The Fountain Theatre is now casting roles available in the world premiere of the new play, Human Interest Story, written and directed by Stephen Sachs. The timely drama examining homelessness and ethics in journalism is scheduled to open February 15, 2020.
Newspaper columnist Andy Kramer is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes the City Chronicle. In retaliation, Andy fabricates a letter to his column from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world. When the letter goes viral, Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman to stand-in as the fictitious Jane Doe. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited. A funny and riveting tale on the ethics of American journalism, homelessness, the worship of celebrity and the need to tell your own story.
Now Casting the Following Roles:
BETTY FRAZIER/JANE DOE
35 to 45 years old, Black/African American female. Laid-off elementary school teacher Betty Frazier has been homeless two years. She becomes an overnight media sensation as the fictitious Jane Doe. Strong-willed, compassionate, deep feeling, smart, nobody’s fool. She has come from the hell of darkness and is now reaching for light. Fiercely fighting to be seen and be heard, she discovers her own voice. The one she always had.
Caucasian male. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Miller, a cold-blooded, ruthless newspaper editor, and Bauman, a scheming far-right political campaign aide.
40 to 50 years old, Hispanic male. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Hernandez, an ardent by-the-book newspaper Assistant Editor, and Moran, a polite sturdy bodyguard.
35 to 50 years old, Black/African American female. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Nakesha, a hard-working impassioned school principal and TV Host, a razor-sharp intellectual black feminist.
Rehearsal starts Monday, January 6th, 2020. The production runs February 15 – April 5, 2020. Contract: AEA 99-Seat. Auditions: November 11 -22, 2019.
Thayer, a 72-year-old, gay psychotherapist and his ex-wife and great friend, Emma, decide to move back in together to take care of each other through their old age. Emma is still secretly in love with Thayer but does her best to hide it until Thayer and one of his patients – a Mexican-American transman, fall in love throwing sexual orientation, gender identity and true love into question for all concerned. It’s funny, deep, thought provoking and humanizes the struggle between hatred and acceptance in very original and memorable ways.
What is a workshop production? It is the next step in a new play’s developmental process. Although still a work-in-process, the actors will be off-book with the play fully memorized. Using simple props and costumes, the play is performed on the set of our current production of Daniel’s Husband.
Body Beautiful is directed by John Achorn, with Alex Alpharaoh, Leigh Curran, Geoffrey Rivas, Marcelo Tubert.
You be the judge: the audience will determine which play gets a professional staged reading at the Fountain Theatre in Round 2 of the company’s 5th annual competition-style reading series, set for Thursday, May 9 at 8 p.m. Admission is free.
The contestants are Eldritch by Michael Herman, a dark fairytale set in pagan Ireland that explores human monstrosity, adolescence and, ultimately, love — vs. — Monsters Are Made by Hannah C. Langley, in which Ricki is faced with a difficult set of questions when Hunter, her rapist and former friend, forces his way back into her life a year after he’s declared not guilty in the court of public opinion.
The Fountain’s Rapid Development Series is designed to showcase the work of previously unproduced, Los Angeles-based playwrights under the age of 30. In Round 1, each of four playwrights presented a section of a new play currently in development, and the audience voted to determine which two would continue to Round 2. In Round 2, audiences will see the entire first half of each of those two plays, followed by another vote. The winning play and playwright will be announced at the end of the evening in the Fountain’s upstairs café, where complimentary refreshments will be served. The prize: two professional staged readings of the entire play on the Fountain stage at the end of May.
Cost of Living tells two parallel, relationship-driven stories. John hires a caretaker, Jess, and the pair chip away at their judgmental personalities, slowly becoming friends; and Eddie looks to reconcile with his wife, Ani, after a prolonged period of separation. John has cerebral palsy (CP), a condition caused by abnormal brain development that is characterized by impairment or loss of motor function. Ani, because of a car accident, is a quadriplegic, meaning that all four of her limbs are paralyzed, although Majok’s script notes that “some of the fingers of one hand are partially functioning.”
Katy Sullivan in “Cost of Living”, Manhattan Theatre Club.
Actress Katy Sullivan, who played Ani at MTC to great acclaim, is a bilateral above-the-knee amputee, a disability different from the character Ani’s quadriplegia. Sullivan will return to the role of Ani for the Fountain Theatre West Coast Premiere. Actor Tobias Forrest, a quadriplegic, plays John. Jess and Eddie are able-bodied characters played by Xochitl Romero and Maurice G. Smith.
The following conversation is an excerpt from a January 2018 interview with Majok conducted by Melissa Rodman, a Harvard College senior who wrote her thesis on staging disability in 21st-century American theater. Majok discussed how Cost of Living uses humor and sexuality to paint a picture of four messy, contradictory, funny, and flawed people, destabilizing assumptions about disability.
