Acclaimed actress Kathleen Chalfant will lead the cast for the Fountain Theatre’s live-stream reading of France-Luce Benson‘s docudrama on immigration, Detained, on Wednesday, May 20th. The Tony nominated and Obie winning actress’ distinguished stage career, both on Broadway and Off-Broadway, includes Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Wit.
Actors joining Chalfant are Victor Anthony, France-Luce Benson, Rolando Chusan, Liza Fernandez, Aleisha Force, Dion Graham, Matt Kirkwood, Sofia Riba, Ariel Sandino, Felix A. Solis, Aldo Uribe, Karl O’Brien Williams.
Based on interviews with individuals who are facing deportation, as well as the judges, lawyers, and activists who are involved in these cases, Detained is a new documentary theater piece about immigration, deportation, and detention in the United States.
“France-Luce has incorporated the voices of all the stakeholders from immigrants to ICE officers and everyone in between, ” says Chalfant, who has been involved in the new play’s development. “The play provides a very important human perspective so that we see that the current system is neither necessary nor inevitable and is certainly not the way it has always been done.”
“The coronavirus crisis makes this already appalling system even crueler and now even murderous,’ she adds.
The live-stream reading of Detained on Wednesday, May 20, will air live at 5pm PST/8pm EST on the Fountain Theatre’s Facebook page, YouTube Channel and on Zoom.
All art is political. In tense, fractious times—like our current moment—all art is political. But even during those times when politics and the future of our country itself are not the source of constant worry and anxiety, art is still political. Art lives in the world, and we exist in the world, and we cannot create honest work about the world in which we live without reflecting it. If the work tells the truth, it will live on.
Public Enemy’s “911 Is a Joke,” George Orwell’s 1984, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s whole damn catalog—all are political works that tell the truth.
Yes, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Consider The Sound of Music. It isn’t just about climbing mountains and fording streams. Look beyond the adorable von Trapp children: It’s about the looming existential threat of Nazism. No longer relevant? A GIF of Captain von Trapp tearing up a Nazi flag is something we see 10 times a day on Twitter, because all sorts of Nazis are out there again in 2019. As last spring’s searing Broadway revival of Oklahoma! revealed, lying underneath Hammerstein’s elephant-eye-high corn and chirping birds is a lawless society becoming itself, bending its rules and procedures based on who is considered part of the community (Curly) and who is marginalized (poor Jud … seriously, poor Jud). Or consider your parents’ favorite, South Pacific. At its center, our hero, Nellie Forbush, must confront her own internalized racism when she learns that the new love of her life has biracial children from a previous marriage. Let your parents know if they forgot: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals form the spine of Broadway’s “golden age,” and they also deeply engage with the politics of their era.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway cast of In the Heights.
My first Broadway musical, In the Heights, is an example of how time can reveal the politics inherent within a piece of art. When I began writing this musical, as a college project at Wesleyan University, it was an 80-minute collegiate love story with a promising mix of Latin music and hip-hop, but it was pretty sophomoric (which is appropriate; I was a sophomore). After college, I started from scratch with the director Thomas Kail and the playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and we shifted the show’s focus from the love story to Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan where everyone is from everywhere. In the 20th century, Washington Heights was often home to the latest wave of immigrants. It was an Irish neighborhood; it was a Russian Jewish neighborhood (Yeshiva University is up there). If you take the Dominican store sign down you’ll see a sign for an Irish pub underneath it, and if you take that down you’ll find Hebrew. Washington Heights was heavily Dominican when I was growing up, and it remains so, with a vibrant Mexican and Latin American immigrant community as well.
We received great reviews. If critics had a common criticism, it was that the show, its contemporary music aside, was somehow old-fashioned or “sentimental.” Gentrification, the businesses closing, the literal powerlessness as the characters face a blackout that affects only their neighborhood—these issues, always there in the material, didn’t register with most theater critics in 2008. In the Heights was considered a hit by Broadway standards. It didn’t leap off the Arts page and into the national conversation like Hamilton would, but we won some Tonys, recouped our investment, and had a wonderful three-year run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton now lives. We posted our Broadway closing notice at the end of 2010.
