It’s been a challenging year, hasn’t it? A year of change, division and loss And a year of hope, unity and bright accomplishments.
The Fountain Theatre ends 2016 soaring on the wind of uplifting achievements. Our world premiere stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric has been chosen to be highlighted in CTG’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in April. Our premieres of Dream Catcher, My Mañana Comes and Baby Doll earned rave reviews and extended runs.Forever Flamenco sizzled this summer at the outdoor Ford Theatre. Bakersfield Mist returned to delight audiences through the holidays and is still running through January. We continued serving communities year round through our educational outreach programs. We broadened our long-term stability by partnering with new foundations and supporters.
For 26 years, The Fountain Theatre has provided a public space where a wide variety of citizens gather together to experience stories that illuminate what it means to be a human being.
The public discourse across our nation and on our stage in 2016 revealed many things. One being: words matter. What we say to each other, and how we say it, matters. As in the finest plays, language has power. Has impact. In soliloquy and in dialogue. On our intimate stage, and far beyond Fountain Avenue, our dialogue — our conversation — with YOU, our Fountain Family, matters.
Which words would you use to describe the Fountain Theatre? Which words express who we are, what we do? Co-Founding Artistic Directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs share with you some words they’d choose. Take a look!
Actor John Prosky teaches young men at Rancho San Antonio
They come from all over Southern California. From a wide range of backgrounds, for a variety of reasons. Many have no where else to go. Each has a unique story to tell. And for the young men at Rancho San Antonio Boys Home in Chatsworth, the Odyssey Artists’ Workshop is an opportunity to use theatre as a vehicle to express their personal stories.
On Tuesday, December 13 at 7pm, the Fountain Theatre will host the culmination performance of a new play written by the incarcerated young men of Rancho San Antonio, made possible through the program launched by members of Antaeus Theatre Company.
“At the heart of the Fountain’s artistic mission is our commitment to giving voice to those who may not otherwise be heard,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We are happy and proud to host this program which embodies that artistic and social philosophy.”
Rancho San Antonio is a non-profit multi-service residential agency serving court-ordered adolescent boys. The primary goal of the agency is to provide an opportunity for rehabilitation of the total person through a balanced physical, social, spiritual, psychological, and educational experience. It focuses on personal responsibility, values clarification, and changing anti-social behaviors. Some of the programs provided include: individual, group and family counseling, drug treatment, educational services and emancipation assistance.
The Odyssey Artists’ Workshop is a creative writing and theatre program for young adults from high-risk environments. The workshop teaches the structural elements of non-fiction writing as well as theater performance skills through the component of Shakespeare. The students craft and perform an original theater piece of their personal stories interwoven with selected characters and themes from Shakespeare’s plays.
How did the Workshop get started?
“I had been teaching acting and dramatic writing in the lock-down juvenile camps of LA County for a while, ” says actor John Prosky, recently seen at the Fountain in our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. “In 2009, Kitty Swink at Antaeus Theatre Company asked me if I would like to put a Shakespeare program together at Rancho San Antonio. Kitty introduced me to artist and educator Liz Berman who had been teaching a writing program there and we decided to join our programs about 6 years ago. And Odyssey Artists’ Workshop was born.”
The Workshop now teaches at Rancho San Antonio, Homeboy Industries, Van Nuys High School, Learning Works Charter in Pasadena. It starts at New Village Charter in January.
For actor Prosky, the impetus to launch the program was personal. “After working in TV and Film for more than a decade, ” he says, “I began to wonder if I was really contributing anything to the world. Plus, I was Jesuit trained and they beat into me the idea of service. I get much more from this program than the students do.”
What happens in a typical 10-week Workshop period?
“We pick a character arc or text from a play we think a particular student population will respond to and then we perform that arc for them through scenes and soliloquies using professional classical actors,” he explains. “Then we invite the students into the plot with writing prompts, improv and other acting exercises based on what they just saw. The populations we work with tend to be highly polarized by gang affiliation and/or race, so we also spend a great deal of time on ensemble building exercises. We also do mask work and are staging a short story written by a guy on death row in San Quentin, Jarvis Jay Masters, from his book Finding Freedom.
For the young men at Rancho San Antonio, the 10-week Workshop experience is more than artistic. It is also therapeutic.
“We are not trained therapists or social workers by any means,” admits Prosky. “But all these theater exercises on a young mind that has experienced trauma is healing. I tell these guys often that if you tell your story, you will gain wisdom, strength, and a lesson, but more importantly, we as listeners to your story will gain wisdom strength and a lesson.”
“What happens to a young mind that has experienced abuse, neglect, and addiction is that a sense of empathy gets damaged. The wrong role models and a lack of empathy leads to crime. Makes sense. But the young brain is repairable. I’ve seen it over and over. These acting storytelling-exercises coupled with a lot of ensemble building techniques begins to give them back their empathy. Towards the end of the ten week session racial and gang barriers in the room begin to break down. Once they have gone through the crucible of performance, they are a new kind of gang; an ensemble.”
John Prosky and Lindsay LaVanchy in Baby Doll at Fountain Theatre
Because construction for Antaeus Theatre Company’s new venue in Glendale is still underway, Prosky turned to the Fountain to host this culmination performance. The Fountain Theatre immediately accepted. Prosky couldn’t be happier.
“I am so grateful to The Fountain Family for the use of their theatre for this culmination. Having just done Baby Doll at The Fountain, I felt like the positivism, love, and respect I experienced there made it the perfect place for these young men.”
The Odyssey Artists’ Workshop culmination performance will be on Tuesday, December 13, at 7pm at the Fountain Theatre. The event is free. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Robin Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 506-5436.
