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Palestine, New Mexico

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Richard Montoya—of the performance trio Culture Clash—has scripted a play in which he and his Clash counterparts, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza, as well as a cast of ten other actors—including the American Indian Activist Russell Means, seem to have a heyday performing. The recent show is titled Palestine, New Mexico—in production at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum, through January 24—and it's quite a dramatic pastiche; but it's also an amalgam of Montoya's three-year process of self-described "anthropological research," which includes the author's avowed knowledge of New Mexico's history.

Beguilingly directed by Lisa Peterson, the plot is centered on U.S. Army Captain Catherine Siler's travels and travails on a New Mexico Indian reservation. (Siler is athletically portrayed by Kirsten Potter.) Recently returned from the war in Afghanistan, the Captain is attempting to resolve a conundrum. Soldier Ray Birdsong (a stealth Justin Rain), son of Tribal Chief Birdsong (the credible Russell Means), has died under dubious circumstances. Was the callow infantryman killed by so-called friendly fire? What is the message and meaning of the last letter the deceased trooper sent home? And, who is the cryptic Suarez character (also played by Justin Rain)? Moreover, could Ray be guilty of treason?

On a set evocative of both New Mexican and Afghani topography (Rachel Hauck, scenic designer), and with indispensable lighting and projections (Alexander V. Nichols), Palestine touches our senses and gives us a visceral experience of time and place. Nonetheless, the story is convoluted and surprisingly devoid of emotional connection. Still, it's a tribute to Montoya's imagination that this 80-minute dramatic montage makes an unlikely juxtaposition of the tribal culture of Afghanistan with that of the American Indian, including the world of the Jews. Imperialism, oppression, and homegrown resistance make for the tripartite denominator which all three of these human entities share in common.

As Medicine Woman Maria 15 (the numeric labeling is easily and amusingly explained), Geraldine Keams has some rich comedic moments—as do Montoya, Siguenza, and Salinas as Top Hat, Farmer, and Bronson, respectively. But isn't there's more to Palestine than we are able to see or hear or, in its current state, fully understand? Right now the show, while full of mood and feeling (both high and low), is more an eclectic hodgepodge than a coherent drama. Perhaps another rewrite could congeal the disparate components of Palestine, New Mexico. While there's plenty to appreciate here (including a phantasmagorical re-creation of a peyote "trip"), the piece remains somehow inchoate.

Palestine, New Mexico continues at the Mark Taper Forum—135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles—through January 24. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are on Saturdays at 2:30 and Sundays at 1 p.m., with Sunday evening performances at 6:30 p.m. For reservations, dial (213) 628 – 2772. For online ticketing and further information, visit HYPERLINK "http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org" www.CenterTheatreGroup.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.