Melissa Rodman (MR): I was wondering if we could start off talking about Cost of Living and where the inspiration for the play came from, particularly the disabled characters.
Martyna Majok (MM): It started with a monologue. I was struggling economically. I always kind of have. I grew up with very little money, so for me, all the plays are about class. Cost of Living was about class; queens is about class. All these plays are in conversation with class, but America is so focused on identity. That is their lens through which they see just about every play. I don’t know if it’s the same for literature and things like that, but I think particularly for plays where you really have the bodies on stage.
So they said, “Oh, you wrote a play about disabled people or about disability.” I thought, “Well, no, it’s a play about class and loneliness, and it also happens to be told with two disabled bodies.”
So I had that monologue. I didn’t know what to do with it. What am I going to do with this 10-minute play? And, a few months later, I was asked for the 10-minute play festival to write about jobs. And so I thought about my most memorable job, and it was working with a man with CP, while I was in Chicago.
I went to the University of Chicago as an undergrad, and when I graduated, I ended up working for a graduate student at the same university. And so I wrote about that—I mean, I didn’t fall in love with him [laughs]—but I felt like this is a world that most people will not know about. And so, I went with that, and when we presented it, it was a really fascinating experience for me.
My play starts, and it’s just this woman standing onstage, speaking to someone offstage. And as soon as the character John enters in a wheelchair, everybody got so quiet. You felt them feel nervous. And it was so palpable to me. I didn’t know what it was. Were they nervous that I was about to make fun of a disabled character? Were they nervous at just the image of a disabled body?
Tobias Forrest co-stars as John at the Fountain Theatre
I have a friend who says that disability is like a walking reminder of mortality, that when somebody looks at a disabled body, they’re thinking about the fallibility of their own body and death. I’m thinking about that, and I didn’t know, and I thought, “Oh god, my play’s gonna tank.”
And as soon as John has the first joke, the audience was like, “Okay, okay. We can laugh.” But it was like they were still kind of feeling it out. But because he had the control in the scene, and he had the jokes, and he was in charge, people felt comfortable.
And they could laugh and kind of grow with the people. So I thought, “This is fascinating. I have to make a play that put two disabled bodies onstage.”
The stories about disabled characters that I had seen tended to be one of two kinds: one was the “Oh he’s gonna run the marathon,” that sort of an inspirational story, where disabled characters just are such saints that they almost aren’t actual people. So there’s a distance already there.
And the other is the dying-with-dignity narrative, which I think is very dangerous. It makes it seem like there’s only two options. You either have to be an inspirational amazing-genius-achievement person, or you must want to kill yourself. I wanted to make sure that I countered that and offered another narrative, and also for them to have humor and sexuality.
MR: I noticed while reading the play that the stage directions and descriptions of the real physical interactions between the characters really come across. I was wondering how your experiences informed your scripting the play?
MM: There are so many things, like how do you shift your weight to be able to accommodate a body being moved from a wheelchair? There are so many specific things, that I would just walk the actors through it. I can’t imagine writing that or trying to figure that out without having experienced it.
The first time I went in, and kind of got trained—I think it was my first day—and the guy, who I was working for with CP was clearly so used to training people how to help him, and so he walked me through it. And so onstage, I walked them through it.
And then for the quadriplegic character, Ani, I had to do more research on my own.
I never wanted to rely on an actor doing my dramaturgy, so I researched as much as I could with that, and talked to people. The two were kind of a combination of past experience and research outside.
MR: That makes sense. I’m thinking more about the playwright’s notes at the beginning, which are very extensive. What was going through your mind when saying Ani and John have to be disabled people playing these characters?
MM: I mean, it’s funny. It became such a big thing. I had just written it thinking, “Well, of course. Like, of course. Did you guys ever think that you had to cast it differently?”
It blew my mind, but then of course I remembered celebrities like Eddie Redmayne and Sam Claflin, the Me Before You actor, played disabled people.
MR: The Jake Gyllenhaals.
MM: Jake Gyllenhaal. People will look at plays and think, ‘Well, at one point he walked, so we have to cast a celebrity and CGI [computer-generated imagery] his legs.
You could CGI the legs onto someone with a disability, if you would like to, to be able to actually give these people opportunities to represent themselves onstage in their own stories. But I think a lot of people will cop out in that way, because it’s economic, like you’re saying.
