Director Guillermo Cienfuegos in the Fountain Cafe.
by Guillermo Cienfuegos
How the Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy, this great, Pulitzer Prize winning play by Stephen Adly Guirgis managed to fall into my hands, I’ll never know. But I’m grateful for it. I feel so fortunate to be given the opportunity. And to direct it with this cast, at this theatre, is an embarrassment of blessings.
First of all I’m drawn to how funny and true the play is. There’s no better way to impart to an audience some essential truths about what it is to be human than while you’re making them laugh. I find Guirgis’ gift of being able to show us these flawed and damaged people in such a funny and loving way very inspiring.
Also as a Cuban, the play puts me in mind of a lot of Catholic imagery from my youth, including Santeria traditions. It makes me think of the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God”. Those are the characters in this play. The world may see them as junkies and drunks and ex cons and other outsiders of society – but they’re just children of God.
Matthew Hancock and Marisol Miranda.
I’m also drawn to the play because of my father, who I called Papi. My father was a lot like Pops, the main character of the play – he’s fighting wars on many fronts, the largest of which could be with his own ego. And he’s trying to hold on to whatever control over his life he still has. But it’s in the surrender that one wins and finds grace.
The play deals with a lot of big issues – grief, alcoholism, policing, gentrification. But I think it’s about family, forgiveness and redemption.
Psychologist Carl Jung introduced the word “synchronicity”, coining it to describe a “meaningful coincidence,” when unrelated events seem to happen for a reason. Synchronicity is something you feel. When, for no outward reason, the stars align and the right people come together at the right time and the result is something meaningful and long lasting.
Simone Missick, last seen at the Fountain in Citizen: An American Lyric, co-starred on the Netflix TV series Luke Cage as Misty Knight. She just signed the lead role in the new CBS legal drama pilot Courthouse.
Diarra Kilpatrick is the creator and star of American Koko, an ABC digital original series, earning her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy/Drama Series, Short Form. She created, wrote, and starred in the comedy pilot The Climb for Amazon, and is set to star in a new comedy for Showtime opposite Keenen Ivory Wayans.
Maya Lynne Robinson, recently on stage at the Fountain in Runaway Home, is now a series regular on ABC’s Roseanne spinoff The Connors, playing the role of Geena Williams-Conner.
We asked these three dynamic actresses to share their thoughts on In the Red and BrownWater, and how theatre can form bonds that last a lifetime.
In the Red and Brown Water, Fountain Theatre, 2012.
What was it about In The Red and Brown Water that created such close ties?
MLR: For me, it stemmed from the fact that I was 3 months new in town and didn’t have a foundation/tribe yet. In the Red and Brown Water was the first project I was cast in once I moved to LA. I met these wonderfully creative and down-to-earth people and when you find those type of people, you shouldn’t let them go.
SM: I think what started at the table, with our director, Shirley Jo Finney, had a huge impact in creating a family amongst the cast and crew. To be able to discuss the play, the characters, inside and out and know that you were working with artists who took the work as seriously as you, made us all feel like we were experiencing something different and special. We knew we could trust one another onstage, and that trust helped us to build bonds as artists and as friends. But there is also a level of divine placement when it came to that production. Each of us were appointed to be there for those six plus months, for only God knows the reason, and to then be a part of each others lives. We’ve been there for each other through marriages, babies, cross country moves, and amazing work opportunities. It is just one of those special blessings, that so many of us gelled, and we found sisters and brothers, aunties and cousins in one another.
DK: I do believe [director] Shirley Jo Finney brought together a great group of not only artists but people. It was a joy playing with them and I’m grateful that we’ve s formed such loving, supportive bonds. We made a family and even though that’s common in the theater, this is a particularly special group of artists. Every one of us has continued to grow as artists and as people, I mean to the person. And I’m so, so proud of us.
What’s your favorite memory from that production?
MLR: Singing warm ups and prayer together before the show. There was something about our vibration that made me happy to do the show with these people every day for almost six months.
SM: There are sooooo many. Some of them stay in the vault. But one of them is Maya Lynne stomping her feet to get some of our other (not as rhythmically gifted brothers) on beat. She earned a nickname from that.
With whom from the cast have you most stayed in touch?
SM: All of us are on a text message chain that we connect through. This past Valentine’s Day, we all sent silly pictures to say we loved each other. I had the fortune to work with Shirley Jo four more times after that production, and she is such a special influence in my career and in my life. Our stage manager, Shawna and I have worked together again. I love that girl. Diarra and Maya Lynne are people that I talk to more often. We are all around the same age, experiencing some of the same career “firsts”, and we are always shooting each other a text of congratulations and cheering one another on. But the Red Brown family got together for a Christmas brunch, and FaceTimed with Stephen Marshall who moved to NY, so he wouldn’t be left out. We just love each other!
