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The Belonging

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In actor/playwright Joe Acosta's positively riveting play, "The Belonging," we are brought to a state penitentiary where we find a man who is being punished twice. First he is being punished by the system for killing his father ten years earlier when he was only nineteen, and second, and most severely, he is punishing himself. Acosta is an exemplary prisoner. In a decade, he has made no friends, no enemies, and no waves. He keeps to himself and does what he is told. He seems content to live out the rest of his life in prison. Any effort to break through the heavily insulated wall to his emotions is met with complete and total hostility. Even attempts for contact by his mother and young sister have been refused. Their visits are disallowed by the prisoner himself; years of letters sent by his sister Anna (Cricket Leigh)are returned unopened.

The death of Jack's mother brings Anna to the prison to plead with the warden (Dana J. Kelly) to release him for several hours so he can attend their mother's funeral. The warden is cautiously amenable, with questionable approvals by the prison shrink, Ben (Bobby Jasmin), and Jack's somewhat protective cellblock prison guard Mike (Shayne Anderson). The final decision, however, will be up to Jack.

Why would a man who has shut out his family as well as the entire world consent to re-enter it just to have to turn around and return to the emptiness and bleakness of a cell? And, how would he handle seeing his dead mother and his sister who is now twenty? Will his pseudo-tough exterior crack? Will he have to face and do battle with the old demons once again? Will the young boy who played the knight in shining armor and protector of his little sister have to relive the fact that he just wasn't big enough to save her from their father's abuse? Jack lives in guilt, not of killing his father, but in the guilt that he failed Anna. Will the past surge once more into his frazzled brain, which is ready to short-circuit and either explode or implode? In any case, this turn of events is about to change, irrevocably, the future Jack had planned for himself.

This work is an expanded version of Acosta's award-winning, one-act play. The script presents some intense and wonderfully rendered scenes involving the three men, as well as scenes with the men and Anna, but when Anna finally comes face to face with her brother, you will freeze; you will hear your heart pounding in your chest. This is one of the few moments when you can honestly say this is theatre at its best. Kelly, Jasmin, and Anderson do good work here as men with various agendas and conflicting ideas of how to help this tortured man. But it is Leigh who will absolutely break your heart as she begs for her knight to return to her. And, Acosta, as rigid as steel, cold as ice, is astonishingly pliant when his protective walls are smashed by love. He is truly terrific. Adam Webster, who staged the original shorter piece, returns as director with his attention very targeted, unobtrusive, and paced with precision.

Alas, nothing is one hundred percent perfect, and one might suggest a small bit of trimming to sustain the powerfully compelling emotional buildup to meltdown. Also, the scene changes of the very few set pieces are clunky and performed by the actors themselves. This is very disconcerting to the superb fluidity the drama achieves. Perhaps a smaller prison cot left in place and covered and a desk on casters would help dearly.

Performing at the East Theater at The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., theatre row in Hollywood; Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m.; through February 2. Tickets $15 general, $12 senior/students, call 323/969-4601.

 

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.