The Fountain Theatre has been awarded a 2017 grant in the amount of $15,000 from The Shubert Foundation to support the general operating of the organization. The Shubert Foundation provides grants only to organizations that have an established artistic and administrative track record, as well as a history of fiscal responsibility.
The award marks the second year in a row that the Fountain Theatre has received support from the Shubert Fountain. This year the award amount was increased.
“This grant is a substantial award from a foundation whose mission is to lend support to theatres of varying sizes across the country,” notes Barbara Goodhill, Fountain Director of Development. “This is another step up forward in a year of growth for The Fountain.”
Theatres are evaluated individually and with appropriate allowance for size and resources. The standard for awarding these grants is based on an assessment of each organization’s operation and its contribution to the field. Artistic achievement, administrative strength and fiscal stability are factored into each evaluation, as is the company’s development of new work and other significant contributions to the field of professional theatre in the US.
The Shubert Foundation, Inc. is dedicated to sustaining and advancing the live performing arts in the United States, with a particular emphasis on theatre. The Foundation’s Board of Directors believes that the most effective way to encourage the artistic process is by providing the general operating support that reinforces the structure that nurtures its development. Accordingly, The Foundation does not earmark its awards; all allocations are unrestricted.
The Shubert Foundation, Inc. was established in 1945 by Lee and J.J. Shubert in memory of their brother Sam, and is the sole shareholder of The Shubert Organization, Inc., which currently owns/operates 21 theatres: 17 on Broadway, one Off-Broadway theatre (The Little Shubert), and one each in Boston and Philadelphia. The Shubert Archive, a working repository of more than 10 million theatrical documents and related items, operates under the aegis of The Shubert Foundation.
“We sincerely thank the Shubert Foundation for its ongoing support,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “The Shubert name is synonymous with excellence in the American Theatre. It’s an honor for us to be recognized by one of the most highly respected foundations and organizations in our field. “
Ann Noble, Liz Berman and John Prosky introduce the evening.
Tuesday night at the Fountain was one of those evenings that reminds us of the transformative power of theatre. Why we do what we do. It was also a night about working together. Not only for the incarcerated young men on stage from Rancho San Antonio Boys Home who performed the new play they wrote via the Antaeus Odyssey Workshop. But also for the two LA intimate theatre companies who partnered to make the evening possible.
The Odyssey Workshop is an educational outreach program launched by Antaeus Theatre Company that uses theatre techniques to teach creative writing to young adults from high-risk environments. “This is such an important program for all of us at Antaeus Theatre Company,” says Antaeus Co-Artistic Director Bill Brochtrup. “It’s truly a life-changing event for the young men participating — and for the audiences who are lucky enough to see them.”
Because construction on the company’s new venue in Glendale is not yet complete, Antaeus needed to find a theatre to host its one-night performance of the Odyssey Workshop. They reached out to the Fountain Theatre. We immediately agreed to welcome Antaeus and its program into our home.
Antaeus actress Ann Noble and Fountain Associate Producer James Bennett greet guests.
The coincidental timing of Tuesday night’s performance was not lost on anyone. The very next day, Actors Equity Association terminated the 99-Seat Plan, replacing it with a controversial and unpopular new Agreement that divides and separates the once-unified LA intimate theatre community into competing categories and factions.
The shared event at the Fountain Theatre was all about cooperation.
Antaeus actress and board member Dawn Didawick commented, “I wish some of our union representatives could be required to attend events like these in order to learn what Los Angeles theatre artists give to their community.”
“There’s been so much rancor and divisiveness with Actors Equity over their elimination of the 99-Seat Plan,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Tuesday night is an example of what happens when two LA intimate theatre companies, each very different in their programming and organizational structure, cooperate together for the sake of being of service to those other than themselves.”
Fountain Producing Director Simon Levy agrees. “Art does change lives. Theatre opens hearts and connects us to The Other. Bravo/bravissima to Antaeus for this great program. And a standing O to the young men who opened their hearts and allowed themselves to be vulnerable… because it changes us.”
