Based on the best-selling novel by Chaim Potok, the stage adaptation ofMy Name is Asher Levby Aaron Posner is a fast-moving theatrical journey in which all the characters in the play are performed by three talented actors. Playing many roles requires that each actor combine versatility with emotional depth and complexity. And a fearless sense of fun.
Meet our extraordinary cast of our upcoming Los Angeles Premiere of My Name is Asher Lev:
Jason Karasev plays the lead role of Asher Lev. Jason was born and raised in Chicago, where he has performed with the Tony-Award winning Victory Gardens and Steppenwolf Theatres, to name a few. In Los Angeles, Jason produced and starred in Stephen Belber’s Tape, which took Best of Fringe Honors at The Hollywood Fringe Festival. He has also been seen as Phil in A Boys’ Life (Crown City) and as Naz in Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur (Ovation Nomination). Some of his Chicago Theatre credits include Stanley in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound (The Drury Lane), Zoran in Tesla’s Letters (Timeline Theatre Co.), Stone Cold Dead Serious (The Athenaeum), The Last Night of Ballyhoo (Merle Reskin) and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (Bailiwick Rep.). Jason’s film and TV credits include the hit MTV series Disaster Date, Nickelodeon’s iCarly, Improvised, Shoot The Moon, and Evidence. Jason has trained and performed at the renowned Second City, Chicago with recent SNL cast member Jason Sudeikis and is a Graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Anna Khaja plays three roles: Asher’s mother, a rich gallery owner, and a model. Anna most recently appeared in the LA Premiere of Falling at Rogue Machine Theatre. Theatre credits also include: the extended Off-Broadway run of Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto, which she also wrote,at the Culture Project in NYC (2013); the LA premiere of Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto (Ovation Award – Lead Actress in a Play / Ovation Nomination – Best Production of a Play); David Hare’s Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum (US Premiere/Ovation Nomination); Judith Thompson’s Palace Of The End atNoHo Arts Center(US Premiere/LA Weekly Award/Ovation nomination), The Cosmonaut’s Last Message (LA Weekly Award) as well as several other productions at The Open Fist Theatre; No Word In Guyanese For Me (GLAAD Award). Regional credits include the Cleveland Playhouse and the Marsh Theatre in SF. Film/TV: Yes Man, Post Grad, King of California, Order of Chaos, Reunion, California Solo, The Newsroom, The Closer, NCIS:LA, Numb3rs, House M.D., Criminal Minds, Private Practice, Bent, Sleeper Cell, Dirt, Weeds and a recurring role as Zaafira on season 5 of HBO’s True Blood.
Joel Polis takes on the greatest number of characters: he is Asher’s father, Asher’s Uncle, the Hasidic community’s Rebbe, and a noted artist who becomes Asher’s mentor. Joel is a native of Philadelphia. He attended the USC School of Theater and Yale Drama School before beginning a stage career in New York. He returned to Los Angeles to work in television and films but continued performing in theaters around the country, from off Broadway and Williamstown to San Diego and West LA. Theater credits include Pound of Flesh, Bach at Leipzig, Defiance, The Baby Dance, Julius Caesar, Family Business, Riga, Names, Oleanna, Richard 3, Three Travelers, The Merchant of Venice and After Crystal Night. He has appeared in over 120 episodic television shows, sitcoms, Movies of the Week, and a dozen feature films. These include The Thing, Castle, It’s My Party, True Believer, Seinfeld, Law and Order, Northern Exposure, Cheers, Home Improvement, Picket Fences and Roseanne.
My Name is AsherLevFeb 15 – April 19 (323) 663-1525 MORE
Casting is now complete for our upcoming West Coast Premiere of On the Spectrum by Ken LaZebnik, directed by Jacqueline Schultz. Awarded a 2012 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award citation and granted a 2011 Edgerton Foundation New American Play award, On the Spectrum is a funny and touching love story between a young man with Asperger’s and a young woman with autism. Previews begin March 9th and it opens March 16th.
Meet The Cast:
Dan Shaked (Mac) is from New York and making his Fountain Theatre debut. He is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts drama program and studied at The Lee Strasberg Film/Theater Institute and at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He can be seen in the upcoming films “The Broken” and “Homeward”, the TV movie “Gilded Lilys” with Blythe Danner, and was a guest star on ABC’s “Body of Proof”. He played the lead role in the film “Storm up the Sky,” selected for the Tribeca Film Festival. He has worked at LaMaMA in New York City and played the lead role in Boston’s UnderGround Railway Theater’s production of Naomi Wallace’s “The Fever Chart” at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge.
