Montae Russell, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Marisol Miranda, Matthew Hancock.
The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis will extend its sold-out run to January 26, 2020. The original cast will remain intact.
The performance schedule continues to be Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 2pm and Monday 8pm (Pay What You Want). More info/Get Tickets
Over a dozen rave reviews:
“THE PULITZER-WINNING PLAY YOU MUST SEE IN L.A.” — Los Angeles Times
“REWARD[S] US WITH THE RAREST OF GIFTS: the pleasure of a raffish grace where you least expect to find it.”— Cultural Weekly
“SUPERBLY ACTED… The Fountain Theatre has done itself proud again.” — Hollywood Progressive
“SPLASH SELECTION… a superbly directed, acted, and produced must-see show.” — LA Splash
“HUMOR AND WORDPLAY AND FANTASTIC MUSIC… POWERFUL PERFORMANCES” — Larchmont Buzz
“A thoughtful exploration of family, forgiveness, and deciding what is important when life has not gone the way you imagined… led by a TOUR DE FORCE from Russell, who brings the enigmatic Pops to life with impressive complexity.” — On Stage and Screen
“NEEDS TO BE SEEN… sometimes hilarious, sometimes agonizing… a seamless, breathtaking ensemble” — People’s World
“OUTSTANDING… laugh lines abound… deals with profound issues of the human condition.” — Beverly Cohn, Santa Monica Mirror
“WOW!…SENSATIONAL… Contemporary play-writing at its most original and Los Angeles theater at its finest.” —Stage Scene LA
“SCINTILLATING… an exciting, engrossing piece of theatre with a cast of seasoned pros.” Theatre Notes
“BRILLIANT DIRECTION… [A] SUPERB CAST“—Theatre Spoken Here
“HILARIOUSLY OUTRAGEOUS and delightfully off-kilter dialogue… one of out city’s best ensemble casts” — Ticket Holders LA
“FEARLESS… a brutally honest understanding of human emotions fully on display by a talented cast of seven.” — Culver City News
All art is political. In tense, fractious times—like our current moment—all art is political. But even during those times when politics and the future of our country itself are not the source of constant worry and anxiety, art is still political. Art lives in the world, and we exist in the world, and we cannot create honest work about the world in which we live without reflecting it. If the work tells the truth, it will live on.
Public Enemy’s “911 Is a Joke,” George Orwell’s 1984, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s whole damn catalog—all are political works that tell the truth.
Yes, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Consider The Sound of Music. It isn’t just about climbing mountains and fording streams. Look beyond the adorable von Trapp children: It’s about the looming existential threat of Nazism. No longer relevant? A GIF of Captain von Trapp tearing up a Nazi flag is something we see 10 times a day on Twitter, because all sorts of Nazis are out there again in 2019. As last spring’s searing Broadway revival of Oklahoma! revealed, lying underneath Hammerstein’s elephant-eye-high corn and chirping birds is a lawless society becoming itself, bending its rules and procedures based on who is considered part of the community (Curly) and who is marginalized (poor Jud … seriously, poor Jud). Or consider your parents’ favorite, South Pacific. At its center, our hero, Nellie Forbush, must confront her own internalized racism when she learns that the new love of her life has biracial children from a previous marriage. Let your parents know if they forgot: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals form the spine of Broadway’s “golden age,” and they also deeply engage with the politics of their era.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway cast of In the Heights.
My first Broadway musical, In the Heights, is an example of how time can reveal the politics inherent within a piece of art. When I began writing this musical, as a college project at Wesleyan University, it was an 80-minute collegiate love story with a promising mix of Latin music and hip-hop, but it was pretty sophomoric (which is appropriate; I was a sophomore). After college, I started from scratch with the director Thomas Kail and the playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and we shifted the show’s focus from the love story to Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan where everyone is from everywhere. In the 20th century, Washington Heights was often home to the latest wave of immigrants. It was an Irish neighborhood; it was a Russian Jewish neighborhood (Yeshiva University is up there). If you take the Dominican store sign down you’ll see a sign for an Irish pub underneath it, and if you take that down you’ll find Hebrew. Washington Heights was heavily Dominican when I was growing up, and it remains so, with a vibrant Mexican and Latin American immigrant community as well.