It’s a risk to cast an unknown actor, disabled or able-bodied. And I understand that, but also if you continue to not let disabled actors play disabled characters—or any character, to be honest—then they’re not going to get the exposure and the experience to then become the Jake Gyllenhaal. R. J. Mitte from Breaking Bad, he’s now an offer-only actor. He’s somebody who was cast in Breaking Bad, who has CP, and now he’s a name. Now more opportunities are open to him, and people consider him for larger roles.
Because it’s not my identity, because I’m not a disabled person, I felt like it would not have been right if I had also taken—not just the identity I wasn’t—but to have it told with people for whom that it’s not their identity.
I think people have been using the excuse, “We just don’t know any disabled actors.” We did a lot of casting. I knew Gregg, who played John at MTC, from like six years before I wrote the play. I didn’t write it for him, but after I had written it, I thought, “Oh, I know somebody who can do this.”
For Ani, it was not difficult to find a disabled actor, it just was difficult to find the right actor, in the way that it is for any role. The most difficult thing was finding somebody who could be brash and have humor and be believably working class, and that was harder than it was to find a disabled actor.
MR: And when you had this team, what did you think about, in terms of actually staging the disability with these four bodies that were assembled? Did things change from script to stage? And then, of course, there are the two iterations, at Williamstown and at MTC.
MM: It’s interesting, ’cause when you see Katy in a wheelchair, you see that she doesn’t have legs and doesn’t have knees. Sullivan was born without knees and legs. So people kept calling the character she played, Ani, a double amputee.
There’s all these things on the Internet, “The play’s about a double-amputee.” I’ve tried so painstakingly to specify the character Ani is a quadriplegic, not a double-amputee. But they’re gonna see what they’re gonna see. From the Williamstown production to the MTC production, the rewrites that I made in between were clarifying exactly what the disability is.
I can say, ‘cerebral palsy,’ and people who don’t know anybody with cerebral palsy might not know exactly what that means. Some people think it’s like an accident versus neurological birth disability. And so, I decided, “Okay, I’m meeting the audience where we’re at.”
I want everyone to come in with a common knowledge. I want them all to feel safely taken care of, and that they’re all on the same knowledge plane. So I think I assumed more people would know more than they did about CP and would listen to more of the language versus see Katy and assume she’s in a wheelchair because she’s a double amputee.
Most of the rewrites were actually about the Jess character. The rewrites tended to be me having to explain how somebody who went to Princeton could end up sleeping in their car. ’Cause this was unbelievable to an audience. [laughs] And so I had to put in clues about how things broke in her life along the way, that she would end up being there.
At one point when I was working on the one for Williamstown, I asked Gregg to describe to me what his body felt like to him, and then asked his permission if I could use some of that language. And so that’s the part [in the play] where he’s talking about his body.
He walked me through what it would feel like to kind of walk, for him specifically, because he went through a lot of dance—physical dance—training, and things like that that enabled more mobility than for somebody who didn’t go through that kind of training. And so he walked me through what the body feels, and I thought that was interesting and important, ’cause I also didn’t know what it feels, literally what it feels like, and we’re talking about bodies. And so, in that sense, that was a really great collaboration.
And, I mean, the stages were different. Williamstown has a raised proscenium, so at one point they just realized, because the actors are in motorized wheelchairs, if they go out of control, they’re going to end up in the audience. [laughs]
You do have to kind of change things a little bit, but it’s fine. There’s ways, you know, it’s just part of it.
MR: You mentioned different kinds of audience perceptions of all of the characters. Can you talk a bit more about the audience response and how that factored into some of the staging choices?
MM: I think most of them had to do with responses to class, I guess.
There was an interesting experience Gregg had after a show.
Katy comes out, and she has her prosthetic legs on, and she doesn’t enter in the [prop] wheelchair. And Gregg enters walking, also without his prop wheelchair.
There was somebody who came up to him after the show, and said, “I’m so glad that you’re not actually disabled. Oh my God! Thank God!” And he told them he actually is disabled, that he does have CP. But this response of “Thank God! Thank God it was just pretend!” That was really interesting.
I was at some of the talkbacks, and I think people were surprised at the humor. They were expecting a certain kind of story.
With the last three plays I’ve done, which all have serious capital letters—they’re about poverty and immigration and disability—people are assuming that that’s gonna be a sad story [laughs], or it’s just gonna be a super serious story. I’ve learned to train audiences early on that they can and should laugh.
So I front-load a lot of jokes that I usually give to the person that is the “other,” that’s gonna be perceived as the “other,” so that they’re the ones who are in control of the humor and driving it, and the audiences connect with that person.
MR: Are there any other things that you wanted audiences to take away from the characters?
