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Mayakovsky and Stalin

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Padua Playwrights founder Murray Mednick serves up a dish of memories whispered during his growing years, finally finding form in the lives of long-ago heroes and villains during and after the Russian Revolution. Mednick’s extensive research is very much in evidence, as he conflates two suicides --- one of Mayakovsky, a flamboyant poet  who flew in the face of the Marxist materialist turn in art; the other of Nadya (Casey McKinnon), Stalin’s own high-strung wife.

Although the two stories do not intersect here, in reality, the communities that determined Stalin’s new ruling class were very much aware of one another. Mednick has drawn character sketches that vividly bring to life these long-ago comrades to illustrate connections he made to his life as an American teen-ager in the 60s. Max Faugno is masterful, navigating through a connecting narrative as Mednick, at other times playing Stalin’s henchman, Kirov, and other Stalin fixers.

Mednick’s Mayakovsky is a study of bi-polarity, admirably essayed by Daniel Dorr; as his free-love companions, Laura Liguori as Lilya and Andy Hirsch as her ever-patient husband Osip, present perfect foils. Since their relationships with each other and with power present a play in itself, Mednick might have stopped right there. But he seems intent on unpacking the mysterious hold over all of Russia he conveyed. As Mednick reveals, Stalin’s focus on power precluded any attention to his wife, Nadya, or their two children. His Nadya is a bundle of nerves and his neglect drove her to suicide.

It is said, however, that her suicide was an act of revenge at Stalin’s slighting her at a state dinner. And, according to received legend, Mayakovsky’s suicide was as much a result of his own imbalance as it was concerted pressure from the increasingly censorious government. Both stories lead to, but refuse, hard cause-and-effect narratives, and therein lies the difficulty following Mayakovsky and Stalin as a play. As I left, I mused that due to the meticulous research in evidence, Mednick’s meditation on art vs. politics might make a better evening at home by the fire with a good glass of vodka. The script presents an education into a by-gone era when ideas were fresh and everyone was passionate about the future.

To bring Mednick’s vision to life, he surrounds his consummate group of actors with simple yet effective design. Nick Santiago provides set and projections, Shon LeBlanc adds coordinated electic costumes, and sound comes mastered by John Zalewski

Padua Playwrights presents Mayakovsky and Stalin, running through this weekend at The Lounge 2: Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM; Sunday at 3:00 PM. The Lounge is located at 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038.Tickets are $25. For reservations and information, call 323-960-4443






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.