What a difference 10 years makes.
Right now, Jon M. Chu is editing his feature-film adaptation of In the Heights, which is scheduled to be released in June. We spent a joyous summer shooting the film—on location, in our neighborhood—and issues that were always inherent in the text now stand out in bold-faced type. Gentrification has rendered Lower Manhattan, Harlem, and much of Brooklyn unrecognizable to the previous generations that called those neighborhoods home. The East Village of Jonathan Larson’s Rent is nonexistent, lettered avenues notwithstanding. And the narrative of immigrants coming to this country and making a better life for themselves—the backdrop of everything that happens in In the Heights, across three generations of stories—is somehow a radical narrative now.
Donald Trump came down the escalator to declare his presidential run, and in his first speech he demonized Mexicans: They’re rapists; they’re bringing drugs; they’re not sending their best people. We young Latinos had thought of our parents and grandparents as the latest wave making its home in this country, and we thought that we would be the next group to make this place a better place, to prove once again that the American dream wasn’t just a figment of some propagandist’s imagination. And now we’re in a different age when, for some, considering an immigrant a human being is a radical political act.
Consider this rap, written 12 years ago and delivered by Sonny, In the Heights’ youngest character, in a song called “96,000”:
Your kids are living without a good edumacation,
Change the station, teach ’em about gentrification,
The rent is escalatin’
The rich are penetratin’
We pay our corporations when we should be demonstratin’
What about immigration?
Politicians be hatin’
Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant
It was always political. It was always there. Donald Trump made it even more true.
Trump uses language to destroy empathy. He criminalizes the impulse and imperative to seek asylum, to seek a place to live thousands of miles away because the alternative at home is worse. Through his lens, these seekers are not people; they’re “animals” or “bad hombres.”
What artists can do is bring stories to the table that are unshakably true—the sort of stories that, once you’ve heard them, won’t let you return to what you thought before. I think about the crisis on the border constantly. I think about the famous photograph of a little girl crying beside a Border Patrol truck. That picture went viral because it seemed to capture the horror of family separations. But it turned out that the girl wasn’t being separated from her mother—her mother had simply been ordered to put her daughter down while she was searched by agents. The family was in distress, and the border crisis was real, but people used the details of this particular incident to close themselves off from empathy. “Fake news,” they said. A child is crying for her mother, but that’s not enough to keep people from pushing empathy away. I believe great art is like bypass surgery. It allows us to go around all of the psychological distancing mechanisms that turn people cold to the most vulnerable among us.
At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them. We keep revisiting Shakespeare’s Macbeth because ruthless political ambition does not belong to any particular era. We keep listening to Public Enemy because systemic racism continues to rain tragedy on communities of color. We read Orwell’s 1984 and shiver at its diagnosis of double-think, which we see coming out of the White House at this moment. And we listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, as Lieutenant Cable sings about racism, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” It’s all art. It’s all political.
This article appears in the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award–winning composer, lyricist, and actor.
Teacher Alan Goodson introduces his college students to the Fountain Theatre.
They come to the Fountain Theatre each semester to experience the power of meaningful plays about urgent social and political issues performed in an intimate setting. For teacher Alan Goodson and his college students at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the ongoing visits to the Fountain have become a pilgrimage they look forward to making. Not only are the young people enriched by seeing new plays that move and inspire them, they enjoy the opportunity to personally engage with the professional actors following the performance.
The student visit was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program that makes live theatre accessible to young people throughout Southern California.
The FIDM students arrived at the Fountain on August 11th to see our smash hit world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Robert Schenkkan. They then chatted with actors Victoria Platt and Bo Foxworth.