MM: I think the one about suicide or the idea of giving up never came into the conversation. Sexuality was a big one. I wanted to have sexy scenes and have a person taking agency with their own sexuality and pleasure. Hopefully, it’s like a widened lens that somebody has about another person’s life. It’s a wider empathy that they have.
I have a lot of friends who are disabled. I have a huge group of playwriting friends, but part of that group is people with disability. And so they will tell me about people assuming pity for them, and that gaze, that was something I did not want at all present in it.
People will say, “Oh, you poor thing,” or “That must be so hard,” and they’re assuming that they’re suffering daily and every minute and are thinking about their disability all the time. And I wanted to add more in the lives of these characters than just that.
Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in “Brief Encounter”
The Fountain is presenting a free screening of the 1945 classic romantic film, Brief Encounteron Saturday, September 22 at 4:30pm. The screening is in conjunction with the Fountain’s current hit production, Arrival & Departure, which was inspired by the Noel Coward screenplay of the movie. Playwright/Director Stephen Sachs will introduce the film.
The screening will be fully captioned, accessible to all audiences.
When Time Out London recently polled 101 motion picture experts to select the 100 Best Romantic Films of all time, the panel voted Brief Encounter as #1, declaring it “the most romantic film ever made.” They’re not the only ones who think so. The Film Society of Lincoln Center named it “one of the most achingly romantic films ever made.”
Directed by David Lean and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter is a passionate film about a chance meeting, forbidden love, and finding one’s soul mate.
Brief Encounter is set during WWII in and around a London railway station. A married woman, with children, Laura (Celia Johnson), meets a stranger, a doctor (Trevor Howard) named Alec in the train station’s tea room, who kindly removes a piece of grit from her eye then leaves to catch his train. During her subsequent shopping trips every Thursday, Laura bumps into Alec and a friendship develops. Soon, the weekly meetings become an arranged rendezvous. Finally, they confess that they are deeply, overwhelmingly in love.
With its evocatively fog-enshrouded setting, swooning Rachmaninoff score, and pair of remarkable performances (Johnson was nominated for an Oscar), the film explores the thrill, pain, and tenderness of an illicit romance, and has influenced many a cinematic brief encounter since its release.
“I was looking for a love story to inspire my new play,” explains Sachs, describing the origin of Arrival & Departure. “When I thought of Brief Encounter, with its journey of two strangers travelling from friendship into love, I knew I had found what I was looking for.”
Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin enjoyed seeing the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere of Arrival & Departure, hailing the innovative romantic drama as “magic” and “brilliant.” After the performance, Matlin congratulated the cast and company and sat down with Abby Guerra of Fountain Films to share her excitement about the new play.
Written and directed by Stephen Sachs, Arrival & Departure stars Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur. Highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times, the acclaimed production runs to September 30th.
Sometimes the most important things in our lives aren’t singular, momentous events of shattering spontaneity, but instead, slow burns that steadily coalesce into an unstoppable force; such is the case in the smoldering romance depicted in Noël Coward and David Lean’s masterpieceBrief Encounter. The film deposits us into a beautifully shot noir-esque chiaroscuro world where the contrasts painted on the silver screen mirror the push of the social norms expected of our upstanding subjects and the pull of their desperate, hopelessly contained passion.
As with Brief Encounter, our couples in the world premiere of Stephen Sachs’ new play Arrival & Departure meet in a train station, (theirs the kind that churns coal and grinds steel, ours the kind that surges below the earth.) Brief Encounter’s couple’s first rendezvous transpires in a tidy and charming tea shop, ours in a gritty Dunkin’ Donuts. Over the course of the production, fans of the classic may notice some deviations, updates, and modifications – but none of them alter the thrust of this timeless piece. The heart of yesterday beats with the same rhythm as the heart of today.
Brief Encounter, based on Coward’s one-act play Still Life, is just one of Lean and Coward’s many collaborations, and remains a beacon that has gone on to inform the genre and influence many cinematic brief encounters since. Coward, never married and secretly gay, adapted his one-act with such skill as to retain all the desire and simmering torment he felt in his heart, and that drove his protagonists toward their scintillating, but ultimately doomed affair.
Today, our world is fraught with global geopolitical distress, corruption, panic, and cruelty emanating from the highest offices in our land. Speed of light communication allows us the privilege of experiencing first hand the acute crises of people the world over. Everything is immediate, huge, and of dire importance – this is not the case with Brief Encounter. Lean, who later would become known for his epics (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago) instead delivers to us a simple, clean, purely shot film that takes us deep into the hearts of humankind, and shows us that something close, something intimate, something that slyly unfurls in our psyche can become powerful enough to overcome a lifetime of repression. Perhaps it was only someone who could see things so large, could so beautifully show us something so small.