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Antaeus's Three Days in the Country Stays Close to the Source

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First let me get this straight: Anton Chekhov was 12 years old when Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country debuted. But by the time he began writing plays in 1887, Turgenev’s play had become a staple in Russian Theater repertoire. I say this because there is a bit of confusion now that Three Days in the Country made its West Coast Debut last weekend at the Antaeus Theatre Company’s new digs in Glendale. Patrick Marber, the British playwright, revised and edited Turgenev’s original to create his own version that sits well in the 21st century. But in doing so, he incorporated more of the flavor of what we know of Russian drama from Anton Chekhov. The lines between Turgenev’s proto-Chekhovian play and Chekhov’s influence on Marber bring the piece full circle.

Although Three Days is an entertaining piece, it is deceptive as an example of Russian theatre with an “R.” And Antaeus’ practice of double casting adds another layer to its meaning. Under Andrew Paul’s direction, the two casts bring marked different interpretations to the fore. On opening weekend, “The Assassins” cast on Friday exhibited the torpor of summer. The household seems weighed down by depression generated by Natalya (Anna Khaja). Daniel Blinkoff as Arkady, her husband, has learned to tip-toe around her, staying out of the way even when Rakitin (Corey Brill) arrives to offer some harmless flirtation.

On the other hand, “The Blunderers” on Saturday seemed much more on edge as if awaiting an explosion that is sure to come. This time, Nike Doukas as Natalya is the powder keg, with the others responding accordingly. Antonio Jaramillo, as her husband, is just as explosive, just not in her presence. Here Rakitin's (Leo Marks) more ascerbic wit serves the rest of cast’s temperament to perfection.

The play abounds with delicious, stand-alone set pieces that will please any acting teacher. Witness the “raspberry feast scene” where the doctor, elderly neighbor, and guest sit together munching comfortably as if waiting for a train that never comes. Or when the Doctor, played variously by Harry Groener and Armin Shimerman, proposes to the spinster, Lizaveta (Dawn Didawick or Lily Knight). The combinations provide endless variations for presentation as the Doctor recounts his short-comings rather than his positive qualities in his proposal.

But the young tutor Belyaev (Peter Mendoza) serves as the catalyst for the plot. His performance creates a blank page upon which everyone, from Natalya to all the other young women in the household, can paint their own ideal of manhood. It helps that Mendoza is a very handsome young man. But the choice is puzzling, since, in Turgenev’s original, all the women pin their hopes on a very confused and weak Belyaev, making their antics absurd and more the point of the piece.

Antaeus has mounted a sumptuously costumed production (by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg), set against a utilitarian backdrop (designed by Se Hyun Oh). Properties mistress Erin Walley has fun with kite-flying, presumably helped by lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg, and Chris Moscatiello’s sound design fills in the gaps. There is only one puzzling omission: Both Natalya’s have uncharacteristically modern hair styles. Perhaps the budget didn’t allow for wigs in the production.

Three Days in the Country will continue fielding alternating casts on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and Mondays at 8:00 p.m. through August 26th, 2018 at Antaeus Theatre’s new digs, 110 E. Broadway, in Glendale, CA, 91205.  Tickets are $30 - $34. For reservations phone (818) 506-1983 or online at www.antaeus.org.

 

 

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.