Returning back to their classroom, the students wrote essays expressing their thoughts and feelings on seeing the production. Take a look at these excerpts:
“During the political state our country is currently in, it is very possible that history could repeat itself. It isn’t just a theme in a play, it is real and it is happening. That is why I feel this play is very important and the idea it expressed that we, the citizens of the United States of America, must stand up against the immoral actions of the government. If viewers take anything away from seeing this play, it should be that it could happen here, but don’t let it get that far, stop it before history repeats itself.”
“It felt as if being an audience member was no different than being a fly on the wall with the two actors. Without a doubt, the play would not have been nearly as effective if it were set in a larger theatre. As an audience member, you felt as if you were watching a real interview take place on your TV screen.”
“I was able to see the worth in Shenkkan’s exaggeration in comparison to how someone may have felt during WWII, and see that it is true, this could happen, even today. History will continue to repeat itself unless we as humans realize the power of unification and take actions to protect ourselves and others.”
“Building the Wall is a play for people who want to gain perspective on the current events that are taking place and could occur in the near future, considering past events that have taken place while an authoritarian leader is in control of a nationalist country. Personally, I appreciated the statement that it conveyed and became more aware of the impact Donald Trump’s place in office has made in the United States. Theater arts are a form of resistance and often give a lesson and theme to the viewers. Building the Wall was a reminder that history can and will repeat itself if the citizens don’t take a stand and show their voice. Hopefully, those that have attended this play, just as I did, will recognize the seriousness of the message that Robert Shenkkan has made and they plan to make their voices heard.”
“Robert Shenkkan’s Building the Wall could not have been made into a play at any other better time. People need to go watch his play and see for themselves a visual experience of what America could be headed for under Trump’s presidency.”
“This performance is set in place to heighten our collective vigilance as a society, allow us to determine wrong from right, empathize, and to take action as citizens of the United States of America. In the closing remarks, we are informed that, included in the playbill, provided by the Fountain, is a call to action, a postcard, stamped and addressed to our dear leader, Mr. Donald Trump, leaving the viewer to decide for themselves what the right thing to do is. This production in itself makes a statement and warning, the postcard is an added confirmation that we have the power to do something, as a governed group and as individuals, and if that is not a defined statement of passion and concern for citizens, then I’m not sure what is.”
“It is common to say that the past is often repeated in the future. Robert Shenkkan took the past experience of the Holocaust and wrote it into the near future of America under the Presidency of Trump and his concept of deporting immigrants. It may be bold of Shenkkan to take America to the horrible extent of the Nazis, but nothing is impossible. Robert Shenkkan reinforced the significance of everyone’s individual conscience and choices with the concept play, Building the Wall. He promotes resistance against fear, racism, division. The future of our country, according to Shenkkan, “…of course will depend entirely on what you do.”
“Building the Wall was relevant and had audience members thinking. In its understated message, questioning where the current presidency may lead is a concept everyone can relate to, making the content of the play laudable. At first, I saw its comparisons to the Nazi regime a bit excessive and not believable, until watching the news recently and seeing the riots taking place in Virginia. Current events have strengthened the credibility of this play.”
“Building the Wall is an excellent drama that I believe will stand the test of time. While the history books are still being written on this time in our modern history, we must be able to understand the situation we are in while we are in it. We must make the change we want to see in the world.”
Final 2 performances of Building the Wall are this weekend, Aug 26 & 27.Get Tickets
Nora King is a California girl who doesn’t surf. She danced in school productions of The Nutcracker but admits she was “an unbalanced and quite chatty ballerina.” She earned a BFA in Acting from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) then created a non-profit theatre troupe called Acting for Others, to raise support and awareness for charities through performance. These days, she now finds herself at the Fountain Theatre as Production Outreach Coordinator for Building the Wall, overseeing the ongoing post-show conversation series Breaking It Down.
The program Breaking It Down, she says, embodies her dual commitment to theatre and social action. “I have always had a passion to inspire change through theater.”
Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs agrees. “When the Fountain Theatre made the bold move to reschedule our 2017 season so we could quickly produce the world premiere of this controversial new play Building the Wall, we were sure of one thing. Patrons seeing it will want to talk about it.”
The post-show conversation series Breaking It Down was created to offer an ongoing platform for the dialogue to continue with audiences on a wide variety of topics. The first discussion featured playwright Robert Schenkkan.
As Production Outreach Coordinator, it was Nora’s job to reach out to a varied list of organizations and schedule dynamic leaders willing to participate in conversations with audience members following performances of Building the Wall. Topics range from immigration to prison systems to women’s rights to stand-up comedy.
To learn more about the discussion series and the young woman who oversees it, we subjected Nora to her own Q&A.
How did you get this job at the Fountain?
Funny story. I saw an opening for a position in The Fountain’s cafe. I sent in my resume. And a couple days later I got a call from Stephen Sachs about another position that may be a better ﬁt. And it is a much better ﬁt. My cooking skills are nonexistent.
What is Breaking It Down? How would you describe it?
Breaking it Down is a conversation series following performances of Building the Wall. These will be discussions with community leaders, non-proﬁt organizers, socially active performers, etc.
What do you hope to achieve with these post-show conversations?
The goal of Breaking it Down is to activate and inspire the audience. A big theme in Building the Wall is the power and responsibility of the individual. At this point in our country’s history, complacency is extremely dangerous. I want to empower the audience, leaving the theatre ready to inﬂuence change.
Has it been hard getting experts to agree to participate in the discussions? Or easier that you thought?
A lot easier than I thought. I was surprised with the eagerness in which people wanted to be involved. Which is very exciting! This also reassures me that there are inﬂuential people activated and ready to combat the inhumane policies our government keeps churning out.
Which conversations are you most looking forward to?
After researching each individual and their backgrounds, I am honestly very excited for each conversation. I think they will offer so many different perspectives as well as ways to help. So, all of them!
What role can theatre play in triggering social action?
Theatre has always been a reﬂection of society. Shakespeare’s histories are basically the People magazine of the time. To say theatre is merely for entertainment, is an ignorant concept. And to say the arts is unnecessary for a nation, is stupid. Sorry to be so blunt. However, the reason I dedicate my life to this art form is because of its inﬂuence on society. Theater supplies ethos. We are humans. We need to connect. We need to feel. I believe theatre can supply an up close look at stories you wouldn’t experience otherwise even though, in reality, they might be happening right next to you.
What has your experience been like at the Fountain?
Amazing! Something that drew me to the Fountain Theatre is its commitment to socially provocative work. There is certainly a sense of working towards a shared goal. Everyone is passionate and excited to be there, which is necessary for a theatre to succeed. I feel very honored to be joining The Fountain Family. Thank you Robert and Stephen for bringing this play to life so quickly. I think it is essential for people to see this immediately.
Fountain friends, longtime and new, enjoyed an unforgettable afternoon Sunday at the magnificent Hollywood apartment of actress and Fountain board member Karen Kondazian. Delicious middle eastern fare from Adana was served to thirty invited special guests who marveled at Karen’s extraordinary home, the panoramic view of Hollywood, and chatted about the achievements and future of the Fountain Theatre.
The afternoon salon was organized so distinguished friends and supporters of the Fountain could stay connected with the theatre and each other. New colleagues and associates from the Los Angeles business and arts communities were introduced to the Fountain’s inner circle. And the Fountain unveiled a new level of sponsorship, the Artistic Directors Circle, for elite donors who underwrite specific plays or programs or an entire season.
Fountain Co-Artistic Directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs were joined by Producing Director Simon Levy, Associate Producer James Bennett and Director of Development Barbara Goodhill.