Virginia Newcomb (Iris) was last seen at the Fountain Theatre in the 2011 West Coast Premiere of the rarely-seen Tennessee Williams play A House Not Meant to Stand. She recently co-starred on stage in The Grapes of Wrath at Knightsbridge Theatre, Sweet Bird of Youth at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre and This Property is Condemned at the Globe Playhouse. She has appeared on TV’s “The Office” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and can be seen in the new comedy webseries “Bandmates“. Virginia stars in the lead role in “The Boogeyman”, a feature film based on Stephen King’s short story.
Jeanie Hackett (Elisabeth) is well known to Los Angeles theater audiences. She served as Artistic Director of two prestigious Los Angeles ensemble companies: The Classical Theatre Lab & The Antaeus Company. She has played several roles for LA Theater Works, including Trifles with Amy Madigan. And with The Antaeus Company: Tonight at 8:30 & The Autumn Garden, along with numerous readings & workshops. Broadway credits include Stella in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (with Blythe Danner) at Circle in the Square & Belle in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness at the Roundabout. Off-Broadway she’s been seen in new plays at Soho Rep, The Promenade & The Harold Clurman Theaters. She received her Equity card at the Williamstown Theater Festival where she appeared in over a dozen plays such as The Greeks, Room Service, The Bay at Nice, Summerfolk & The Front Page among others. She’s performed at the Pasadena Playhouse, South Coast Rep, Center Theater Group, Long Wharf, Three River Shakespeare Festival & The Tennessee Williams Arts Center playing leading roles in Richard III (Lady Anne) The Winter’s Tale (Perdita, Hermione) The Taming of The Shrew (Kate) Hamlet (Ophelia) Cyrano de Bergerac (Roxanne) Uncle Vanya (Yelena) Old Times (Kate) Arms and The Man (Louka) How the Other Half Loves(Teresa) Vieux Carre (Jane Sparks) & Present Laughter (Joanna) among others. Other LA Theater credits include: The Seagull (Matrix), Black Box (Odyssey), Phaedra (Getty Villa), Light & Pera Palas (Theatre@Boston Court), Kate Crackernuts (24th Street Theater) & Andromache in The Trojan Women at CBS Radford. Recent film work includes: The Words (with Bradley Cooper & Dennis Quaid),Take Me Home Tonight (with Topher Grace), King of California (with Michael Douglas) & Post Grad (with Michael O’Keefe & Carol Burnett.) Favorite television work: Lie to Me, Lincoln Heights, Medium, Criminal Minds, The “L” Word, Charmed, Judging Amy (recurring) & playing Queen Margaret from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 on The West Wing. On the Spectrum marks her debut at the Fountain Theatre.
On the Spectrum March 16 – April 29 (323) 663-1525More Info
A remarkable thing — perhaps even historic — happened in a Hollywood casting office last week. The team for the TV show “Criminal Minds” took the extraordinary step of rewriting a character in an episode from a hearing role into a deaf role solely so they could hire a deaf actor. The “Criminal Minds” casting director had seen deaf actor Troy Kotsur on stage in our smash hit production of Cyrano at the Fountain Theatre and was so blown away by his performance that he convinced the TV team to change the role in the upcoming episode from a hearing character to a deaf character just so they could hire Kotsur.
Video Trailer for ‘Cyrano’ at the Fountain
click “cc” if you need captioning
As Troy tells it:
I walked into the casting director’s office and saw about 10 hearing actors in the waiting room. They were auditioning the same role as I was going for.
After I auditioned, I felt great with the choices I made to present the character and how I went with the flow with the Criminal Minds team in the room.
At first, I assumed they did not know much about Deaf people. During the process, I thought: Did they understand anything I signed? Could they tell if I played the way they wanted the character to be? Did they see the details I brought with my face, eyes and body language for the character? Could they tell the difference between hearing actors and Deaf actors? Is there a difference? Or could only an expert, who knew both cultures, catch the differences? Did the team know what they were looking for? Most teams don’t know until they see what the actors bring in the room.
Deep down inside, I was hoping they wouldn’t hire me because I was Deaf. I wanted to believe they would hire me because of the skills, nuances, and the specifics of what I was able to give for my character, for their story. Good acting.
