Tag Archives: Guthrie Theatre

Coming Up Next at the Fountain: ‘On the Spectrum’ is Not Your (Neuro)Typical Love Story

SPECTRUM_postcard_front FINAL

Mac has Asperger’s. Iris is autistic. Jacqueline Schultz directs Jeanie Hackett,Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked in the West Coast premiere of a funny, touching and unconventional romance. On the Spectrum by Ken LaZebnik opens at The Fountain Theatre on March 16.

Quirky and unexpected, On the Spectrum is a love story with a difference. In LaZebnik’s award-winning play, an online e-chat blossoms into a heartfelt courtship between two exceptional young people with autism.

Schultz is an award-winning actress and a theater director at The Help Group’s Summit View School for students with learning differences. The Help Group is the largest and most innovative nonprofit of its kind in the U.S. serving children with autism, learning differences and other special needs. She was immediately drawn to the project.

“As with all great love stories, there are obstacles,” Schultz says. “Ken’s play is original, charming and moving.”

Many people on the autism spectrum take pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world. In On the Spectrum, Mac (Shaked), whose mother (Hackett) provided years of mainstreaming and therapy, passes as “typical.” He connects online with Iris (Newcomb), an activist who proudly champions her autism as a difference, not a disorder.

Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb in "On the Spectrum"

Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb

Winner of a 2012 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award citation and a 2011 Edgerton Foundation New American Play award, On the Spectrum was commissioned by Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, where artistic director Jack Reuler directed the premiere as part of the Center of the Margins Festival. Ken LaZebnik has written two other plays about autism: Vestibular Sense, which also premiered at Mixed Blood, was honored with an award from the American Theatre Critic’s Association at the Humana Festival in Louisville; and Theory of Mind, commissioned for young audiences by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, has also been produced in Minnesota, Hawaii and Michigan, and was published by Dramatic Publishing.

Ken LaZebnik’s other plays include a new book for the musical Babes in Arms, Garland Wright’s last production at the Guthrie Theater; the comedy, Sink Eating, which premiered at the Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles; and an adaptation of The Odyssey which the off-off-Broadway ensemble DearKnows, where he was a founding member, toured for Lincoln Center Institute. Mixed Blood Theatre premiered his baseball play League of Nations, and commissioned and produced both Harlem Renaissance Revue and the one-man play Calvinisms. For film, LaZebnik wrote the screenplay for Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage, which starred Peter O’Toole and Marcia Gay Harden, and, together with Garrison Keillor, co-wrote director Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion. LaZebnik has a long history of writing for Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” radio show. For television, he has written series as varied as ProvidenceStar Trek: Enterprise, The Paula Poundstone Show and Jack’s Place, and he was a writer/producer on Touched by an Angel for eight years.

Jacqueline Schultz has worked as a theater director/educator with learning disabled students for over 12 years. As a professional actress, Schultz has been seen at the Fountain in the U.S. premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris; the Ovation-winning After the Fall; The Road to Mecca; The Night of the Iguana; The Darker Face of the Earth; Fighting Over Beverley (L.A. Weekly Award); Duet for One (Ovation Award nomination, Best Actress); Ashes (Drama-Logue Award); The Golden Gate (Drama-Logue Award); and Orpheus Descending. She reprised her role from the Fountain’s Los Angeles premiere of Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives (Best Actress nomination, NAACP Theater Award) for the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Other theater credits include Park Your Car in Harvard YardTo Kill a Mockingbird and Awake and Sing! at International City Theatre; the West Coast premiere of String of Pearls at both the Road Theatre Company and the Santa Barbara Theatre; the world premiere of Open Window at the Pasadena Playhouse; and Sorrows and Rejoicings at the Mark Taper Forum.

Jeanie Hackett

Jeanie Hackett

Jeanie Hackett (Elisabeth) has been seen on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire (Circle in the Square) and Ah, Wilderness (Roundabout); Off-Broadway in new plays at Soho Rep, the Promenade and the Clurman Theater; on L.A. stages in Arms and The Man, How the Other Half Loves, Present Laughter (Pasadena Playhouse); Old Times (South Coast Rep); The Vagina Monologues (Cannon); The Greeks (Odyssey); Phaedra(Getty Villa); The Seagull (Matrix); Kate Crackernuts (24th Street); Light, Pera Palas (Theatre @ Boston Court);Tonight at 8:30The Autumn Garden (Antaeus); and in a variety of roles with L.A. Theatre Works. Regional: Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carre, leading roles in Richard III, Taming of the Shrew, A Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac, Uncle Vanya and over a dozen plays at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Film: The Words (with Bradley Cooper and Dennis Quaid), Take Me Home Tonight (Topher Grace), King of California(Michael Douglas) and Post Grad (Michael O’Keefe and Carol Burnett.) TV: Lie to Me, Lincoln Heights, Medium, Criminal Minds, The “L” Word, Charmed, Judging Amy (recurring) and The West Wing, playing Queen Margaret from Shakespeare’s Henry VI. As artistic director of Antaeus from 2003-2011, Jeanie led the company to its multiple award-winning first full season, including the world premiere of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Cousin Bette, for which she won the Backstage/Garland Award for direction. She is also a former artistic director of The Classical Theater Lab.

Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb

Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb

Virginia Newcomb (Iris) was last seen at the Fountain Theatre in the 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, 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.

Dan Shaked (Mac) is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts drama program and studied at The Lee Strasberg Film/Theater Institute and London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. New York theater credits include Saviana Stanescu’s Waxing West at La MaMa (subsequent Europe tour), the First Irish Theater Festival (PS122), Snow Angel (directed by Lola Cohen) and Stone Cold Dead Serious (Clurman Theater). In Boston, he played the lead in Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart for UnderGround Railway Theater. Dan can be seen in the upcoming films The Broken, How To Follow Strangers and Jobs (opposite Ashton Kutcher); the TV movie Gilded Lilys with Blythe Danner; and he was a guest star on ABC’s Body of Proof. He played the lead role in the film Storm up the Sky, which was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival

Set design for On the Spectrum is by John Iacovelli; video design is by Jeffrey Elias Teeter; lighting design is by R. Christopher Stokes; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; production stage manager is Corey Womack; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Simon LevyDeborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs produce.

Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 200 awards, and is the only intimate theater to win the Ovation Award for Best Production five times. Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Highlights include In the Red and Brown Water, named “Best in Theater 2012” by the Los Angeles TimesCyrano, an adaptation of the Rostand classic for hearing and deaf actors, by Stephen Sachs; a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, also by Sachs, optioned for London and New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sachs’ Sweet Nothing in My Ear into a TV movie. The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles,” and has been named as the recipient of a special award for its “Excellent Season” in 2012 by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.

On the Spectrum opens on Saturday, March 16, with performances ThursdaysFridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm andSundays @ 2 pm through April 28. Preview performances take place March 9-15 on the same schedule. Tickets are$34 (reserved seating), except previews which are $15. On Thursdays and Fridays only, seniors over 65 and students with ID are $25The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

production photos by Ed Krieger

Invisible Women in the White Male World of Theatre

by Jill Dolan

Jill Dolan

I’m coming late to the controversy over the resoundingly white male-written and -directed season announced for the Guthrie next year, in part because I’m tired of hearing myself rehearse the same old indignities at these repetitive insults to women’s artistry and integrity.  Reading the many smart excoriations of Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling’s defensive protestations about why it’s okay to ignore gender and race in season selection, I’m simply reminded, yet again, of the supreme arrogance of white men like him (not all white men) who are accustomed to seeing and remaking the world in their own image.

I was deeply moved by Polly Carl’s essay, “A Boy in a Man’s Theatre,” on HowlRound (4/28/12), in which she eloquently admitted, “I am compelled to talk some truth about finding yourself ‘other’ in a white man’s world—about the importance of insisting on being seen.”  Describing her reaction to watching a rehearsal of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Carl realized that although the new musical isn’t her “exact” story, “it was my story.”  The power of recognition—of seeing a life that looks like yours on stage—was overwhelming for Carl.  And if I’ve done my math right, Carl is in her 40s.  She’s been feeling invisible for a long time.

Polly Carl

I wish someone like Joe Dowling could imagine what it feels like to go to the theatre or the movies, or turn on the television, and never see yourself represented.  If you’re white and male, and especially if you’re straight, it must go without mention that something that at least looks like your life will be part and parcel of the story told of an evening.  I can’t imagine the privilege of just assuming that the world will look like you, and that if it doesn’t, it’s because affirmative action or some other “self-serving” quota system (as Dowling accused protests over the Guthrie season of being) has allowed the riff-raff of gender, race, ethnic, and sexual difference to sneak in.