“Diversity sits at the heart of our artistic mission,” said Sachs. “When Deborah and I founded the Fountain back in 1990, it was to offer an artistic home for theatre and dance artists, of all backgrounds, to create and develop new work that reflects the cultural diversity of our city and our nation. The Fountain Theatre sits in the center of District 13, the most ethnically and culturally diverse district in Los Angeles. 32 languages are spoken at the local high school.
“Our programing is community-driven. When we think about putting a season together, we ask ourselves which community needs to be served? Which cultural, religious or ethnic group is struggling with an issue that needs to be dramatized? Who’s voice needs to be heard?”
The 2017-18 Fountain Theatre season includes the world premiere of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan, Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, the world premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy Kamps, the world premiere of Freddie by Deborah Lawlor, the stage adaption of The Chosen by Chaim Potok, and the world premiere of Arrival and Departure by Stephen Sachs performed in Spoken English and American Sign Language.
Fountain Board members Dorothy Wolpert, Karen Kondazian, Dick Motika, Jerrie Witfield, Don Zachary, and Oscar Arslanian welcomed guests Nyla Arslanian, Miles and Joni Benickes, Lorraine Evanoff, Bennard Gillison, Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Lucinda Cowell and Ron Michaelson, Victoria Meyers, Bonnie Nijist and Arthur Zeesman, Jacqueline Schultz, Mark Stankevich, Ron and Elaine Stein, , and Stanley Wolpert.
Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor spoke to the group, reviewing the recent accomplishments of the Fountain Theatre, its fundraising goals, and outlining the upcoming 2017-18 season. They expressed the artistic heart and soul of the company and its dedication to diversity and inclusion by serving a wide variety of communities throughout Los Angeles. And they articulated the challenges and objectives moving forward, describing the Fountain as an essential treasure on the cultural landscape of Los Angeles. And declared that the Fountain’s longtime dedication to diversity was essential in these turbulent times.
“We are an immigrant nation, ” stated Sachs. “Los Angeles is a world city, rich with the multi-colored fabric of diversity. At this moment in history, now more than ever, it is crucial that the Fountain Theatre maintain its mission of diversity and inclusion and community focus, where people from all backgrounds are seen on our stage and in our audiences.”
“The Fountain Theatre may be small in size, ” he concluded. “But we are large in vision, in purpose, and in our commitment to creating and producing meaningful work that has the power to change lives.”
Have you heard of Rabbi Joachim Prinz? Probably not. In August of 1963, he and Martin Luther King, Jr. were among the ten leaders of the March on Washington. Preceding King to the platform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before King declared his dream to the world, Prinz delivered a stirring speech against silence in the face of injustice. It was an expression of his life-long commitment to equality and tolerance.
“Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept,” he said. “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not ‘.the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”
This past weekend, more than 50 years later, women across the nation marched on Washington once again. And on the Thursday prior to marching, on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, the Fountain Theatre made a pledge. It would not be silent.
Streaming live on Facebook, the Fountain joined 728 other theaters in all 50 states who gathered outside theaters nationwide to create a “light” for these dark times ahead. The Ghostlight Project offered theater artists and patrons the opportunity to renew a pledge to stand and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone, regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
What is a ghostlight? When our theaters go dark at the end of the night, we turn on a “ghost light” – offering visibility and safety for all who might enter. This is our theatrical tradition and the inspiration for this national event. Like a ghostlight, the light we created on January 19th represents our commitment to provide safety, a safe harbor, for everyone. To resist intolerance at all levels.
Fountain folk were asked to make signs, affirming “I Am” and “I Fight For”. Take a look.
On Thursday night, a crowd of Fountain Family members — actors, directors, stage managers, patrons and supporters — gathered outside the theatre at exactly at 5:30pm to join the live feed on Facebook. A statement was read by Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs, and the group switched on the portable lights they were asked to bring, in symbolic gesture of adding light into the coming darkness.
