Steven Green, Dor Gvirtsman, Jonathan Arkin and Sam Mandel.
Enjoy this fun music video created by actor Jonathan Arkin chronicling the Fountain Theatre opening its acclaimed production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto, CA.
Directed by Simon Levy, the production stars Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel.
We were invited by Ronit Widmann-Levy, Director of Arts and Culture, because several members of her JCC had seen our production earlier this year in L.A., plus she’d heard about the production at a conference of JCCs in New York. She made arrangements with our Artistic Director, Stephen Sachs, to bring the original cast (Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel), our stage manager (Miranda Stewart), and myself to remount our production in their 300-seat theatre.
On Monday and Tuesday of last week, Miranda and the actors and I got together for brush-up rehearsals over at the Colony Theatre (the Fountain was busy getting ready for the VIP opening of Cost of Living, our current production). It had been four months since we had done the show and I wanted to make sure the actors had time to get ready. They were remarkable! – they knew all their lines and the old camaraderie immediately returned. It was as if they were still doing the show. They were ready and eager to dive back in.
After packing up and shipping most of the furniture, props, and costumes (except for the beautiful bookshelves, arches, and hundreds of books), we boarded a Southwest flight to San Francisco on Thursday, Super Shuttled to the beautiful Sheraton Palo Alto, took a quick tour of where we would be performing, gathered for dinner at the Town and Country Village near the hotel, then settled in for a good night’s rest.
Simon Levy and actor Sam Mandell enjoy the plane ride to San Francisco.
Friday was a 12-hour tech day where we re-configured and re-sized our intimate production to the larger stage of the Arts Hall. We re-blocked a few key moments, re-designed the dozens of light cues, laid in dozens more sound cues, and re-configured the special video effect of Hebrew letters that accents a key moment in the play. Even without the bookshelves, archways and library effect, the production sat nicely on their stage, allowing the emphasis to be on the actors.
Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, Palo Alto
Moving a show from one space to another, especially with only one day of tech, can often be stressful and prone to all sorts of mishaps. But we were blessed! I want to give special thanks to the Center’s tech wizards, Nick and Kyle. They could not have been more professional, helpful, creative, and just downright nice! And the same for Ilanit Gal, the Events Manager, who took good care of us. Ronit Widmann-Levy was gracious and welcoming and warmly introduced us to many of the attendees and made sure we had everything we needed. It was a pleasure to work with them, and they made the transition from our intimate space to their larger one, smooth and stress-free.
On Saturday afternoon we had a tech run of the show, made a few adjustments, then prepared for our opening. Spirits were high; there was much joking among the cast as they donned costumes and makeup, re-checked their props, and waited for the 7:30 curtain. The Saturday night show was so oversold that the Center had to add three extra rows of seats to accommodate the 300+ patrons. And word-of-mouth from that performance quickly sold out the Sunday night show. Two full houses… two standing ovations!
At the Q&A after the Sunday performance nearly the entire audience stayed, applauding us, engaging us with intelligent questions, and afterwards they swarmed the actors with more questions and compliments. They loved the show. Just loved it. And they could not have been more complimentary – not only about the acting and production, but also about how relevant the story is; how much it touched them; how certain moments made them laugh or cry or nod in recognition; how Chaim’s book and Posner’s adaptation give life not only to so many Jewish themes and historical moments, but to the dynamics of family, of children finding their own path, of the need for understanding and forgiveness, and how, with empathy and compassion, we actually can hold two opposing ideas in our mind at the same time, and both can be true.
The other thing I heard over and over, both from the JCC staff and audience members, is how the immediacy and three-dimensionality of theatre brings to emotional life the richness of the novel in a visceral way that’s different from reading the book. They entered into the world we created for them, and they were moved.
On Monday morning, we boarded another Southwest flight and returned home.
Theatre of the heart. To touch the heart of another and to remind them of their humanity is our highest calling as artists. Our road trip to Palo Alto was a beautiful reminder of why I chose this life.
Simon Levy is the Producing Director of the Fountain Theatre.
A beautiful and heartfelt performance was followed by a lively party as cast and audience members celebrated the opening of The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre on Saturday night, January 20th. The sold-out house leapt to their feet in a standing ovation, then gathered upstairs in our indoor/outdoor cafe for food, drink and festivities with the company.
Actors Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel were feted by Fountain VIP donors, invited guests and members of our Board of Directors.
Looks like the Fountain has another hit on its hands. performances for The Chosen are already selling out in advance. Get Tickets/More Info
This summer, L.A. audiences get to see a brand new play by Tennessee Williams. Simon Levy directs the West Coast premiere of Baby Doll, adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann from the 1956 Academy Award-nominated film of the same name – the first-ever Williams Estate-approved adaptation of this Williams screenplay. Baby Doll opens at the Fountain Theatre on July 16, starring Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland.
