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Save Me a Spot!

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Save Me a Spot! is an entertaining new musical enjoying its world premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Chris (Clayton Farris) is a veteran slacker whose sole purpose in life seems to be following Bailee’s (Kristin Heitman) online video blog.

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Pledge

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Catching sight of the title, Pledge in the voluminous Hollywood Fringe guide, you could be forgiven for assuming the show is a late-night cult offering, using Greek Life as an excuse to get strapping young men into their tighty whities for a paddling.

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Man of La Mancha

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Man of La Mancha – La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy/Rigby Entertainment’s current production – began on Broadway in 1965, ran for 2,238 performances, and earned five Tony Awards.

But it started in the seventeenth century as a novel titled Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. Three centuries later, in 1959, playwright Dale Wasserman (who also adapted Ken Kesey’s book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to the stage) wrote a teleplay inspired by Cervantes’s story. It was called I, Don Quixote. Wasserman later teamed up with Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh to create a stage musical based on Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Darion’s lyrics and Leigh’s music, combined with Wasserman’s book, resulted in one of the mainstays of modern day musical theater.

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Battlefield

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The day I was set to see Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata, there was an early morning earthquake. Nothing huge. Just a reminder that California is built on fault lines. Certainly, it didn’t visibly affect attendance at the performance that afternoon.

That audience gathered in anticipation of theatrical seismic activity. And we were not disappointed. Nine hours of epic theatre devised by, arguably, the most influential director of the 20th Century kept us spellbound.

The production had been developed over a decade by Brook and his company. While the stark and stripped-down staging seemed the culmination of Brook’s style, the sweeping narrative, the large international cast, and the unique instruments which accompanied the action allowed the production the flexibility to change focus from mammoth to intimate in an instant.

Brook has returned to the source material with his original collaborators, Jean-Claude Carriere and Marie-Helene Estienne, for Battlefield. But, with a running time of seventy minutes, and a cast of four, plus one musician, the physical scope of the production is obviously quite different.

Battlefield is not a “greatest hits” distillation of The Mahabharata. It opens in the aftermath of a great battle, which ends a civil war. The principal characters are introduced as they view the bloody battlefield and wonder how they will ever manage to return to their lives.

Austere and elegiac as a Greek tragedy, the text investigates survivor guilt along with insightful explorations of death, duty, and destiny. The discussion is thought-provoking and offers numerous unsettling parallels with today’s political landscape.

The cast, Karen Aldridge, Jared McNeill, Ery Nzaramba, and Sean O’Callaghan are all superb. They command the stage when necessary, and they offer the textual arguments with an elegant simplicity that clarifies every point.

Toshi Tsuchitori has worked with Brook for many years, composing the music for Mahabharata. In Battlefield, he sets the mood, heightens the drama, and accompanies the action with a single African drum. He does all of this with a virtuosic facility and a depth of expression that equals the actors.

At 92, Brook remains a vital theatrical force, though the moments of theatrical magic are necessarily smaller and subtler in Battlefield than in his large canvas pieces. With only six performances scheduled at the Wallis, any lover of theatre should catch this production.

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts    May 24 – 28, 2017    TheWallis.org

 

Tesla: A Radio Play for the Stage

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With six chairs, four microphones, and a fairly elaborate sound effects set up, playwright Dan Duling's intriguing glimpse into inventor Nikoli Tesla's life is aided by an enviable ensemble of seasoned actors who play a gaggle of luminaries in the early world of electricity. Full of intrigue and ruthless competition among early pioneers like Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, George Westinghouse, and even Mark Twain, Tesla's story makes physics and electrical engineering the stuff of high drama.

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This Side of Sweetwater

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This Side of Sweetwater is something different for a Fringe production. Not that there aren’t plenty of one-act collections playing in the Festival, but this production has a unique purpose. The five short plays being performed are a salute to the playwright, Tom Stanczyk. They are also an elegy, as Stanczyk passed away last Fall.

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Dogfight

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Benj Pasek & Justin Paul may well win a Tony Award this year for their music and lyrics for Dear Evan Hansen. But the songwriting team first gained New York notice with their 2012 Off-Broadway production, Dogfight. The musical is based on a memorable early 90’s film, which starred River Phoenix and Lily Taylor.

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Les Blancs

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Left unfinished at her death, Lorraine Hansberry's play Les Blancs was completed by her husband, Robert Nemiroff, and posthumously produced on Broadway in 1970. Despite a strong cast featuring James Earl Jones, the production was not a success, and the play quickly fell into obscurity. Rogue Machine’s riveting new production makes a powerful case that the play has been unjustly neglected.

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S/He & Me

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Alexandra Billings is a powerful performer, known for her role as Davina on the Amazon Prime hit, Transparent. I haven’t seen the television series, but I have experienced La Billings on stage, both in Chicago and Los Angeles. She is always memorable.

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The Lyons

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For close to 30 years, playwright Nicky Silver has been eviscerating families with his scathing wit. He’s moved away from the more absurdist elements in his early shows, but he remains a writer with a unique voice and a keen understanding of the resentments that simmer just below the surface of even the best-behaved people. Not that Silver has any interest in good behavior.

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Page 15 of 29

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.