The ceremony continued inside. Morlan Higgins played guitar and sang a song by Woody Guthrie. Stephen Sachs listed three Fountain productions of plays that dramatized the issues of tolerance, equality, and inclusion. My Mañana Comes brought to life the struggle of immigration, The Ballad of Emmett Till shed light on racism, and the The Normal Heart articulated the fight against AIDS and social prejudice in the gay community. Stephen then introduced cast members from these productions, each performing selections giving voice to these themes. It was very powerful and moving.
Quoting Rabbi Prinz, Sachs then announced the Fountain Theatre’s pledge that it “will not be silent.” He then instructed the group to once again switch on their portable lights, as he turned on the Fountain ghostlight that stood on stage, as a beacon of hope.
The Fountain ceremony ended with everyone joining Morlan on guitar and singing together the lively gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine”. Afterwards, the group gathered upstairs in the cafe for excited conversation, pizza and beer.
It was an inspiring and joyous evening. Like the light we shine, we will carry our pledge forward into the new year, and the years forever after. We will not remain silent.
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.
Lawrence Stallings, Pablo Castelblanco, Richard Azurdia, Peter Pasco
by Victoria Montecillo
Last weekend, I got to watch our production of My Mañana Comes on its closing weekend. It’s three days later, and I’m still thinking about it. After hearing about the show and the kind of work that the Fountain produces from Stephen Sachs and Barbara Goodhill, I was eager to see the work in action. I knew that the show was about four busboys in a high-end restaurant, and that the show would touch on issues surrounding immigration and fair pay, but I was otherwise walking in with no expectations of what I was about to see.
Playwright Elizabeth Irwin
One of the first things that captured me within the first couple of scenes was the reality of it all. I knew the playwright was a woman, and I was stunned at her ability to capture the conversations between these young men so well. I could feel each unique voice and personality from the four characters, which only made the story even more riveting.
I felt like this play really sneaks up on you, in the best way possible. For a while, it’s just four guys working in a kitchen trying to make ends meet, teasing each other, and sharing their lives with one another. And in the next moment, you’re suddenly aware of how much you care about each of these men. They’re each dealing with their own set of challenges, and you can feel yourself rooting for them. And suddenly you’re watching these characters you care about struggling to fight for equal pay, providing for their families, and maintaining their friendships with each other.
As a theatre geek, I have to say that I have a soft spot for powerful pieces of theatre that don’t have a happy ending. They end, instead, by giving the audience something to think about, and with the gut-wrenching realization that theatre is, in fact, an avenue for real stories about real people. Perhaps after the show that I saw, the actors all came out smiling and ready to answer all of our questions and discuss the piece in an illuminating and inspiring talkback, but stories like that don’t always end that way. This piece, and the incredible actors in the cast, were telling a much bigger story of real struggle.
On top of all of that, the audience gets to witness all of this unfold in the Fountain’s cozy, 78-seat theatre. Their space made us feel like we were all apart of this story, and part of the action. Seeing this particular piece in such a small space helped me realize how effective it can be to tell stories in a smaller space, where there seems to be no separation or distance between the performers and the audience. Everything is shared, and that makes the experience all the more powerful.
Pablo Castelblanco and Peter Pasco
Another thing I really appreciated about this production was how well it brought to light very specific perspectives within cultural identity. In the talkback with the cast after the show, which was moderated by Stephen Sachs, an audience member praised actor Peter Pasco for his portrayal of Whalid, a young Mexican-American man with no claim to his own heritage. Pasco responded to the audience member, expressing the difficulty that many first-generation and second-generation Americans have with the culture of their families, especially when visiting their “home countries”. As I clearly remember him explaining his own experiences in relation to Whalid’s in the talkback, “When I’m here in the United States, everyone sees me as Peruvian, even though I feel that I’m American. But when I’m in Peru visiting my family, I don’t feel like a Peruvian at all.” His words deeply resonated with me, as a first-generation Filipino-American. Getting to see a character like that onstage, as well as hearing the actor speak about it so eloquently afterwards, was a very special feeling.