Reaching out to students and making theatre available to young people is vitally important to the Fountain Theatre. And we love it when students reach back. Such was the case on October 24th when the Fountain hosted teacher Alan Goodson and his students from Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising to a performance of our sizzling West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll.
Goodson, also an actor who has appeared on our Fountain stage, led his college students in a post-show discussion with the professional actors following the Baby Doll performance. The students asked questions of cast members, discussed the issues raised in the play and shared thoughts and feelings about the theatre-going experience itself. For some, it was their first time seeing a live professional production of a play.
The students then returned to the classroom and wrote papers outlining their insights and describing how the play and production impacted them emotionally, intellectually and artistically.
The Fountain recently received a sampling of their comments:
“Arguably the most powerful moment of the play comes at the very end. Baby Doll and Aunt Comfort sit outside the house after Archie Lee and Silva have been arrested. Silva has said he will come back for Baby Doll, but her future is uncertain at best….Although it is at the very end of the play, this moment, so beautifully directed by Levy, is when the message of the Fountain Theatre’s performance of Baby Doll comes through loud and clear: sexism in 1950’s America was rampant, and the patriarchal mindset of the culture and characters ultimately led to their crippling stagnancy. The Fountain Theatre’s production of Baby Doll is like a fine wine – it gets better with time. You leave the theatre with the assurance that you have just seen an incredible play put on by a talented group; however, the true meaning of the play seeps through more and more the longer you stew on it.”
This student was drawn into the play by the intimacy of the theatre:
“The play environment was intriguing. I have never been to a production that was so intimate. The theatre itself was very small, the seats were close together, and the stage was right in front of your eyes. I felt the audience was in this play experience together. The actors were so close I could see every detail in their faces. They made eye contact with us and were able to engage us in the storyline. I was intrigued by the fact that I could examine every small detail about the costumes and the set. Being so close to the actors and the set is very different from going to a big theatre where you can barely see their facial expressions or the set theme.”
For this student, overcoming doubts about seeing the play led to a meaningful experience in the theatre:
“Before seeing Baby Doll at the Fountain Theatre, I was a bit skeptical if I would enjoy the play after reading the synopsis. But I was pleasantly surprised. The actors portrayed their roles remarkably, showing every emotion and movement as if they were really living in the play….the way the cast fed off of one another made it that much more enjoyable….While there was much controversy surrounding the movie when it first came out, I think Tennessee Williams created a phenomenal and important script. The women empowerment and sexuality themes not only made the play witty and comical, but also made the audience think about how life was once like for women of that time. Baby Doll may have started out in the cinema, but it was meant for the theatre. It is a superb play that is brought to life by extremely talented actors.”
In the post-show Q&A with the cast, perhaps the most important question was asked by a blushing young female student when our handsome, beefy leading man, Daniel Bess, met the group:
Question: “How many times a week do you work out?”
See? A life in the theatre can be enhancing in so many ways …
Young people today are the theatre audiences — and theatre makers — of tomorrow. The Fountain maintains its ongoing dedication to staying connected to young audiences and broadening its reach to high school and college students regionwide. With school budgets being cut for arts education everywhere, the Fountain offers an important role in arts learning.
This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making the life-enhancing experience of live theatre accessible to young people and students throughout Southern California.
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.
When director Simon Levy was casting our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll back in April, finding the right actor to play Archie Lee Meighan was a challenge. Levy sifted through hundreds of submissions and auditioned dozens of actors yet he struggled to spot what he was looking for. He needed an actor who could authentically evoke the crude, raw good ol’ boy Southern brutality of the cotton gin owner yet also reveal the character’s fear and vulnerability. Finding that actor seemed impossible.
Then, one afternoon, actor Daniel Bess, already cast in the play, made a suggestion. Did Simon know John Prosky? Daniel’s friend and fellow-member at Antaeus Theatre Company? A meeting was scheduled. And from the first moment that Prosky began his audition it was clear to Levy and everyone present that the hunt for Archie Lee Meighan was over.
“I’m strangely drawn to Archie’s desperation,” Prosky now says. “It’s not always easy or fun to play but I get that part of Archie Lee on a visceral level. I’m certainly no racist, or a cuckold nor am I married to a 20 year old — although my wife does look so much younger than me that it is sometimes assumed. But Archie’s place on “the edge” is something I commune with at this point in my life. Not completely sure why but I sometimes feel like I’m going to loose everything. Maybe it’s just because I have so much to lose.”
Prosky indeed has many blessings. He is married and a father. His son just started 8th grade. In addition to a busy acting career, he teaches. Like Archie Lee in Baby Doll, he sometimes worries that what he values most might all be taken from him. “I sometimes have this fear that I will fuck it all up or it will all somehow slide into oblivion,” he admits. “The good actor’s first job is to bring himself to the work and that part of Archie Lee I get.”
Not every aspect of Archie Lee came easy.
“His physical abuse of Baby Doll I find a stretch for me” he concedes. “And the shotgun. I hate guns. I am always using a gun in something I’m acting in but this is my first shotgun. And a shotgun in the hands of a white male in Mississippi in the 1950s should look as comfortable as an iphone in the hands of a hipster today. So that took some work.”
The Fountain Theatre production — and Prosky’s performance — has earned widespread critical acclaim. But it’s the audience response that pleases him most.
“It’s the reason theater is my first love,” he says. “That immediate communication of actor as storyteller is the whole point of theater and so much more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done on film or TV. “
And his first-time experience working at the Fountain Theatre?
“The Fountain and this production have made me feel respected, welcomed, supported, challenged and fulfilled. Very few theaters can do all that.”
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.