MLR: Whether we speak daily or once a year, we all pick up right where we left off. We have text message chains during holidays and big events. We try to have a reunion whenever possible. Half of us got together for a reunion earlier this year.
What is it about theatre — and the Fountain Theatre in particular — that creates a feeling of family?
MLR: There is a sense of family at the Fountain Theatre. From the exterior and interior style all the way to the intimacy of the spaces, the Fountain Theatre fosters closeness, authenticity and talent.
SM: Live theatre is an experience like no other. It is the artist’s equivalent to trapeze work, but the net is your fellow cast members. You are sailing through the air, with the audience there witnessing you doing emotional gymnastics, and every moment is alive and terrifying and electrifying. The intimacy of the Fountain leaves no room for hiding. You have to be vulnerable and authentic at every turn. That experience is one that creates a bond with your acting partners, because you are all there being honest and alive together.
DK:In The Red and Brown Water was a beautiful experience. I remember being in church and was particularly prayerful about opening myself up to new opportunities and challenges and ways to express myself. After service, Erinn Anova came up to me and said she was helping to cast a play at the Fountain and wanted to make sure she brought me in for it. She had seen me in something else and thought I’d be right for the lead. I so badly had wanted to work at The Fountain and with Shirley Jo. So, every step of the Red/Brown journey felt as synchronistic as that. Like it was meant to be. Like magic.
SM: I’ve managed to keep my Red Brown family close through it all. It truly was an experience of a lifetime that I will always cherish.
This is the story of a table saw. A steel-framed Sears Craftsman table saw manufactured when things were built to last. My father bought the saw more than fifty years ago, when he was forty-three, to cut lumber at the new home he had just bought in Westlake Village for his young family. The table saw now sits in the parking lot of the Fountain Theatre, worn-out and rusting, like a broken-down Oldsmobile.
My dad was a newsman in 1967. He was a logical thinker, deliberate. He wore a suit jacket and tie when he went to the CBS newsroom in Los Angeles each morning. Smoked a pipe like network icon Walter Cronkite. Dad was a serious man with a dark furrowed brow who approached his duty as a journalist with somber dedication. On weekends, he was a different man.
Like most dads of that era, he liked tools. Hammers, screwdrivers, socket wrenches. On weekends, Dad eagerly drove our white station wagon to Sears in Woodland Hills to buy a glistening new set of socket wrenches or a new power drill. He dedicated an entire section of the garage to his tools and hardware, mounting hundreds of Craftsman gadgets and gizmos on the wall like shiny religious weaponry. As a boy, I would stand in the dim garage alone and stare at the burnished tools. They held some kind of spell of magic to me because they drew so much of my father’s care and attention. Each packet of screws, each mechanical device, each bundle of power cord was lovingly mounted in a logistical order that I recognized as my father’s sense of propriety. It was on one of his weekend pilgrimages to Sears that he bought the table saw.
My dad and that table saw labored hard in the hot Conejo Valley sun on weekends, building fences and benches for our home and the outdoor patio overhang that circled our backyard. Dad huffed and puffed as he manhandled that table saw, his shirt off and bare chested, tiny chips of sawdust speckling the black hair on his chest and arms like woody flakes of snow. Who was this man? A clutch of roofing nails clenched in his teeth where, during the work week, a Dunhill pipe used to be.
By the time I opened the Fountain Theatre, my dad had Parkinson’s disease. He could barely move or speak. He had stopped working for CBS News long before. He could no longer hold a pencil or lift a hammer. His shrine of carpentry tools in the garage stood silent, dusty and untouched for years like an abandoned tomb. Except for that table saw.
Somehow, in 1993, I lugged that heavy steel table saw from Westlake Village to the Fountain Theatre and presented it to my Technical Director. “This is my father’s saw,” I told him. It would now build our stage scenery.
Stephen Sachs, 2018
For the next twenty-five years, my father’s saw stood proud at the Fountain, cutting miles of lumber into thousands of pieces to build dozens of sets for so many of our plays. As Dad’s health declined his table saw powered on. Dad passed away in 1995. From that day forward, the scenery for every play I wrote and directed at the Fountain Theatre has been cut on my father’s table saw.
The once hearty motor is now blown. Replacement parts have been discontinued years ago. It is done. The saw now stands forsaken in the Fountain parking lot waiting to be hauled to the dump.
I swing my car into the lot as I arrive for work each morning. I park, hoist myself out of my Honda, walk to the front door. As I do, I cross the parking lot and shoot a glance at the table saw. And see my father. Bare-chested, happy and alive, pushing a two-by-four into the ever spinning blade.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
Everyone has them. The favorite relatives who visit at a family gathering. A cherished pair of grandparents, a blessed aunt and uncle. Family members so fun, so kind-hearted, supportive and filled with good cheer that you actually look forward to seeing them. For all of us at the Fountain Theatre for decades, Marcia and Mirk Mirkin were that treasured duo. We lost Mirk (Irwin) in 2015 at the age of eighty-eight. We now say good-bye to Marcia Mirkin, who passed away last Friday at eighty-three.
