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An Undivided Heart

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Walking into the Atwater Village Theatre for the world premiere of Yusuf Toropov’s An Undivided Heart, one is engulfed in Amanda Knehans eloquent hell-red set of leaning timbers and sparse furnishings. It is a perfect backdrop for this play about a broken town, broken dreams, and broken faith. It also prepares us for the opening visual of a Little Girl (Ann’ Jewel Lee) declaiming poetry while holding a dead rabbit and wielding a knife. And, because the play concerns the Catholic clergy, she offers a hint of stigmata.

After this nightmare vision, it’s a relief to move into a realistic scene of everyday frustration between Lynne (Alana Dietze), a very angry and very pregnant clerk who goes into labor and must seek assistance from Max (Tim Wright), the man she’s currently berating.

Max turns out to be an editor who has been working on a book about Catholic pedophile priests with his brother, Father Mike (Matthew Gallenstein). As this is the early 1990’s, it is unsurprising that both Father Mike’s parish superior, Antonelli (Paul Eiding), and the Cardinal (John Getz) are anxious to keep the book from publication.

The town’s water has become toxic after decades of industrial waste leakage into the system, and many locals are suffering from leukemia and other diseases. Lynne’s experiences have driven her away from the church which puts her in constant conflict with her mother, Ruth (Alison Martin), who believes without question. Max is seeking peace and his own spiritual comfort by studying Zen with Janice (Tracey A. Leigh). And the popular young priest, Father White (Jesse Bush), turns out to be the kind of sexual predator Father Mike is writing about.

If this sounds ambitious for a two-hour play with an intermission, it is. And An Undivided Heart, despite some sharply-written scenes and the playwright’s inarguable passion, feels so schematic and overstuffed that it only sporadically finds an effective dramatic focus.

But this production, a joint venture from Circle X and the Echo Theater Company, is strongly cast and smartly directed by Chris Fields. Fields does an excellent job of joining the disparate strands into a cohesive whole. He also urges the performers to explore the characters' silences as thoroughly as their dialog.

Dietze is always a performer to watch, and her unsentimental portrayal of Lynne anchors all her scenes. As Max, Wright’s warmth and compassion is a striking contrast to the general tone of the play and goes a long way to making us believe in his rather unlikely romantic pairing with Lynne. Leigh and Martin make all their scenes count as they bring a believable humanity to roles that could easily feel like competing religious symbols. Gallenstein is earnest and sympathetic but is ultimately defeated by a role that makes a pretzel out of Father Mike’s intentions in order to suit the plot. Getz is appropriately regal and autocratic, while Eiding offers genuine concern. Michael Sturgis is hilarious as Father Keenan, an uninhibited assistant to the Cardinal. His appearances offer only comic relief, but it’s welcome.

Some of the roles are double-cast, so you may see different actors than those reviewed above.

Atwater Village Theatre    March 17 – April 22, 2018    www.EchoTheaterCompany.com

 

 

 

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.