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What Do "Spoonfuls of Dissonance" Look Like

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Quiara Alegría Hudes brings some of the most pressing issues in society together in a fully-rounded picture of an American family, ranging over three plays. In her first, Elliot: a Soldier’s Fugue (now at the Kirk Douglas Theatre), Hudes tackles changing attitudes toward significant wars of the latter part of the 20th century, and in Water by the Spoonful, she moves into the domestic issues of family displacement and drug addiction. Her third play is coming up February 24-25 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Through all her plays, Hudes’ dramaturgical methodologies are determined by the music that informs each piece. For Elliot, a unifying fugue intertwines generational stories that echo and build upon one another. For Spoonful, John Coltrane’s dissonant period determines the structure. And thereon hangs a tale….

Hudes’ question becomes how to convert an auditory assemblage whose delicate balance verges on noise into a linear, visual rendition of that idea. Judging from the Mark Taper Forum’s production, the question may defy an answer. Thus, Elliot (Sean Carvajal) appears, now thrust into civilian life replete with the responsibilities and stresses of an extended family. But his story takes a back seat to that of his relative, the superb Luna Lauren Velez as Odessa (her exact relationship is to be revealed), the moderator of an online chat group of “recovering” addicts.

The group’s on-line personas, illustrated by projections of their respective “handles,” prove to be at the fulcrum of the play, with “Orangutan” Sylvia Kwan as a lively antidote to Bernard K Addison’s “Chutes and Ladders.” The fish-out-of-water to the chat, “Fountainhead”(played by Josh Braaten) though still using, eventually proves to be an invaluable hero to Odessa’s “Haikumom.” Meanwhile, Elliot is haunted by the ghost of an Iraqi (Nick Massauh), while cousin Yaz (Karen Lugo) drags him along to help with navigating family obligations.

Under the direction of Lileana Blain-Cruz, and against Adam Rigg’s scenic design awash with Yi Zhao’s lighting, Spoonful plays out in a never-never land of open area so that one is never quite sure where the characters may be. The space may be occupied by an assemblage of oddly placed chairs, other times a table; each space referenced by one of a series of shallow interiors that lights up like a department store window to describe each location. We know this because sometimes characters depart from them on the way to the forestage. And for some disconcerting reason, even the ghost (Nick Massouh) emanates from one of these settings. Thankfully, Raquel Barreto’s costumes, while eclectic, still provide the only sort of visual cohesion.

The Spoonful production’s scenic dislocation may be meant to unhinge the story from its anecdotal structure as it veers from one set of online voices to another, and then back to a sort of reality, in a tapestry of relationships that gives the impression that everyone in New York may be in on this phone call (or in this case, chat room). Instead, it seems there are two performances to be presented; only one, utilizing the set, has yet to play out. So, too, there are inconsistencies in the casting.  Anyone searching for unity will be discomfited by Carvajal’s distinctly regional accent (Brooklyn?  The Bronx?),  while the rest of his family speaks with standard stage diction. Coltrane’s dissonance may implode toward noise, but the Mark Taper Forum’s presentation of Water by the Spoonful seems to diverge in ever-expanding concentric circles.

Water by the Spoonful continues through March 11th  2018, running Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Saturday matinees at 2:30 pm; and Sundays at 1:00 pm  and 6:30 pm at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 North Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Tickets range from $25.00 to $95.00, at the Center Theatre Group box office, by phone  (213) 972.7231 and online at




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.