After I auditioned, I felt that it was possible that they did see the specifics and moments. It was a positive experience.
I learned later that originally the character had lots of action and no speaking lines. They gave the character to a hearing actor, Matthew Jaeger. Matthew has worked with Deaf West Theatre in the past with Deaf and hearing actors. He asked the Criminal Minds team to give Deaf actors a chance to show their work because they can do this character just as well. I’m grateful to Matthew Jaegger who encouraged the Criminal Minds team to give Deaf actors a chance. This all wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Matt.
I also learned that the casting director saw Cyrano at the Fountain Theatre. I had no idea. It’s wonderful to have casting directors and writers see plays at the Fountain and Deaf West for the opportunity it gives for more jobs for Deaf actors. It’s challenging for Deaf actors to get jobs because there aren’t many written roles for Deaf actors to play. Non-speaking roles or Deaf characters are roles I usually audition for.
The Criminal Minds team decided to give it a shot. They did a re-write after they saw my audition. What a journey and a blessing. I am curious to know how the writers will write, to dive into a Deaf person’s mind!”
“I have had the pleasure of repping many deaf artists over the years,” she says. “I always count it as a great success when a deaf client lands a ‘hearing’ role. I have always submitted deaf actors for roles they were right for, whether the breakdown called for a deaf actor or not. Through hundreds of submissions, I have only convinced a casting office or producer four times to see a deaf actor for a role that wasn’t labeled “deaf”. All four times resulted in a job.”
“If only Hollywood was more willing to see deaf actors on all roles. Thanks to the awesome Cyrano production,a Hollywood mind was opened.”
Troy will continue dazzling audiences (and casting directors) in the lead role of Cyrano until the run ends with a final extension on July 29.
Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova in “Cyrano”
“I’m happy that Cyrano got extended twice so that more people have the chance to experience opening their minds and souls to what this show is about” says Troy. ” It gives many people a new perspective or a new light with depth, having two cultures and languages on stage. We’re all basically the same. The ability and skill to communicate can either bring you closer or farther away.”
“I hope this play and more plays like it can continue to inspire writers to create more stories for Deaf actors to get more work.”
Cyrano Final Extension to July 29 (323) 663-1525More Info
Tracy Middendorf and Morlan Higgins in "After the Fall" at the Fountain Theatre (2002, photo by Ed Krieger); Tommy Schrider and Tracy in "Battle of Black and Dogs" at Yale Repertory Theatre (2010)
by Mark Kinsey Stephenson
Tracy Middendorf was hailed for her “delicious mixture of beauty and raw emotional vulnerability that makes you care deeply about her” by director Stephen Sachs in the March 2002 cover article of LA STAGE magazine. She had already become an LA stage star in 1999, when, at age 29, she received the Ovation Award for leading actress in a play – against powerhouse nominees Annette Bening, Ruby Dee, Phyllis Frelich and Linda Lavin. She earned a LA Drama Critics Circle Award for the same performance, in Summer and Smoke.
A little background
In 1992, straight out of SUNY Purchase, Middendorf was tested in NY for the successful daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives. “I was quite surprised they couldn’t find a young blonde actress in LA,” she says with a light, ironic laugh. “Surprise, surprise,” as she was promptly hired and moved over 2,400 miles — but only on Middendorf’s terms, which demonstrated her mettle.
“I was worried about taking the part; doing a soap opera wasn’t my first choice. They asked me to sign a five-year contract and I told them, ‘No.’ You can imagine the reaction of my agent. How many actresses get an opportunity to be a regular on a soap? But I had high ideals right out of college. They brought the contract down (in years) to what I wanted.” And she thoroughly enjoyed the Days of Our Lives experience – without compromise.
During the next decade, following her soap stint as Carrie Brady, Middendorf was cast on a variety of TV shows including Beverly Hills 90210, Murder She Wrote, Touched by an Angel, Ally McBeal, Six Feet Under and The Practice.
Larry Poindexter and Tracy Middendorf in "Tender is the Night" at the Fountain (photo by Ed Krieger)
But she also was able to incorporate her first love – theater – by performing at the small yet mighty Fountain Theatre. The relationship between actress and theater was mutually rewarding. Middendorf wowed critics in her first LA stage outing in Simon Levy’s 1995 multi-award-winning adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and followed up a year later with an Ovation-nominated feature actress performance in Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending.