Following the performance, the night was ignited by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe which seemed to exemplify the spirit of the evening. There was food, drinks and a cacophony of raucous chatter and laughter. Students enjoying family and friends intermixing with Antaeus members mingling with Fountain staff. A room packed with a wide variety of diverse people and two uniquely-styled theatre companies. Everyone together, for the same common purpose, becoming one.
‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre
by Carolyn Kellogg
Poet Claudia Rankine was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship grant for her work that engages with contemporary American culture, particularly issues of race. Her most recent book, 2014’s “Citizen,” racked up stacks of awards for its searing take on the personal and political, including the death of Trayvon Martin. Rankine, who taught for many years at Pomona College, is now on the faculty at Yale University. We talked to her about the MacArthur grant and what it means for her work.
What was it like hearing about the award?
It’s very exciting, very surprising, which makes it more exciting.
I’m in my mid-50s. This is an incredible honor, but I’ve been lucky enough to get my work done with or without it. So I feel like having this award given to me at this point in my career, I think in my own imagination, what else? It makes me want to do even more in terms of the subject of my work.
The subject of “Citizen” is, in part, the death of black men in America. And that subject is renewed again as we’re talking. I wonder if you could address that.
To me, the getting of this honor is a kind of recognition, obviously a monetary recognition, which is helpful. But it’s also for me the culture saying: We have an investment in dismantling white dominance in our culture. If you’re trying to do that, we’re going to help you. And that, to me, is encouraging. The MacArthur is given to my subject through me. The subject of trying to change the discourse of black people being equated with criminality and murdered inside a culture where white fear has justified the continued incarceration, murder of blacks and other people of color. I do feel like I am just incidental in a certain way to the prize, and that the prize is being given to the subject — that I am completely invested in.
Claudia Rankine at Fountain Theatre
Could you talk about your ongoing creative project?
Before I was notified about the MacArthur I had been in the process of putting together with Casey Llewellyn, and a number of writers and artists, the Racial Imaginary Institute. Which for us is an interdisciplinary arts and cultural laboratory for the dismantling of white dominance. One of the things I think the culture needs is an actual location where writers and artists and thinkers can come together and put pressure on the language that makes apparent white supremacy and white dominance. I think a lot of us are working separately on these subjects, but it would be nice to have a Racial Imaginary Institute that really has as its goal the dismantling of white supremacy. That each of us can go at it inside of our fields. If you’re a writer, you have the benefit of talking to other artists who are interested in the subject. What are we missing? What isn’t getting said? What are the narratives of white greatness that disallow other things to be brought to the surface? I’m very excited about the creation of the institute, the making of the space, the notion that culturally we’ll know where to go to have these discussions, to actively look at the absences and the erasures around the construction of race, especially the construction of whiteness in America.
Where will it be?
Right now we’re looking for a space, but I assume it will be in New York City. Right now we exist as people with a mission and a name. And with work [the essay collection “The Racial Imaginary” was published by Fence Books in 2015].
When you heard about this award, did you think, I’m buying an island and we’ll have our institute!
No, I think that it’s the kind of thing we’ll have to work toward getting funding for. Not even the MacArthur money can put something into the world like that. I really believe that the culture can change the way we think. Right now we have a media culture, television culture, pop culture that still moves forward on many assumptions around whiteness that we all know to be erroneous and hurtful. I think that this institute could begin to make products — books, give talks, present readings, make art — that shifts the understanding into a place that reflects an actual reality rather than the constructed realities around whiteness.
Tell me a little about the aesthetics underlying your work.