Even the conservative Wall Street Journal published an article called “Lots of Guys, Too Few Dolls,”shortly after this year’s Tony Award nominations were announced, in which the reporter—Pia Catton (a woman)—noted that “one is reminded of a sad truth:  While Tony’s are equally bestowed on male and female stars of the stage, there’s a colossal gender gap in the honors given to the men and women who create the shows.”  Catton went on to report that the percentages of plays written and directed by women on Broadway has barely changed over the decades, quoting experts like Susan Jonas, who co-wrote the 2002 New York State Council on the Arts report on the status of women in theatre, and mentioning the recently established Lilly Awards (named after Lillian Hellman), which turn their backs on the Tonys’ snubs by giving their own honors to women working in theatre.

On a much brighter side of this ubiquitous story, this week I received by snail mail the new season announcement from Arena Stage, in D.C., and was reminded that the gender and racial diversity in play and director selection that Dowling considers impossible or beneath him (or both) happens as a matter of course at other U.S. theatres.  In a market bigger than Minneapolis, with subscribers equally as august and long-standing, Arena artistic director Molly Smith regularly programs seasons that include a majority of productions written or directed by women and people of color (and both).

Molly Smith

For 2012-2013, Arena’s eight-play season includes three plays by women, two of which are by women of color: Pullman Porter Blues, by Cheryl L. West, and The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall, as well as a revival of Metamorphoses, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman.  West’s play will be directed by Lisa Peterson, who, along with colleagues Zimmerman, Jackie Maxwell, Kyle Donnelly, and Smith herself, comprise a roster of five women directors out of the eight productions.  Of the remaining three shows directed by men, two are directed by African Americans (and Tazewell Thompson also wrote the play he’ll direct).  The one show written and directed by a white man is One Night with Janis Joplin, so its content counts as gender diversity, if part of the issue is whose stories are told and whose bodies are seen on stage.

Good for Molly Smith and her artistic staff and her board, who no doubt ratified her progressive vision.  Smith is directing My Fair Lady at Arena next season, the Lerner and Loewe musical she mounted last summer at the Shaw Festival in Canada.  That production was a terrific, high energy, multi-racial cast production that rivaled her 2010 reimagining of Oklahoma! in its rejuvenated vision of the classic American musical.  Smith takes the American canon—part of Arena’s mandate—and refashions it to speak across identity communities, instead of sequestering it in presumptively white enclaves and preserving it for white people.  That narrow vision—Dowling’s vision—doesn’t reflect or do justice to the complex race, gender, sexuality, ethnic, and class composition of contemporary America.  Dowling’s vision is former presidential candidate Bob Dole’s bridge to the past; Smith’s is a glorious, hopeful representation of a reimagined future.

Playwrights Horizons in New York also deserves a place of pride in this counter-pantheon of progressive American theatres.  For 2012-2013, long-time artistic director Tim Sanford (a white man) offers six productions, new plays all, of which four are written by women (one of whom is African American), and one is a musical adaptation of Far From Heaven (written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Michael Greif), Todd Hayne’s wrenching 2002 film about the wife of a closeted gay man navigating her nuclear family life in the 1950s.  White women direct three of the six productions:  Anne Kauffman directs Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit; Carolyn Cantor directs her frequent collaborator Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan; and Leigh Silverman directs Tanya Barfield’s The Call.  Sam Gold, who’s proven his sensitivity as a director of women’s work, directs Annie Baker’s The Flick.

Tanya Barfield

Playwrights’ season teaser brochure also includes a clever “key” to the genres and themes introduced by its six plays.  The guide includes symbols that run alongside each play’s title, indicating whether it addresses “comic relief,” “gaiety” (of the LGBT variety), “parenthood,” “race relations,” “impossible love,” “job inequality,” “prophetic vision,” “skeletons in the closet,” “strange neighbors,” “suburban angst,” or “Mormonism.”  Just reading this key made me laugh; what a witty reminder that any production has something idiosyncratic for everyone and that “universality” never means just one thing.

Molly Smith’s “Oklahoma”

Arena and Playwrights regularly stage plays written and directed by women and people of color, not to fill a token slot in each season, but because these productions showcase voices that have something to say across communities.  They make visible populations of citizens alongside all the Joe Dowlings who are too blind to see how these so-called minorities/future majorities are remaking our collective world.  Molly Smith’s Oklahoma! is the state we live in now, thank goodness.

Likewise, Emily Mann’s production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, now playing on Broadway with a cast of people of color, shows us something new about ourselves and the canon of American drama.  Mann knew Williams, and insists he told her that given New Orleans’s Creole population, he could imagine the play with an African American cast.  Mann researched the French Quarter of the period, and found ample justification for casting the Dubois family and Stanley as black, conflicted by the same class differences that propel Williams’s drama when it’s cast with white actors.