Darkly comic and crackling with sexual tension, Baby Doll is the story of 19-year-old married virgin “Baby Doll” Meighan (LaVanchy), who must consummate her marriage in two days, on her 20th birthday — as long as her middle-aged husband, Archie Lee (Prosky), upholds his end of the bargain to provide her with a comfortable life. When Archie Lee burns down his neighbor’s cotton gin to save his failing business, his rival, Sicilian immigrant Silva Vacarro (Bess), arrives to seek revenge. What ensues is a complex mix of desire and desperation, with Baby Doll as both player and pawn.
“The miracle of Tennessee Williams is that he can write these wonderful, wacky, wildly rich and complex characters and situations, yet underneath it all are timeless social and political themes,” says Levy. “It’s almost as if this play is a look at today’s America. It’s astonishing.”
The Fountain Theatre, Levy and Kondazian, who plays the role of dotty Aunt Rose Comfort, have a long combined history with Williams. Levy has previously directed five of his plays for the Fountain, including Orpheus Descending (1996); Summer and Smoke (1999); The Night of the Iguana (2001); The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More (2007); and A House Not Meant to Stand (2011), and the Fountain additionally produced Four X Tenn in 1996. By the time she appeared in Orpheus, Iguana and Milk Train for the Fountain, Kondazian had already starred in numerous Williams productions, including a 1979 production of The Rose Tattoo for which she received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award – and which led to a steadfast friendship with Williams until his death in 1983.
Adapted for the screen by Williams from his one-act play 27 Wagons Full of Cotton,Baby Doll was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Karl Malden, Carroll Baker and newcomer Eli Wallach. It immediately caused a sensation, due in large part to the poster image depicting Baker in a crib sucking her thumb. It was labeled variously “notorious,” “salacious,” “revolting,” “steamy,” “lewd,” “suggestive,” “provocative” and “morally repellent,” and Cardinal Francis Spellman, the Archbishop of New York, personally denounced the film before it was even released, declaring that Catholics would be committing a sin if they saw it. Baby Doll premiered as a stage play at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ in 2015; the Fountain production is only its second. “Adapting the screenplay of Baby Doll to the stage has been an exciting process,” Mann said. “Every word is Tennessee’s; my co-adaptor, Pierre Laville, and I simply freed the play within the screenplay to allow the four main characters to live on stage.”
Set design for Baby Doll is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; lighting design is by Ken Booth; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Terri A. Lewis; props and set dressing are by Terri Roberts; fight director is Mike Mahaffey; dialect coach isTyler Seiple; production stage manager is Emily Lehrer; assistant stage manager isMiranda Stewart; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs andDeborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.
Tennessee Williams, 1956.
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), born Thomas Lanier Williams III, explored passion with daring honesty and forged a poetic theater of raw psychological insight that shattered conventional proprieties and transformed the American stage. The autobiographical The Glass Menagerie (1945) brought what Mr. Williams called “the catastrophe of success.” He went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes, for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. Among his many other masterpieces are Vieux Carre, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Rose Tattoo, Orpheus Descending, The Night of the Iguana and Camino Real.
The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the recent production of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Charleston, S.C. to commemorate the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel Church; and the naming of seven Fountain productions in a row as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times.
Sometimes you have a first reading of a play with a new cast and it doesn’t go so well. The script may be solid and the cast experienced and professional. But the magic may not happen immediately.
This was not the case yesterday at our first read-through of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Dollwith this fabulous cast. The magic happened. Immediately.
It was one of those wondrous occasions when actors, director, production team and play all came together in a thrilling first read-through of a colorful and dynamic script. As the actors read the script together for the first time, the play soared off the page.
The gathering began in extraordinary fashion. Actress Karen Kondazian, playing Aunt Rose Comfort, has starred in many Williams plays and knew the playwright personally. Before rehearsal began yesterday, Karen displayed a small black box and slowly opened it. She carefully unwrapped the contents and held it up in the palm of her hand like a scared relic: a pair of Tennessee Williams’ glasses. It was passed around the table. Each company member examined the glasses, some put them on and had the unique experience of “seeing through the eyes” of one of America’s great playwrights.
Fountain Co-Artistic director Stephen Sachs welcomed the company and guided them through the paperwork at hand. Director Simon Levy spoke briefly about the play. Then the cast — Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland — read the script. And the play immediately leapt to life.
Joined at the table were Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, associate producer James Bennett, production stage manager Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager Miranda Stewart, props designer Terri Roberts and publicist Lucy Pollak.