Stephen Sachs, Claudia Rankine, Shirley Jo Finney
I’m committed to an interdisciplinary investigation of cultural dynamics. The reason I will forever identify as a poet is because I think poetry is the one genre that privileges feelings. And so no matter what I’m working on, I’m also interested in the impact of the reality with the human psyche. So for me, the work has to bring the reality up against the experience of the reality. And all of my work is how do you get that to be apparent, and apparent in language? The felt experience. For example, right now we know that 60% of African Americans and Latinos live in communities where you have toxic-waste sites. Now that’s a fact. But how do I get that to be a lived experience inside a work of art? That’s the challenge as a writer and as an art-maker. How do you get the piece of art to enact a discussion that feels plausible inside your own living room? Right now I’m working on a play that draws from “Citizen.” The real challenge is how do you bring the kinds of conversations around race that happen at 7 o’clock over the dinner table onto the stage? So that when you go to the theater to see it, you know you’ve had that conversation.
So that there’s a kind of recognition.
There has to be recognition. One has to step into the moment as a lived experience. Even if the circumstances seem foreign, the experience needs to connect as a known realm on the emotional level.
Philip Solomon, Thomas Silcott “The Painted Rocks at revolver Creek”
The Fountain Theatre has been honored with 23 awards of excellence from StageSceneLA for productions in its 2015-16 season. Fountain productions awarded were the west coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, the world premiere of Dream Catcher by Stephen Sachs, the Los Angeles premiere of My Mañana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin, and the west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll.
Since 2007, Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA.com has spotlighted the best in Southern California theater via reviews, interviews, and its annual StageSceneLA Awards.
The Fountain has been honored with the following awards this 2015-16 season:
YEAR’S BEST INTIMATE THEATERS The Fountain Theatre
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION, DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER) The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION, COMEDY-DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER) My Mañana Comes
Dick Motika, Caron Gonzales, Jerrie Whitfield, Edward Gonzales
Sometimes, when you have something special, you just want to share it. That was the feeling last night, when Fountain Board members Dick Motika, Jerrie Whitfield, Dorothy Wolpert and her husband, Stanley Wolpert, invited their friends and colleagues to a special-added private performance of Baby Dollat the Fountain. The VIP guests enjoyed their own exclusive performance and then chatted with the company in a catered reception upstairs in our charming cafe.
It was a relaxed evening of nice food, good wine, stimulating conversation and a riveting production of a steamy, powerful play. The invited guests relished meeting the actors after the performance. Many gathered outside on the balcony to savor the Hollywood night air.
In attendance were Adam Mortanian, Ashley Bowman, Audrey Stein, Bonnie and Arthur Nijst, Brian Getnick, Cala Bowdra, Dale and Don Franzen, Dan Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Ed and Caron Gonzales, Gary and Rebecca Drucker, James Benge, Jane and Howard Matz, Jessica and Demetrius Martinez, Kathy and Jack Smith, Krista and Ron Sanders, Lisa Nevins and Kent Caldwell-Meek, Mark and Leah Drooks, Natalie Bergeson, Paul Moskowitz, Ruth and Bonnie and Stuart Wolpert, Ryan and Margaret Cutrona, Sheri Leiwand, Shoshana Bannett, Steve Thomas, Thelma and Elliot Samulon.
Our heartfelt thanks to Dick, Jerrie, Dorothy and Stanley for hosting this very special evening.
The Fountain Theatre is now casting a 3-week development workshop for Freddie, a new project by Deborah Lawlor that combines theatre, dance and music to tell the unforgettable true story of a legendary dancer.
STORYLINE: Based on a true story. Greenwich Village, 1964. Freddie Herko was a brilliant 28 year-old ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent haunted by dark self-destructive demons. A fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Herko became more eccentric, unpredictable and self-destructive. While dancing in his NY apartment to Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Herko leapt out the window and fell to his death five stories down. The project “Freddie” chronicles the friendship between Freddie and Shelley, the naive young woman caught under his spell who desires to be a dancer. By fusing theatre, music, dance and video, the project will capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era.