We received great reviews. If critics had a common criticism, it was that the show, its contemporary music aside, was somehow old-fashioned or “sentimental.” Gentrification, the businesses closing, the literal powerlessness as the characters face a blackout that affects only their neighborhood—these issues, always there in the material, didn’t register with most theater critics in 2008. In the Heights was considered a hit by Broadway standards. It didn’t leap off the Arts page and into the national conversation like Hamilton would, but we won some Tonys, recouped our investment, and had a wonderful three-year run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton now lives. We posted our Broadway closing notice at the end of 2010.
What a difference 10 years makes.
Right now, Jon M. Chu is editing his feature-film adaptation of In the Heights, which is scheduled to be released in June. We spent a joyous summer shooting the film—on location, in our neighborhood—and issues that were always inherent in the text now stand out in bold-faced type. Gentrification has rendered Lower Manhattan, Harlem, and much of Brooklyn unrecognizable to the previous generations that called those neighborhoods home. The East Village of Jonathan Larson’s Rent is nonexistent, lettered avenues notwithstanding. And the narrative of immigrants coming to this country and making a better life for themselves—the backdrop of everything that happens in In the Heights, across three generations of stories—is somehow a radical narrative now.
Donald Trump came down the escalator to declare his presidential run, and in his first speech he demonized Mexicans: They’re rapists; they’re bringing drugs; they’re not sending their best people. We young Latinos had thought of our parents and grandparents as the latest wave making its home in this country, and we thought that we would be the next group to make this place a better place, to prove once again that the American dream wasn’t just a figment of some propagandist’s imagination. And now we’re in a different age when, for some, considering an immigrant a human being is a radical political act.
Consider this rap, written 12 years ago and delivered by Sonny, In the Heights’ youngest character, in a song called “96,000”:
Your kids are living without a good edumacation,
Change the station, teach ’em about gentrification,
The rent is escalatin’
The rich are penetratin’
We pay our corporations when we should be demonstratin’
What about immigration?
Politicians be hatin’
Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant
It was always political. It was always there. Donald Trump made it even more true.
Trump uses language to destroy empathy. He criminalizes the impulse and imperative to seek asylum, to seek a place to live thousands of miles away because the alternative at home is worse. Through his lens, these seekers are not people; they’re “animals” or “bad hombres.”
What artists can do is bring stories to the table that are unshakably true—the sort of stories that, once you’ve heard them, won’t let you return to what you thought before. I think about the crisis on the border constantly. I think about the famous photograph of a little girl crying beside a Border Patrol truck. That picture went viral because it seemed to capture the horror of family separations. But it turned out that the girl wasn’t being separated from her mother—her mother had simply been ordered to put her daughter down while she was searched by agents. The family was in distress, and the border crisis was real, but people used the details of this particular incident to close themselves off from empathy. “Fake news,” they said. A child is crying for her mother, but that’s not enough to keep people from pushing empathy away. I believe great art is like bypass surgery. It allows us to go around all of the psychological distancing mechanisms that turn people cold to the most vulnerable among us.
At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them. We keep revisiting Shakespeare’s Macbeth because ruthless political ambition does not belong to any particular era. We keep listening to Public Enemy because systemic racism continues to rain tragedy on communities of color. We read Orwell’s 1984 and shiver at its diagnosis of double-think, which we see coming out of the White House at this moment. And we listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, as Lieutenant Cable sings about racism, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” It’s all art. It’s all political.
This article appears in the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award–winning composer, lyricist, and actor.
The Fountain Theatre is now casting roles available in the world premiere of the new play, Human Interest Story, written and directed by Stephen Sachs. The timely drama examining homelessness and ethics in journalism is scheduled to open February 15, 2020.
Newspaper columnist Andy Kramer is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes the City Chronicle. In retaliation, Andy fabricates a letter to his column from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world. When the letter goes viral, Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman to stand-in as the fictitious Jane Doe. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited. A funny and riveting tale on the ethics of American journalism, homelessness, the worship of celebrity and the need to tell your own story.
