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Thank Heavens for Western Playwrights

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Two plays are presently showing in tandem at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, and they are the sort of sit-up-and-take-notice plays we should be proud to have coming out of Southern California.  Members Only by Oliver Mayer offers us less a play than a world.  It continues the story of Pedro Quinn, who killed an opponent in the ring in Blade to the Heat, turning the entire boxing world against him.  Now a retired champion feeling the effects of all his fights, he has to confront his past in order to move forward.

In the Avalos Theatre, the smaller production of Desert Rats unveils the ugly undertone beneath hip, happy SoCal life.  Written with authority by Nate Rufus Edelman, the play portrays a kidnapping and pits two dysfunctional brothers against the wiles of their upper-class, teen-aged hostage.  Both are staged to maximum effect in their respective spaces at the LATC.

Although Mayer’s play reunites us with the same actor, Ray Oriel, as Quinn, many other characters are portrayed as older and more firmly entrenched in their views.  Sarita (Marlene Forte) has shifted her allegiance to Vinal (Jon Huertas), who arranged the fateful fight between Quinn and his older opponent, and now sets out to humiliate and expose Quinn.

Members Only refers to an 80s fight club that rejected the encroachment from young upstarts and women.  When Quinn takes a budding female fighter under his tutelage, he gives her the pass to the club’s inner sanctum, and that sets in motion the exposé that will eventually bring him down. Mayer’s play echoes the ancient woes of King Oedipus, as his injuries deepen into blindness even as reality comes to light.

In this LATC/Latino Theatre Lab production, artistic director José Luis Valenzuela utilizes Theatre 3’s expansive, thrust stage to facilitate the cinematic flow of places and scenes. Overhead, black-and-white fight footage reminiscent of 50s TV boxing matches unspools over identical choreography onstage. Valenzuela also utilizes the pit and side aisles to help tell the story, giving the sense of an encroaching, wider world.

All the technical aspects are sparing, from the set by Francoise Pierre Couture to incrementally 80s costumes by Carlos Brown.  Pablo Santiago’s Lighting respects the important projections designed by Yee Eun Nam, and sound (John Zalewski) and fight choreography by Ramon Espada fill in scenic milieu.

Unlike the choreographic Members Only, Desert Rats by Nate Rufus Edelman harks back to pressure-cooker plays like Sam Shepard’s True West. Guided by director Angie Scott, the play explodes onto the stage and does not let up until the fireworks at the end.

Frank (Walt Gray IV) and Jesse (Derek Chariton) return to a childhood hide-out in, of all places, Barstow.  Their abusive Dad once brought them there on a “vacation.”  When it is revealed, Frank’s “plan” to kidnap a rich teen involves brother Jesse holding down the fort in the dilapidated motel room. Edelman handles Jesse’s boredom supremely.

Are we meant to sympathize with him?  That question becomes the backbone of the ensuing action when Frank captures Amber (Lila Gavares), a nubile cheerleader complete with cheering togs, and she and Jesse develop a relationship built on mutual emotional need.

In the small Avalos Theatre, audiences surround the threadbare room, set against a stylistic background, both lighting and sets curated by designers Cameron Mock and Emily McDonald. Key sound design by Ivan Robles and choreography by Libby Letlow are indispensible.

Members Only and Desert Rats continue Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 3:00 pm through November 18th, at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 Spring Street Los Angeles 90013. Tickets range from $24.00 to $60.00.  Purchase by phone at  (866) 811-4111 or online at http://thelatc.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.