Director: Frances Loy Writer: Deborah Lawlor Producer: Stephen Sachs Co-Producer: Simon Levy Associate Producer: James Bennett Casting Director: Frances Loy
Dates: 3-week rehearsal period in October, culminating in 3 public performances. Exact dates to be determined based on artist availability.
SPECIAL NOTE: This is a 3-week developmental workshop of a new theatre piece combining theatre, dance/movement and music. To explore and discover how the text intertwines with dance/movement. It will culminate in 3 public performances. This project is supported, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Roles: [FREDDIE] 20 to 30 years old, male. Charismatic, dynamic, tortured soul. Must have strong training and experience in classical ballet. [SHELLEY] 20 to 25 years old, female. Naive, innocent, excitable, light quality. Must have strong training and experience in classical ballet. [GLORIA/DIANE DI PRIMA/MARGARET/BABY JANE] 30 to 50 years old, female. Seeking versatile actress to play multiple roles. Grounded, motherly quality. Flirtatious and exuberant. Must have some training in classical ballet. [TINA/ONDINE] 30 to 40 years old, female. Darkly mystical and mysterious. Must have some training in classical ballet. [ANDY/JOHNNIE/GEORGE/EDDIE] 20 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles, including aloof to friendly to intimidating to gregarious. Must have some training inn classical ballet. [BILLY/RALPH/SERGIO] 20 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles, including gregarious Italian and down-to-earth dependable. [JIMMY WARING/ROTTEN RITA] 40 to 50 years old, male. Two roles: sober, sage “mentor” type plus lightly effeminate with strong comedy skills. [PETE/ONDINE/ARTHUR] 30 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles: from opera nut who holds forth to straight, strong and dependable husband of Shelley.
When the movie Baby Doll was released in 1956, it was the film’s sexuality that drew all the attention.
Time magazine called it “possibly the dirtiest American picture ever legally exhibited,” and the film was condemned for lewdness by the Legion of Decency.
The week before Christmas, Cardinal Francis Spellman, New York’s rigid archbishop at the time, pronounced from the pulpit. “Dearly beloved in Christ, I have a statement to make. I am anguished to learn of a motion picture that has been responsibly judged to be evil in concept and which is certain to exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it. The revolting theme of this picture, Baby Doll, and the brazen advertising promoting it constitute a contemptuous defiance of the natural law.” Essentially, he admonished, it was a sin for any Catholic to see the film.
Today, mainstream movies depict sexuality in ways that make Baby Doll look quaint. But in 1956, when the red-hot charge of “un-Americanism” was being branded on anyone or any idea deemed remotely threatening, Baby Doll was more than a movie. To many, it was a threat.
For me, the deeper, more insidious threat dramatized in Baby Doll is not about sex. Yes, Baby Doll is sexy and steamy and seductive. Yet more than that, Baby Doll is sadly relevant to the systemic racism and anti-immigration paranoia still seething in our nation today.
It’s easy to now snicker at Spellman’s condemnation that Baby Doll was “immoral” and “evil” in 1956. But that same righteous judgement of sex and morality is echoed in the right-wing ideology of Christian Conservatives today. Throughout sections of our country, views of sex have not changed much since 1956. Neither have opinions on race or immigration. Turn on Fox News and witness the rise of the dangerous, white supremacist, anti-immigrant views of the Alt-Right.
In Baby Doll, Archie Lee is a Southern white male, a middle-aged, cotton gin owner whose business is failing. He is financially drowning, struggling to stay afloat. Archie Lee is a traditionalist, set in Old Southern Ways , baffled and overwhelmed by the shattering realization that what has made his family and his land flourish for generations is now no longer working. His once-stately mansion and plantation is, literally, falling apart around him. Decomposing. He is afraid. And he is angry.
Today, Archie Lee would be a Donald Trump supporter.
John Prosky (Archie Lee) and Daniel Bess (Silva) in ‘Baby Doll’.
Enter Silva Vacarro. The Italian who now runs the cotton gin across the way. Silva Vacarro is an immigrant.