Now Casting the Following Roles:
BETTY FRAZIER/JANE DOE
35 to 45 years old, Black/African American female. Laid-off elementary school teacher Betty Frazier has been homeless two years. She becomes an overnight media sensation as the fictitious Jane Doe. Strong-willed, compassionate, deep feeling, smart, nobody’s fool. She has come from the hell of darkness and is now reaching for light. Fiercely fighting to be seen and be heard, she discovers her own voice. The one she always had.
Caucasian male. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Miller, a cold-blooded, ruthless newspaper editor, and Bauman, a scheming far-right political campaign aide.
40 to 50 years old, Hispanic male. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Hernandez, an ardent by-the-book newspaper Assistant Editor, and Moran, a polite sturdy bodyguard.
35 to 50 years old, Black/African American female. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Nakesha, a hard-working impassioned school principal and TV Host, a razor-sharp intellectual black feminist.
Rehearsal starts Monday, January 6th, 2020. The production runs February 15 – April 5, 2020. Contract: AEA 99-Seat. Auditions: November 11 -22, 2019.
LA STAGE Alliance announced yesterday that the Fountain Theatre has been honored with 18 Ovation Award nominations, the largest number of any intimate theatre for the 2018/19 season. The Fountain’s nominations include Best Season for overall excellence.
The Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles, created to recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production, and design in the Greater Los Angeles area.
During the 2018-29 season, there were 278 total productions registered for the Ovation Awards from 124 different producing bodies, resulting in 199 total nominations for 64 distinct productions presented by 43 organizations. These productions were voted on by 272 Ovation Awards voters — vetted individuals from the Greater Los Angeles area who are working theatre professionals.
The Fountain Theatre received the following Ovation Award nominations:
BEST SEASON Fountain Theatre Cost of Living Daniel’s Husband Hype Man: a Break Beat Play
BEST PRODUCTION OF A PLAY (Intimate Theatre) Cost of Living Daniel’s Husband
ACTING ENSEMBLE OF A PLAY Cost of Living Daniel’s Husband
DIRECTION OF A PLAY John Vreeke – Cost of Living
LEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY Tim Cummings – Daniel’s Husband Felix Solis – Cost of Living
LEAD ACTRESS IN A PLAY Katy Sullivan – Cost of Living
FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY Tobias Forrest – Cost of Living
FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY Jenny O’Hara – Daniel’s Husband Xochitl Romero – Cost of Living
LIGHTING DESIGN (Intimate Theatre) Chu-Hsuan Chang – Hype Man: A Break Beat Play Jennifer Edwards – Daniel’s Husband John Garofalo – Cost of Living
Montae Russell in “Between Riverside and Crazy” at the Fountain Theatre.
By Darlene Donloe
Montae Russell is well known throughout Los Angeles theater circles for playing meaty roles. He’s played Charlie “Bird” Parker in Bird Lives!, Memphis in Two Trains Running andElmore in a production of King Hedley II. He also played Mister on Broadway in King Hedley II opposite Viola Davis and Leslie Uggams.
Up next for the veteran thespian is a complicated, determined man named Walter “Pops” Washington who has declared war on almost everything in the Stephen Adly Guirgis 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama Between Riverside and Crazy, opening October 19 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.
Russell, a Pittsburgh native is ready to take on the role. While talking to him about the show and “Pops”, the 50-something, married (Tonia), father of one, walked around a local park to let the imagery of the play and the character “sink in.” It’s a process, he said allows him to be “closer to where I need to be” when he hits the stage.
Russell’s first acting role came in the seventh grade when he played Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. His first professional play was in the off-Broadway production of Three Ways Home at the Astor Place Theater in New York.
Eventually he brought his talent to Los Angeles where he became a respected film, television and theater actor.
A highly sought after actor, Russell had to decide between doing August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Between Riverside and Crazy. He said it was a hard decision, but he read something in the “Pops” character that spoke to him.
