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El Nino

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Justin Tanner is a Los Angeles original and, during the late 80’s and 90’s, our city was his creative incubator. A string of popular plays opened at the CAST Theatre, making Tanner the modern poet of the working class. Well, except that his characters were a far cry from their noble Odets' predecessors. And quite a few of them were unemployed. Perhaps it’s safer to call him the satirist of the slacker.

The last couple of decades have found Tanner working more in other media with only occasional forays on the stage. So Rogue Machine’s season opener of a new Tanner play, El Nino is certainly a reason to rejoice.

The set-up is pure Tanner. Self-published fantasy novelist/Uber driver Colleen (Maile Flanagan) is sleeping on her parents’ couch since being tossed out of her last living arrangement. After a week of this, Harvey (Nick Ullett) and especially June (Danielle Kennedy) are anxious to set an end date for their daughter’s visit. Adding to the family disapproval dynamic is Collen’s sister, Andrea (Melissa Denton), a self-styled success who is always happy to offer Colleen helpful advice.

Andrea is just back from a vacation in Morocco. Though she hated the country, the culture, and the cuisine, she has returned with a new boyfriend. He is Todd (Jonathan Palmer), a similarly dismissive xenophobe who makes a living euthanizing pets.

The final puzzle piece is an uncharacteristically friendly neighbor, Kevin (Joe Keyes), whose is caring for his dying cat. Colleen is dubious about the man until he reveals himself to be a fan of her writing. In fact, he’s rescued some of her discarded drafts from the storm damage in the cellar. Yes, that El Nino is both real and symbolic.

Tanner’s ear for wickedly funny taunts and family invective is as sharp as ever, and his hilariously jaundiced eye observes the proceedings with a clarity that his self-absorbed characters will never muster. So, it is a bit of a surprise that he chooses to end the play on a somewhat shaky, but decidedly optimistic note.

Lisa James’ confident direction allows space for the actors to play off each other while ensuring that their performances never cross over into self-indulgence. John Iacovelli’s intricately detailed Highland Park Craftsman offers a realistic background for the explosive family showdowns, while Brian Gale’s lighting and Christopher Moscatiello’s sound bring the storm to vivid life.

Most of the cast are veterans of previous Tanner works and a few have also worked together in Keyes’ long-running holiday show. Aside from working well together, the cast members know exactly how to land Tanner’s acidic laughs. Flanagan ably anchors the production with a performance that pulls no punches concerning Colleen’s more unflattering traits. Ullett and Keyes are given moments of humanity, but the rest of the cast are basically left to revel in being despicable all the time.

Rogue Machine    February 24 – April 2, 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.