The East Coast beckoned Middendorf to return, which she did briefly in 1998, performing in Tony winner Daniel Sullivan’s Ah! Wilderness at NY’s Lincoln Center and Joanne Woodward’s The Big Knife at the Williamstown Theatre in Massachusetts. Then in 1999, Middendorf struck gold with Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke at the Fountain, under the direction of Levy. The actress and the production both received Ovation Awards. Life was good for Middendorf, but it was going to get better.
It is early 2002. Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, directed by artistic director Sachs, has opened at the Fountain Theatre, and Middendorf is featured in LA STAGE. She almost had to pinch herself with everything happening – creatively and personally. “It was a really exciting yet exhausting time. Calvin (her son) was two, and I was a single mom. Juggling this amazing show and great part along with bills and everything life was throwing at me, it was… challenging and hard. But going through that, I was proud of myself. It’s important to always do what you love, no matter how difficult life may be. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Sachs shares more. “Playing Maggie required Tracy to dig deep down into some very dark and scary corners of her own psyche where her own demons hide. Her performance was shattering, fragile, heartbreaking. Unforgettable.”
The recognitions Middendorf received in 1999 were no fluke. After the Fall received four Ovation awards, including best production and one of three lead actress awards that year. Middendorf also added a second LA Drama Critics Circle award for her performance. For a play that hadn’t been seen in LA for 24 years, the Fountain and Middendorf reaped the benefits of Miller’s work.
Five years passed before Middendorf returned to the LA stage. During this passage of time, she married Franz Wisner, author of the well-received book Honeymoon with My Brother, and had another child, Oscar. TV roles were plentiful, including Alias, Cold Case, House M.D., Without a Trace and Lost, as well as acting in the movie Mission: Impossible III with Tom Cruise.
Chuma Gault and Tracy in "Miss Julie" at the Fountain Theatre (2007, photos by Ed Krieger)
However, while she was at the Fountain in Miss Julie, adapted and directed by Sachs, based on the original play by August Strindberg, a canceled audition for a play flicked a switch. She felt it was time for another 2,400-mile move.
During the run of Miss Julie, Middendorf was scheduled to audition for Edward Albee’s The Lady From Dubuque, which was set to open in London, starring Maggie Smith under the direction of Anthony Page (Tony winner for A Doll’s House). But the production team canceled its trip to LA, leaving Middendorf in the lurch. Here’s where the rubber met the road.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to audition for Mr. Page or the play or Mr. Albee, so I flew to NY with my two kids. Yes, it was crazy but this was important.” After booking a hotel room and auditioning, “They paid my flight fee so I could stay a few more days and attend the callbacks.” But the coastal reality hit hard. Two Ovations and LADCC Awards didn’t ultimately sway Page to cast Middendorf. “He didn’t know any of my stage work, never had seen me in anything.” That moment was critical for her. “I wanted to expand my horizons which meant moving back to the East Coast. I didn’t want to be limited.”
"The Pavilion" at Westport Country Playhouse (2008)
Soon an acting gig on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit followed, along with another opportunity to work with Joanne Woodward, who was artistic director at the Westport Country Playhouse. “I had such a wonderful time with Joanne when I performed in The Big Knife. It was a chance to get reacquainted with this fascinating woman. So I was able to do Craig Wright’s The Pavilion (2005-2006 Drama Desk Award nominee for outstanding play).”
Westport, CT, became home for one year with its quaint community, slower pace, dinners on the beach,… but Middendorf and her family realized they wanted to live in the city. To Brooklyn they moved, and they’re still there.
East/West – the active life
Since settling in Brooklyn, Middendorf’s professional resume includes two theater productions. In 2010, she performed at Yale Repertory Theatre in the haunting thriller Battle of Black and Dogs, by the late French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltes. Middendorf reflects on her time there. “It was incredible. I adored working with Robert Woodruff (the director) who has this amazing cult following. And it gave me a chance to work with Andrew Robinson (whom she had performed with in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) now at USC (professor of theatre practice and director of MFA acting).”
Holly Twyford and Tracy in Shakespeare Theatre Company's "Old Times" (2011).