Marcia and Mirk were so connected as a couple, so deeply married, that Mirk passed away on June 20th, the day of their 60th wedding anniversary. That kind of devoted bond at life’s end was no stranger to me. My mother died on the 52nd anniversary of her wedding to my father.
Mirk and Marcia Mirkin were jolly parents to all of us at the Fountain. Mirk with his sly grin and playful glint in his eyes. Marcia, arms open wide, the big mamma you wish you had, proudly bestowing you with accolades when you hit a home run and scolding you lovingly when you sometimes struck out.
Marcia kept coming to the Fountain after Mirk passed. Nothing would keep her away from the theatre she loved. As her own health declined, she’d still get herself here for every production, even when she now required extra help getting to her seat.
Marcia spoke forcefully from the stage at our memorial service for our beloved staff member, Ben Bradley. And she mourned with us when we lost our subscription sales diva, Diana Gibson. Diana and Marcia were close pals.
My strongest feeling of Marcia Mirkin is her huge embrace. Marcia wrapping her large arms around me, smiling broadly, bathing me in praise like a son. I bet each and every one of us at the Fountain felt they were her favorite. She made you feel that way.
Marcia passed away on Friday, December 8th, 2017, by her own choice. She was in hospice care at home in terminal condition and had been approved for the End of Life program at Kaiser. It breaks my heart to learn of her passing but I admire her decision to conclude her life on her own terms.
The Fountain Theatre was on her mind days before her final Friday. As one of her last mortal duties, she had her daughter Karen send me a manuscript written by a patient she knew in a prison hospice unitsuffering from AIDS and MS, encouraged by his therapist to tell his life story in his own words. Marcia believed it was a story of “trauma, healing and redemption.” Telling his life story “could help at-risk youth and prevent them from going into the penal system.” She thought it could make a good play.
This was on her mind, in her heart, days before she had scheduled her own exit from this world.
Our hearts ache with the loss of our dear friend, Marcia Mirkin. We salute a remarkable woman who enjoyed a meaningful life. Even gone, she and Mirk will remain with us always.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
The more time I spend at the Fountain, I’m not entirely convinced being an intern here is an internship experience that most college students are having.
This summer, when I heard about the L. A. County Arts Internships (which any college student interested in the arts should apply to), I was determined to get one. I didn’t care if I was working at a ballet, or a theater, or an art school. I just wanted to be near the arts. I wrote cover letter after cover letter, hoping for the best. But when I saw The Fountain’s description for an intern, I kept thinking, “This is the one. I’m perfect for this.”
I was interviewed and, much to my surprise and delight, hired. I still didn’t really know what it was going to be like. I pictured myself maybe doing some copying and coffee-making (prerequisite skills all interns are expected to have). Or I imagined myself writing grants and sitting on the sidelines as an already assembled team worked. I didn’t ever think I would really be a part of this theatre. A summer is hardly long enough to get a decent tan, let alone feel at home in a new place. Yet, in seven weeks I feel just as much a part of this team as I’ve ever felt as part of anything.
Simon Levy, Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs
I realized I was really a part of the team at our first staff meeting. The Fountain staff consists of just enough people to fit around a kitchen table. It feels like less of a staff and more like of a family. Stephen would bring up each matter of business, and it seemed like everyone had something to say about it. These people valued my opinion and wanted to know how I felt about things. And just like everyone else at The Fountain, with many different job titles and responsibilities, I learned that I was no different as the Development Intern. Yes, I have definitely learned a lot about grant-writing and what being on the development side of things means. But that is just one of the many experiences I’ve had here. I have compiled press packets, organized auditions, worked the box office, read scripts, and even written a few blog posts. For a good portion of my time here I was doing something I had never done before. Maybe that’s what an intern is supposed to do. Experience a little bit of everything.
So far, this internship has been more than internship. I always thought of internship as trying on an outfit. You try something on for a few weeks and see if it fits. If it doesn’t, you move on to the next outfit. But if it fits, you can stop looking.
As a writing major, I don’t really know what I’m going to do with myself. There’s no clear job I know I’ll have. But this internship has given me some direction. It has shown me what working in a theatre is really like and made me realize it’s something that I want to do.
I know it’s only week seven. I’m only half-way through college. I could change my mind. But I’m fairly certain that it’s a good fit. And while other interns may be spending their summers finding the perfect cream-to-sugar ratio, I’ve been really spoiled working here and being a part of The Fountain.
I may just be their summer intern. But ever since that first staff meeting, I’ve really felt like a part of the family.