“Streetcar” directed by Emily Mann

But critics like Ben Brantley consider this “gimmick” casting, and scoff at Mann and the producers (who also mounted an African American production of Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) for fooling around with the American canon in ways they, like Dowling, find self-serving.  These reviews sound reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim’s admonishment last summer that Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks had gone too far in their adaptation and revision of Porgy and Bess.

Underneath all these criticisms that purport to champion good American drama is a warning to women and people of color that they shouldn’t get too uppity, that they should steer clear of white men’s work and stay barefoot and happy—and invisible and silent—in the ghettos of their “special interest” theatres.

The same blatant discrimination was recently called out at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where of the 22 films nominated for the 2012 Palme D’Or prize, none were written or directed by women.  The oversight caused a similar online uproar as the Dowling debacle among the film (and larger) arts community, through which petitions circulated for signatures to protest this blatant exclusion.

Have we gone back to the future?  Is it the 1950s again?  In a political moment in which Republicans and Tea Party-ers threaten to reverse every achievement for women’s reproductive rights garnered since Roe v. Wade; when the same politicians inflame xenophobic anti-immigration sentiments about our southern borders (and when similar anti-immigrant racism roils political waters in Cannes’ France); and when LGBT activists have to celebrate when Obama announces that he’s “evolved” into thinking same-sex marriage is okay after all (gee, thanks, Barack), maybe it’s no surprise that the festival director at Cannes, and Brantley at the Times, and Dowling at the Guthrie think they can discriminate against women and people of color with impunity.

Let’s not let them get away with it.  Write to Molly Smith at Arena, and Tim Sanford at Playwrights and tell them how pleased you are with their 2012-2013 season announcements.  Write to Dowling at the Guthrieand tell him how disappointed you are that he’s such a Neanderthal.  Sign the petitions circulating protesting the exclusion of women from the prize at Cannes.  And write letters to the Times protesting that white men like Brantley and Charles Isherwood foster a discourse about the arts in which decisions like Dowling’s season are okay and productions like Mann’s Streetcar are dismissed.

Don’t just go to the theatre—respond to it, write about it, protest it, reimagine it.  It’s too important to keep allowing the barbarians to guard the gate.

Jill Dolan writes for The Feminist Spectator

Cyrano de Bergerac: A Short History of A Long Nose, A Great Role, And Now, Expressive Hands

Walter Hampden as Cyrano (1923)

Cyrano de Bergerac is a play written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. It was first produced December 28, 1897, at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, Paris, with Constant Coquelin in the title rôle. The American premiere took place on October 3, 1898, in the Garden Theater, New York City, with Richard Mansfield as Cyrano.

In the play, Cyrano de Bergerac is a nobleman serving as a soldier in the French Army. He is a brash, strong-willed man, a gifted poet and brilliant swordsman. However, he also has an extremely large nose, which is the reason for his own self-doubt. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful Roxanne. She loves the handsome Christian, a soldier in Cyrano’s company. Putting aside his own love, Cyrano offers his powers of poetic expression to Christian to assist in winning Roxanne.

Steve Martin in "Roxanne" (1987)

The original play contains five acts and is written entirely in verse, in rhyming couplets of 12 syllables per line. It is now considered an international classic romance and has been translated, adapted and performed world wide. In 1946 José Ferrer, won a Tony Award for playing Cyrano in a much-praised Broadway staging, and reprised the role in the 1950 film for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. It became Ferrer’s most famous role. Other notable English-speaking Cyranos have been Ralph Richardson, Derek Jacobi, Richard Chamberlain, and Christopher Plummer. Kevin Kline played the role in a recent Broadway production in 2007. Anthony Burgess wrote a popular new translation and adaptation in 1970, which had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. The story of Cyrano has been retold in many stage adaptations, a Broadway musical, an opera and a ballet. Steve Martin starred in his 1987 contemporary film version, Roxanne, and Gerard Depardieu assumed the classic title role in the 1990 film.

Troy Kotsur as the ASL poet in "Cyrano" at the Fountain

Our world premiere Fountain Theatre/Deaf West co-production of Cyrano is the first version of the classic tale re-imagined in spoken English and American Sign Language.  In our modern retelling, Cyrano is a brilliant deaf poet in love with a hearing woman who doesn’t know sign language. His barrier is not his nose but his hands.  Can he woo the woman he loves by having his hearing brother “speak his words”? Don’t miss this enchanting new spin on a classic love story and find out!

 Cyrano    April 28 – June 10

(323) 663-1525

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