In Tennesee Williams’ early years, there was a significant immigrant population in the Delta—notably Syrians, Chinese, and Italians. Italian farmers first came to America through the port of New Orleans and worked in cotton and sugar cane fields. Many suffered from the same system of discrimination that kept African Americans in poverty long after slavery was abolished. From the south of Italy, Sicilians immigrated to the Delta, settling in towns where they established new businesses of their own, in competition with local farmers. These hardworking people inspired multiple characters in Williams’ plays, including Silva Vacarro in Baby Doll.
To the white male Archie Lee, Silva Vacarro is the immigrant outsider who has come to this country to steal what Archie Lee has worked so hard all his life to preserve. The immigrant is the invader, hellbent to corrupt Archie Lee’s American Dream into a nightmare. The immigrant is the problem. Sound familiar? Listen to the anti-immigrant ranting at any Donald Trump rally. Illegal aliens are vilified as murderers, drug dealers and rapists.
In Baby Doll, the dark immigrant is also a sexual threat. Silva Vacarro targets Archie Lee’s young bride, Baby Doll, who has refused to consummate her marriage to her husband until she turns twenty in two days. This, of course, dramatizes the classic fear of the bigoted white male in America: the dark man stealing his woman. In Baby Doll, the dark man seducing the blonde virgin white girl is every racist white man’s nightmare come true.
Lindsay LaVanchy and John Prosky
But Archie Lee has recourse. He has “friends” who know how to take care of dirty outsiders like Silva.
I! Got position! Yeah, yeah, I got position! Here in this county! Where I was bo’n an’ brought up! I hold a respected position, lifelong! –member of the— Yes sir, on my side‘re friends, longstandin’ bus’ness associates, an’ social! See what I mean? You ain’t got that advantage, have you, mister? Huh, mister? Ain’t you a dago, or something? Excuse me, I mean Eyetalian or something, here in Tiger Tail County?
Archie Lee’s “friends” who know how to take care of people like Silva is an obvious reference to the Klu Klux Klan.
Silva aligns himself with black workers and asserts his right to work and succeed as an immigrant in this country. He’s here to stay. He’s not going anywhere.
I’m a dark man and a Catholic in a county of Protestant blondes —disliked, distrusted, despised. You call me ‘dago’ and ‘wop’ like you call your workers ‘nigger,’ because of a difference in blood. But I came here with a purpose. You can’t freeze me out or burn me out. I’ll do what I came to do.
No one in Baby Doll — not even the well-seeming Silva — is wholly good. Each, in their own way, are manipulative, vindictive, selfish, in some cases mean. But none of are purely evil either. They are complex human characters struggling in a drama of social, sexual, and cultural politics taking place in a specific state in our country in a specific time in our history.
But racism and anti-immigration phobia in this country are timeless. Deeply planted and tilled into the soil of our nation’s history. They are the worms and repellent insects in our national garden that survive in the dark fetid soil under rocks. Always there, hiding in plain sight, just below the surface. Plays like Baby Doll — and the terrifying propaganda of the current election campaign — turn the rock over and expose the distasteful vermin underneath — and, because we are all citizens of this country, remind us that they are ourselves.
When Baby Doll builds to its explosive conclusion, with the defeated Archie Lee hollering in anguish and being carted off to jail, it seems to be Williams’ intent to demonstrate that the era of Archie Lee is, if not over, at least changing. One of the last lines he says to the Sheriff as he is hauled away, is “I’m a white man. You can’t do this to me!”
Today, sixty years later, as the ethnic and cultural complexion of our country’s population continues to evolve into more widespread diversity, I want to hope that our tolerance will evolve with it. We shall see.
I was first eager to produce the west coast premiere of this new stage adaptation of Baby Doll — the first approved by the Williams Estate — because it offered the rare opportunity to present a “new” Tennessee Williams play never seen by our audiences.
I knew it would be sensual and poetic. I was surprised by how timely and relevant it would be.