A year later came Harold Pinter’s Old Times at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC. Middendorf wryly says, “It was the shortest commute I’ve ever had. They put me in an apartment three steps from the entrance door.” Expounding on her experience, “This Pinter three-character play is not hugely appealing to everyone. Audiences can be frustrated. Yet the show received good reviews. The director Michael Kahn (also artistic director at the Shakespeare Theatre) was magnificent. We had four weeks of rehearsal to focus on this dense material.” Sophie Gilbert, theater critic with the Washingtonian, wrote, “Middendorf, as Kate, does a remarkable job in expressing the character’s sexuality and the power it gives her over others.”
During this three-year span, Middendorf’s TV credits have included CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Bones, The Mentalist, NCIS, Criminal Minds and she’s especially grateful for Boardwalk Empire. “I play Babbette (the owner of the series’ central nightclub). The pilot was directed by Martin Scorsese. Watching him direct was thrilling.”
Tracy Middendorf in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"
When it came time for the wardrobe fitting, the initial decision was to put Middendorf in a beautiful dress. She thought otherwise. “When I auditioned for the part, it came across as very masculine. So I told them I saw Babbette in a suit.” Giving the design team pause, Middendorf was told she would be called back. “When I returned later, John Dunn, the extraordinary costume designer, had me meet with a tailor to make a tuxedo. And that’s when they gave me a platinum wig.”
Looking through a different lens
As she reflects on years past and where she is today, realizations are not far behind. “The ability to do those great parts at the Fountain…. I love that theater, Simon, Stephen…. After working on Old Times, which was in a huge space, I realized I prefer the smaller stage and a smaller audience. The intimacy of it feels comfortable to me. I miss having a place where I can do that type of work. I really appreciate and love the vitality of LA theater which is focused on the work and on the play.”
Looking at the arts with a different lens, Middendorf states, “I’ve begun to change my focus toward directing. I’m more interested in the vision for an entire piece rather than just one role in a piece. That seems like a natural step for me.”
"Break", directed by Tracy Middendorf (2011).
In August 2011, Middendorf directed Louise Rozett’s Break for the FringeNYC. The material dealt with the unexpected effects of the Ground Zero recovery effort on NYC’s firemen and policemen, and their families. How she came to helm this play was happenstance. “I was in the laundry room of our building. There was a woman (Rozett) there and we started talking. She had a Young Adult book coming out. I asked if she had written any plays, as I was looking to direct something. She said she did, and gave me her plays, which were wonderful.”
Not letting a moment such as this one go to waste, Middendorf gathered together some actors and directed a reading that had great response. “We submitted it to the Fringe Festival and it got accepted. Within a month of putting it out there, I wanted to direct a play, and that’s what I was doing. We raised money through Kickstarter to mount the production. It turned out wonderful. Now Louise is giving me another play to consider directing.”
This past summer Middendorf read Three Cups of Tea, Stones into Schools and Half the Sky (the Skirball Cultural Center is currently hosting an exhibit entitled “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” inspired by the Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tome.) These books dealing with the plight of girls around the world touched Middendorf and made her consider ways she could make a difference in the lives of those “who don’t get an education and suffer a dismal fate.”
Middendorf rattles off a few startling facts: “Of the 104 million children aged 6-11 not in school each year, 60 million are girls; in South Asia, more than 40 percent of girls aged 15-19 from poor households never completed first grade; providing girls one extra year of education beyond the average boosts wages by 10-20 percent; educated girls are less likely to contract HIV; education can foster democracy and women’s political participation.”
“I wanted to help. My friend Laurel Holloman (an actress on The L Word), who is an abstract painter, donated one of her paintings for a charity auction. It made me think. With the digital age, what if I created a website with a gallery of photographs taken by actors, writers, musicians and directors? The limited number of photographs would be signed and sold with the money donated to charities focused on educating girls around the world.”
Her dream is near reality. The launch date for the website – www.shuttertothink.org – is scheduled for March 1, 2012, and its small collection of photography grows weekly.
It’s fitting to close this article about the seasoned actress Middendorf with meaningful high praise from Sachs and Levy, who know her well.
“Tracy has this remarkable ability to blend both a ferocious work ethic with the ability to stay utterly alive in the moment,” states Sachs. “She possesses this other-worldly combination of skilled craft and gossamer magic. To work with her again would be a blessing I would cherish.”
Levy adds, “She’s translucent and a true artist. Absolutely one of the most gifted actors I’ve ever worked with. Her emotional well is so deep and so varied, and her moment-to-moment connection so riveting, that it’s impossible, for audiences and actors and as a director, not to be drawn into the world of her truth. Stunning. Truly stunning. She’s rare and a gift to theater.”