In Between Riverside and Crazy, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis, ex-cop and recent widower Walter ‘Pops’ Washington has made a home for his newly paroled son in his sprawling, rent-controlled New York City apartment on Riverside Drive. But now the NYPD is demanding his signature to close an outstanding lawsuit, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed, and the church is on his back — leaving Pops somewhere between Riverside… and crazy.
Montae Russell and Victory Anthony in “Between Riverside and Crazy”
I recently caught up with Russell to discuss his role in Between Riverside and Crazy.
DD: In your own words, describe Between Riverside and Crazy.
MR: I really can’t describe it because I’m in the midst of it. Well, from my character’s perspective, he was a cop who was shot by a white cop eight years ago. The cop overreacted when he saw black people in a bar. My character is in a battle with NYPD. He’s living in a rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. The landlord wants him out so he can charge more rent.
But my character is dug in. He’s not backing down. His son is an ex-con. He is fighting for his son. Every father wants his son to become a man. He is also fighting a war with himself. He has war with a lot of people. He has a battle with the bottle and his body. He has stress and strife. There are external forces and an internal battle within himself. Sometimes it’s not about annihilating your opponent. Sometimes you just have to sign a truce.
DD: In what way are you like Pop and in what way are you the furthest from Pop?
MR: I’m a fighter, but I don’t have as many wars. I have a stubborn streak. I don’t have multiple wars, though. I don’t have people coming at me as he does. But, I can understand what it would be like. I respect the character. I just fight differently.
DD: Why did you want to play this part?
MR: When I read it, I cracked up. A lot of things about the character made me laugh. He is raging a war with God, or with his beliefs because of all the things that have happened. You can’t win that war. It’s a very hilarious play. Pops is pulling no punches. He doesn’t care. He is the master of his domain. He’s a very funny cat. He’s not a rabble-rouser. He’s not an activist. He’s a conservative – but not in a social way – more of an interpersonal way. He’s a traditional man, an old school man. He comes from a time when you controlled your emotions.
DD: How did you go about developing Pop?
MR: It’s a day-by-day thing. We’ll be developing until the end of the play in December. Different stuff is revealed each time you crack open the script. There is constant tweaking.
He’s not funny, Ha, Ha. He’s funny concerning his perspectives. Living like that can cause problems. You have to give a fuck at some point. You have to give a fuck about something.
DD: Have you ever been between Riverside and crazy?
MR: You would have to ask the people around me.
Montae Russell, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Marisol Miranda, Matthew Hancock.
DD: By what criteria do you decide to do a show?
MR: It has to be a challenge. I have to think I can bring something to it. It’s about what speaks to me. I was supposed to do Gem of the Ocean. I was going to play Caesar. Both shows were going up at the same time. I opted to do this instead. It’s difficult to turn down a role like Caesar. It would have also been difficult to turn down this role.
DD: You’ve played a lot of characters. What role did you nail?
MR: I try to do that all the time. I enjoyed playing Memphis in Two Trains Running. August Wilson front-loads his characters with a lot of stuff they are dealing with. The character challenged me. It felt good that I concurred it. The stuff he has to live through. His backstory – all of that comes into the show. You’re responsible for the backstory even if it doesn’t come up in the play.
DD: How do you prepare to go on stage? Any rituals?
MR: I gotta be at the theater at least 45 minutes before I’m supposed to be there. I have to have food in my stomach to power through the show. It’s just like a sporting event. You can’t keep running back to the locker room. I like to warm up my voice. I warm up my diction and I stretch. I need to be by myself and get in my space. I like to get in my zone.
DD: Why did you want to be an actor?
MR: A lot of people today don’t know what they want to do. I was blessed at 13 – that’s when I knew. From there, I got green lights all the way. One job led to another. August Wilson wrote my letter of recommendation to get into Rutgers. He reached back.
DD: What happens to you when you’re on stage?
MR: It allows you to go to another world. Your imagination has to buy it. It’s the same concept when doing a show. We are on stage being looked at by an audience. That to me is fun. It’s nice to get away from the real world and step into someone else’s shoes for a while.