Stephen Sachs is the co-founding Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
Due to popular demand and sold-out houses, our critically acclaimed hit west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll, adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann, will extend to October 30th.
Sizzling with sexual tension and darkly comic, this enthralling tale of prejudice, sexual politics and passion is the first-ever Williams Estate-approved stage adaptation of the Tennessee Williams screenplay. Nineteen-year-old married virgin “Baby Doll” Meighan must consummate her marriage in two days, on her 20th birthday — as long as her middle-aged husband, Archie Lee, upholds his end of the bargain to provide her with a comfortable life. When Archie Lee burns down his neighbor’s cotton gin to save his failing business, his rival, Sicilian immigrant Silva Vacarro, arrives to seek revenge. What ensues is a complex mix of desire and desperation, with Baby Doll as both player and pawn.
Directed by Simon Levy, the production features Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky, and George Roland. Steve Hofvendahl will assume the role of Archie Lee (currently played by John Prosky) for all performances in October.
The production has earned rave reviews and audience response has been passionately enthusiastic. Adapted from the Williams screenplay of the controversial 1956 movie, our west coast premiere of Baby Doll offers the rare opportunity to experience a “new” play by Tennessee Williams. Clearly, audiences and critics are relishing the ride.
“EROTIC… Lindsay LaVanchy draws out all the sensuality and sadness, the petulance and helplessness of Baby Doll … allows us to once again hope that maybe this time romance will live up to its promise” — Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times
“BURSTS WITH SCORCHING SENSUALITY… pays exquisite homage to Williams’s screenplay” — Travis Holder, Arts In LA
“SIZZLING… Don’t miss Baby Doll!… the ensemble is divine… directed with stunning clarity” — Don Grigware, Broadwayworld
“FOCUSES THE HEAT like a magnifying glass in the sunlight… This Baby’s pedigree shows” — Bill Garry, Discover Hollywood
“SPECTACULAR… a phenomenal show that will leave your every sensation aching for more.” — Michelle Sandoval, EdgeMediaNetwork
“STEAMY… a must see for those who love the heat. — Michael Sheehan, On Stage Los Angeles
“OUTSTANDING… Don’t’ miss your opportunity to see this Tennessee Williams premiere.” — Carol Kaufman Segal, Review Plays
“WOW!… A just-right darkly comedic tone and pitch-perfect performances… ‘Baby Doll-icous’ ” —Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA
“VIOLENCE, SEX AND MADNESS, what more could you want?” — Ernest Kearney, The Tvolution
“EXCITING TO WATCH… waves between dark humor, heat, and menace.” — Evan Henerson, Theater Mania
“If you love Tennessee Williams, DON’T MISS THIS PRODUCTION.” —Paul Myrvold,Theatre Notes
“FOUR STARS… The Fountain’s lavish, excellent production does Williams proud.” — Will Manus, Total Theater
In July, actress Lindsay LaVanchy was in the thick of rehearsals at the Fountain Theatre in the lead role of Baby Doll in our west coast premierewhen she got a phone call from her agent. Lindsay had booked a guest starring role on the MTV series Scream. It shoots in New Orleans. She would have to leave right away for two weeks.
As the Fountain Theatre scrambled to adjust its rehearsal and production schedule, Lindsay flew to New Orleans. Once there and on the set working, another opportunity suddenly opened for her. She would have a three-day weekend over 4th of July, permitting her time to rent a car and drive the 5.5 hours to Benoit, Mississippi, and stay in the actual Southern mansion where the original 1956 Baby Doll movie was filmed, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach and Karl Malden.
Eliza Kazan directing Baby Doll (1956) in the Burrus house.
Grabbing her chance to experience a weekend stay at the Baby Doll house, Lindsay hopped in her rented car on Saturday, July 2nd, and drove from the Scream location in New Orleans to Benoit, Mississippi. There was no question in her mind that she would make the trip.