It was sad to see such a beautiful piece as My Mañana Comes in its closing weekend, but I felt lucky to be apart of one of the many audiences that got to see such a powerful piece at the Fountain, with an unbelievable cast bringing such an important story to life. One of the most inspiring things to see after the show was all of the people in the audience who were clearly so moved by the performance; there was one woman behind me who clearly wanted to express her gratitude to the actors for sharing such an important story, but she was far too overcome with emotion. There were countless people around me who made a point of thanking the actors and the Fountain Theatre for bringing such an important and relevant piece to audiences in this community, and I was again reminded of the magic and power of live theatre, and all it can do to bring communities together through art and storytelling.
How does theatre dramatize important social, political and cultural issues in a way that is compelling and meaningful? Can a play bring to life the challenges of immigration and the struggle of undocumented workers in a story that reveals the human being behind the stereotype? Isn’t it remarkable how the magic of theatre pulls us into the personal lives of these colorful characters in this play and then delivers a heart-stopping blow at the end that forces you to examine your own belief systems about yourself?
These compelling questions — and more — were some of the topics raised in a heartfelt Q&A discussion with the cast following yesterday’s matinee performance of My Mañana Comes. The audience included young people and adults from The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, a non-profit organization that makes theatre accessible to low income youth and adults. The program also uses theatre as a vehicle to create community and empower, educate and give artistic voice to young people.
My Mañana Comesis a funny and powerful new play about four busboys — three Mexican, one African American — in a upscale restaurant who battle issues of immigration, fair pay for labor, and chasing the American Dream. The play utilizes fast-paced dialogue and slang in both English and Spanish. That same diversity was reflected in the cultural mix at yesterday’s Q&A when the discussion was conducted and translated in both Spanish and English.
The interchange between artists and young people in the community was made possible through the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program, Theatre as a Learning Tool, which provides the life-enhancing experience of live theatre to underserved young people throughout Southern California.
“Our goal at the Fountain is to use the power of theatre to put a human face on the social, political and cultural issues of our day,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen. “And to open the eyes and minds and hearts of young people. There is nothing more rewarding than making theatre available to those in our community who otherwise have little or no access to what theatre can do.”
New York based playwright Elizabeth Irwin will be attending our hit LA Premiere of her play My Mañana Comes on Saturday May 14th at 8pm. Immediately following the performance, Irwin will be joined by the cast and director for a Q&A Talkback discussion with the audience.
My Mañana Comes is set in the frenzied kitchen of a fancy New York restaurant toiled by four busboys — three Mexican, one African American. The funny and fast-moving new play dramatizes such timely issues as immigration, undocumented workers, fair pay for labor, and chasing the American Dream.
Pablo Castelblanco, Lawrence Stallings and Peter Pasco
Elizabeth Irwin was born in Worcester, raised by Brooklyn and Mexico City. She was a 2013-14 Playwrights Realm Writing Fellow and is a member of the Public Theater’s 2015 Emerging Writer’s Group. Her play My Mañana Comes received its off-Broadway debut in September 2014 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater as Playwright Realm’s Page One Production. She continues her work with Playwrights Realm as their 2014-15 Page One Resident Playwright. She was a member of the 2012-13 Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab. Elizabeth is a graduate of Amherst and Harvard and works in the New York City public schools. She is also a pretty great procrasti-baker.
Our Los Angeles Premiere of My Mañana Comes has earned rave reviews everywhere. The Los Angeles Times hails it as “engaging”, Broadway World calls it “wonderful” and Discover Hollywood demands “don’t miss this one!” The production has also been highlighted as Ovation Recommended.
On Saturday May 14th at 8pm, Elizabeth Irwin will be joined by actors Richard Azurdia, Pablo Castelblanco, Peter Posco, Lawrence Stallings and director Armando Molina for a lively post-show discussion. A wonderful evening of great theatre and good conversation with the artists. Join us! MORE INFO/Get Tickets