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World premiere ‘Human Interest Story’ explores homelessness and truth in journalism

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Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”

“The line between where you are now and sleeping in your car is much thinner than you think.” The Fountain Theatre presents the world premiere of a timely new play, written and directed by Stephen Sachs (Arrival & Departure, Citizen: An American Lyric, Bakersfield Mist), about homelessness, celebrity worship and the assault on American journalism. Human Interest Story opens at the Fountain on Feb. 15, where performances continue through April 5.

Set in the fast-moving world of new media, Human Interest Story chronicles the journey of newspaper columnist Andy Kramer, played by award-winning actor Rob Nagle (recent credits include Apple Season at Moving Arts and The Judas Kiss at Boston Court). Suddenly laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes his paper — a print publication struggling for readers in changing times — Andy fabricates a letter to his column in retaliation. The letter, 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, goes viral, and Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman (Tanya Alexander —  Mono/Poly at the Odyssey and Future Sex Inc. at the Lounge) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.

According to Sachs, the play is about how contrary and opposing impulses can hide in the same human being. “A newspaper columnist, in the course of writing a human interest story on another individual, is forced to confront truths about himself,” he explains.

The cast also includes James Harper, previously seen at the Fountain in The Accomplices, as newspaper publisher Harold Cain. Playing multiple roles are Richard Azurdia (My Mañana Comes at the Fountain), Aleisha Force (Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at Virginia Shakes, Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa at Barnstormers Theatre), Matt Kirkwood (Our Class at Son of Semele, The Goat or, who is Sylvia? at the LGBT Center) and Tarina Pouncy (Vendetta Chrome at Coeurage Theatre; Les Blancs at Rogue Machine; and The Old Settler at International City Theatre, for which she garnered an NAACP award).

The creative team for Human Interest Story includes scenic and video designer Matthew G. Hill; lighting designer Jennifer Edwards; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne; costume designer Shon LeBlanc; video hair and makeup designer Diahann McCrary; and prop master Michael Allen Angel. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, and the assistant stage manager is Nura FerdowsiSimon LevyJames Bennett and Deborah Culver produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include David and Mary Jo VolkLaurel and Robert SiltonLois Tandy; and Toby and Daniel Bernstein. The executive producer is Karen Kondazian.

The story was initially inspired by the 1941 Frank Capra classic film Meet John Doe.

Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre and the author of 15 plays. Recent work includes his Deaf/Hearing love story, Arrival & Departure (“Critic’s Choice,” Los Angeles Times); his stage adaptation of William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men, starring Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina at L.A. City Hall; and his stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which premiered at the Fountain Theatre and was remounted by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. His play Bakersfield Mist is performed worldwide. Sachs’ screenplay Sweet Nothing in my Ear, based on his play, was made into a CBS TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin. As director, he is a two-time Ovation Award winner and was recently honored by the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include all-star readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s recent West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list. This season, the Southern California premiere of Daniel’s Husband and the currently extended Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy were each named to multiple “Best of 2019” lists.

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VIDEO: ‘Riverside’ actor Montae Russell hails The Fountain Theatre as “a top-notch organization.”

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Now casting: Fountain Theatre world premiere ‘Human Interest Story’

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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.

MILLER/BAUMAN
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.

HERNANDEZ/MORAN
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.

NAKESHA/TV HOST
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.

Email headshot & resume: casting@fountaintheatre.com

Actor Montae Russell gets in the zone for ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ at the Fountain Theatre

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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 and Elmore 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.

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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.

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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.

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This post originally appeared on Donloe’s Lowdown

VIDEO: Actress Lesley Fera says ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ is “incredible.” Don’t miss it!

Video: Matthew Hancock is home at the Fountain in ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’

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Now Casting: Fountain Theatre and East West Players partner on ‘Hannah and the Dread Gazebo’

HANNAH prelim logo FT no titleThe Fountain Theatre, in association with East West Players, are seeking actors to play Korean & Korean­ Americans in the Southern California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park, directed by Jennifer Chang. This whimsical and poignant play opens July 13 at the Fountain Theatre.

STORYLINE: Hannah is two weeks away from becoming a board-certified neurologist when she receives a strange package from her grandmother, who may—or may not—have just ended her life in a most flamboyant fashion. The mystery leads Hannah and her family on a surreal, funny, heartbreaking adventure back to their roots in South and North Korea and the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. This startling new comedy twists together creation myths and family histories to explore what it means to walk the edge between.

Producers: The Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players           Playwright: Jiehae Park                                                                                                     Director: Jennifer Chang

NOW CASTING:

HANNAH – 28 to 36 years old, East Asian female. about to become a board-certified pediatric neurologist. Control freak.

FATHER – 45 to 55 years old, East Asian male. professor. Keeps It Together for the Family. Emotionally clueless. Must speak Korean.

MOTHER – 48 to 56 years old, East Asian female. In a deep depression that she is hiding from her family, Gardening fanatic and HGTV addict that her family isn’t necessarily aware of. Comedic and playful sensibility a must.

TRICKSTER – 30 to 60 years old, East Asian female. Plays the following characters: Voice/Grandma/Mrs. Lee/Old Man In Coat/Official/Nurse/Mr. Kwon/Kim Jong II/Grandmother Tiger trickster-lost-soul-friend-voice-of-god. May or may not have been here since the beginning of the world. Possible memory loss. Must speak Korean.

DANG – 20 to 26 years old, East Asian male. Recent graduate and professional slacker. Has-a-band-sort-of. Good kid. Guitar playing a plus.

GIRL – 19 to 26 years old, female. Activist in search of a cause. Used-to-have-a-band-sort-of. Blunt. Comedic sensibility a must. Musical Instrument a plus.

Audition Date: 5/21/2019
Callback Date: 5/24/2019
Rehearsal Dates: 6/10 – 07/09
Preview Dates: 7/10 – 7/12
Opening Date: 07/13/2019
Closing Date: 09/01/2019

Contract/Pay Rate: AEA 99-Seat Agreement/$12 per hour for all rehearsals and performances.

Email headshot & resume: casting@eastwestplayers.org

VIDEO: Actor Jose Fernando makes his LA stage debut in ‘Daniel’s Husband’ at Fountain Theatre

VIDEO: Actor Tim Cummings comes home to the Fountain Theatre for ‘Daniel’s Husband’

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Video: Actor Bill Brochtrup is happy to be back at the Fountain in ‘Daniel’s Husband’

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