“It’s very important to me to know the reality of a character, that soul, as fully as possible,” she says. “So when I had the opportunity, a 3 day window … I had to go.”
“I knew Baby Doll would not be as realized as she could be if I did not remind myself what it was like to be in that kind of heat, that kind of quiet, smelling those smells, watching the sun come up and go down, every moment swatting away mosquitos, the eeriness of being in a big home alone with neighbors not in earshot, uncomfortably hot nights, a sky full of stars, cotton floating in the air, the kindest people, and how badly one desires a cool drink of water – almost as much as one desires company after spending hours and hours alone in the quiet and the heat.”
It was dusk, the twilight sky getting dark, when Lindsay pulled up to the Baby Doll house in Benoit.
Lindsay’s photo of the Baby Doll house.
“Driving up to this great Antebellum home at dusk was mystical. Not just because of the artistic connection, but the history this home has seen was palpable. I felt like an outsider that was being called by a siren. Like every step I took could awake a ghost. That both excited and terrified me. I felt uncertain about what the two days on the property wandering around — and sleeping in the actual Baby Doll room alone in the house — would bring up for me in terms of discoveries about the character. However, I had a feeling that if I kept quiet, alert, and open I would be shown what I needed to know. And I was.”
She admits feeling thrilled and awestruck standing in the house that was part of film history. “From an actor’s standpoint, an actor who loves Williams and Kazan and that golden age of theatre and the shocking cinema that they created … I was geeking out.”
The place resurrected not only the lives of fictional characters on film.
“I also felt the ghosts of real people there, too,” said Lindsay. “My grandmother as a little girl was sent away from her family for a few years to a farm of her French-speaking older relatives and I know that had a major affect on her. So being in a place like that (the majority of the time alone) and experiencing that loneliness that causes one to spend so much time in their imagination and creating a world in your head that keeps you company was … real. And this is the reality that Tennessee knew and drew his characters from.”
Staying in the South again, even for a short time, brought home the play’s relevance for Lindsay in other ways.
“I also was in Louisiana when Alton Sterling was shot,” she says. “And then, only a few days later, I was actually in Baton Rouge. I had several shocking experiences that occurred that were so clearly derived from the sadness and frustration of that horrific event – and the centuries of horrific events. I was saddened and ashamed and embarrassed and angry, physically and emotionally, by the lack of change between years ago and the present time. And that immediately reminded me that stories which come from this part of our country need to be shared. These regions, the ones where Tennessee sets all of his plays, are a major artery to the heart and soul of this nation. And we only gaze toward these areas and their people when it becomes national news. It’s a forgotten world. And this is fatal to our country for many obvious reasons.”
Lindsay LaVanchy and John Prosky in Baby Doll at the Fountain Theatre
As an actor, an artist, the work — and its purpose — go deeper.
“It’s not about performing,” says Lindsay. “It’s not about me, it’s not about the playhouse. This play and these characters and these issues are history. It’s an educational opportunity, a calling card that hopefully stirs up something inside at least one person each night. At least that’s what I think great artistic ventures should do: start a conversation, stir up the emotional life within, cause a quest for something bigger than oneself, be a north star to the leaders who enable change, and give a nugget of purpose and comfort to the wanderers. Whether an artist accomplishes this kind of truth-giving each night or not, we can only hope and attempt. But it’s a solid foundation to work from. “
And did the weekend at the Baby Doll house help contribute some stepping stones to build that foundation?
“I only wish I could have stayed a month,” she sighs. “It was truly a special time for me, and I cannot wait to go back.”
Last week, I got to see the Fountain’s current production: a new Tennessee Williams piece called Baby Doll. The circumstances of how this piece came to the stage were a bit unorthodox for a Williams play. It started out as a screenplay adaptation of an older Williams one-act play called 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. Williams adapted it for film in 1956, and it wasn’t until recently that Emily Mann and Pierre Laville re-adapted the film for the stage. I was very curious to see this piece that had started out as a one-act before going to film and then back to the stage. There must have been something truly powerful about the story itself to go back and forth between those mediums.
