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Three Sisters

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Berkeley Repertory has created a beautiful and effective production of Anton Chekhov's 1901 Russian drama, Three Sisters. Under the direction of Les Waters, the company's cast and production staff present the playwright's themes of the futility of understanding the mystery of human existence and the longing for a return to a way of life that has passed away.  Chekhov's script mourns the passing of a culture, and his characters accept their failures and the solace of hope for a better future through the family of the three Prozorov sisters, their servants, and their military friends.

The production begins with what feels like actors whose dramatic delivery is stilted, shallow, and one-dimensional.  The feeling is stiff, presentational, and detached, not organic as one might expect from a work that grew out of the work of the Moscow Art Theatre and Constantin Stanislavski.  This new version of the play by Sarah Ruhl might be at the source of this awkwardness.  It seemed difficult for the actors to connect the complexity and conflicts the characters are feeling with the words being spoken.  The actors seemed locked in the grips of an attitude, stating their thoughts and feelings on the surface without a sense of visceral involvement.

In spite of its unstable beginning, the play ultimately works to convey the complexity of Chekhov's perceptions of life and society. As the action of the play progresses, and the individual characters transition from exposition to interactions, the script provides a strong vehicle for the acting ensemble and includes many moments that are funny, horrifying, disgusting, and  touching.

A funny scene that works is when Kulygin (Keith Reddin) presents Irina (Heather Wood) with a book for her birthday present, but Irina reminds him that he had previously given the book to her.  Kulygin, in a moment of public humiliation and panic, scrambles clownishly to cover his blunder.  Reddin works the moment clearly, step by step, without overindulgence, from benevolence to embarrassment, and we empathize with him. A horrifying scene is in Act III as Chebutykin (James Carpenter) laments his failure to save a woman's life, reflects on his pretentiousness, and turns to medicate his inadequacy with alcohol.  A disgusting scene is when Solyony (Sam Breslin Wright) forces his uninvited affections upon Irina.  Finally, one of the most touching scenes in modern drama is when Tuzenbach (Thomas Jay Ryan) asks Irina for a cup of coffee before he goes to fight a duel with Solyony.  We know the outcome before it happens, and we understand why Tuzenbach has made such a choice.

The design team provides beautiful support for the action of the play.  Annie Smart's scenic design, Ilona Somegyi's costumes, Alexander V. Nichols' lighting, David Budries' sound, and Musical Director Julie Wolf all provide a mixture of warmth and coolness, bright moments of color and earthy textures that subtly reinforce transitions in situations and character development.

When entering the theater, audience members are warned that the play is three and one-half hours long with only one intermission.  Time flies when you're having fun.  See this play.  It is timeless.

2025 Addison Street @ Shadduck, Berkeley CA.



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.