaker, Old Times, or Betrayal. The play was written in the late 50’s – Pinter’s youthful experimental period. But it remained unproduced until he dusted it off and made some revisions for a 1980 premiere.


The setting is a bureaucratic nightmare of a mental institution where the inmates have been relegated to numbers, and the feckless staff drink heavily, file endless papers, and play futile power games. Roote (Peter Van Norden) is the titular head of the government-run organization, but he’s completely ineffectual and seems well past any real interest in leadership. But he reflexively battles every threat to his position, particularly those coming from his alarmingly efficient assistant, Gibbs (Graham Hamilton), who seems to be truly running the institution.


Gibbs has a chilling shadow side to his character. He makes clandestine use of the asylum’s empty rooms for savage torture sessions. This practice also involves the enthusiastic participation of Miss Cutts (Jocelyn Towne), the secretary/mistress he shares with Roote.

Pinter became a more political writer as he matured, and, in Hothouse, his satire of casually brutal fascism is particularly pointed. The “lunatics are running the asylum” trope was popular from the late 50’s through the early 70’s in books, stage, film, and anthology TV series. The 1980 appearance of Hothouse somewhat undercuts the play’s effectiveness as the nightmarish elements feel slightly familiar.

The shock in the early Pinter masterpieces is his introduction of a subtle menace creeping into suburban living rooms and bedrooms. The absurdist elements and hotly pitched verbal battlegrounds Pinter revels in are jarring in a conventional setting. In a madhouse, they feel almost expected. Pinter has always used a uniquely sly humor. In Hothouse, one sees him exercising a more overtly comic style. He goes so far as to employ his own variant on a “spit take.”

But, if Hothouse is lesser Pinter, it is still smarter, edgie,r and more compelling than the work of most other playwrights. Director Nike Doukas has a keen understanding of all the technical elements necessary for making the words sing. But, even more importantly, she urges her talented cast to create wonderfully diverse characters within a consistent style.

Van Norden’s Roote is all bluster and impotence, while Hamilton’s unctuous Gibbs is quick to dispense with the servile act to reveal the fiend beneath the surface. Towne ably portrays one of Pinter’s glacial temptresses, while Rob Nagle wins some of the best laughs in the show as the not-quite-exemplary employee, Lush. JD Cullum’s beautifully open simplicity touches our hearts as the hapless (sacrificial) Lamb.

As always with Antaeus productions, the roles are partner cast. I saw The Ducks, but you may experience The Pelicans or a mixture of the two casts. Whichever actors you see, this exceptional production of a little-seen Pinter play should be on the watch list for every passionate playgoer.

Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center    January 25 – March 11, 2018





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.