“Baby Doll” movie (1956)
I certainly wasn’t wrong about that. Baby Doll is a powerful, immersive story. The events that unfold keep you on edge throughout the show. On top of that, watching this piece in the Fountain’s intimate house made it even more impactful. I felt like I was directly in the story with these characters, with a direct stake in what happened to them. After the show, I watched the 1956 film version of Baby Doll, and it felt like the biggest thing missing was the immediacy and urgency that the staged version, particularly in the Fountain, provided the audience. Other than that main difference, however, the play stayed very true to Williams’ original screenplay – the original dialogue was mostly preserved, and the details of the story were almost identical. In comparing the two, it was clear that this particular story was even more powerful when it was right in your face, up close and personal.
‘Baby Doll’ at the Fountain
The Fountain’s production takes a physically and emotionally abusive and manipulative marriage between Baby Doll, a young and impressionable woman, and Archie Lee Meighan, an angry and lonely older man, and pushes it into the audience’s faces, forcing them to confront the uncomfortable dynamics of domestic violence and abuse. The audience is confronted with the uncomfortably predatory nature of their marriage, before we are met with Silva Vacarro, a handsome younger man who seems to be Archie Lee’s opposite in every way. He’s charming, mysterious, and Baby Doll clearly finds him intriguing. He is clearly Baby Doll’s true romantic interest, as well as the foil to Archie Lee’s unpredictable anger and abuse.
Just when I thought the story was leading in a predictable direction, though, it became clear that Silva had ulterior motives for flirting with Baby Doll. We spend the majority of the rest of the show watching him alternate between seducing her and emotionally manipulating her for information. I felt a strange discomfort watching them, because I wasn’t sure whether or not I was rooting for them to be together. They clearly had chemistry, so much so that watching their characters together in such a small theatre felt like I was invading their privacy somehow. At the same time, there were moments where he was clearly prodding her for information by pushing her boundaries, or by making her feel special and tended to in a way that he knew she wasn’t getting with Archie Lee. By this time, I was quite literally on the edge of my seat, watching with bated breath to see what would happen next. There were moments where I was sure Silva would get rid of Archie Lee somehow and he and Baby Doll would run off together into the sunset. But then there were other moments where I really couldn’t tell if he truly cared for Baby Doll at all, or if he was just a master manipulator.
This kind of theatre is of a special type: the kind that makes you think and confront difficult, uncomfortable issues, and provokes thought and visceral emotions from its audiences. Theatre is such a special way to present and portray relationships between people, in a way that makes you feel and think about the nature of human connection. The power of the story, as well as the amazing talent and chemistry between the actors in this company, reminded me that theatre can do so much; it is meant to confront and provoke, and to tell stories that audiences can connect to in some way.
I felt very lucky to get to see not just one but three Fountain productions in my time here. My Mañana Comes, Forever Flamenco at the Ford, and Baby Doll were certainly all incredibly different from one another, but they all had an impact on me: they brought forth an important message or story, or provided an outlet for a vibrant but underexposed community to celebrate beautiful art. All of them presented a piece of art, with performers and creators that had a clear passion and message.
These shows have made me proud to be a part of the Fountain family, and to get to work at such an organization. This blog post is bittersweet for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which is that today is my last day working at the Fountain. I’m moving up to San Francisco the day after tomorrow, and I’m going to miss the Fountain family so so much. I am so thankful to everyone here at the Fountain, and at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, that made these past ten weeks possible! I know that I have people rooting for me here, and I’m so grateful for that.
This is me signing off – thank you to all that followed my internship saga and read my musings on theatre and arts. And thank you to everyone in the Fountain family for this journey. I wouldn’t feel at all prepared to jump into my next adventure if it had not been for all of you, and all I learned from you!
Our thanks to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the LA County Arts Commission for the support of their LA County Arts Intern program.