Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First Night of "Venus in Fur" Sizzles ... Onstage and Off

On Friday, October 10, all the First Nighters—and their guests—gave Venus in Fur a rousing (and, standing!) ovation before heading out to Ela’s Terrace for a party that captured the play’s mood—sexy, mysterious, and a just a little bit kinky.

First Nighters were invited to relax in the Argyos lobby, transformed into a sensuous lounge with black furniture and lusterous red pillows.  Tons of red roses—some with black feather “ticklers”—abounded, along with touches of black vinyl linen, black sheer table cloths over red satin linen and, here and there, a pair of handcuffs or a whip!

It was all in good fun, and served as backdrop for the director and actors, who bathed in praise, led by Honorary Producers Geoff and Valerie Fearns.  “Venus in Fur was simply terrific theater! Casey did an excellent job directing the play, and the superb performances by Jaimi and Graham made it exceptional.”

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Friday, October 10, 2014

"Zealot"—The Power of Diplomacy

by Kelly L. Miller
Theresa Rebeck—
On being a Citizen of the World

Theresa Rebeck
During rehearsals for Zealot, playwright Theresa Rebeck spoke to us about the play’s genesis and the  importance of diplomacy, true courage, and citizenry at its thematic core.

“I’m actually a news junkie and I don’t really watch much of anything except news programs. Sometimes I get really caught up in endlessly hopping back and forth from MSNBC to CNN to local news, sometimes I check in with FOX. It’s a habit that started for me and for a lot of people in New York right after 9/11 because we just were obsessively watching television, because we were truly trying to make sense of, seeing if there was a way to make any sense at all about what we had just come through and what we were going through, like living through this kind of catastrophic moment in history. We were living it and trying to comprehend it.

"I spend a lot of time listening to talking heads and there was a moment last year when everyone got all excited because the diplomats kept talking around how we had all agreed that Syria shouldn’t be gassing its own people. The talking heads just endlessly went around this and I thought ‘Why are they acting like is such a big deal that diplomats all over the world, like 60 years after the Holocaust, it was like all these diplomats had agreed that Syria shouldn’t be gassing its own people. I thought ‘What’s happened that we think this is a terrific triumph of diplomacy, when it’s like nothing.’ I was really thinking about how diplomacy and bureaucracy and corporatocracies all get bigger and more convoluted—and about moments of true courage and heroism and people who actually are trying to do something are halted.

"That is the larger question of the play. Can we change history? Can we move history forward—and what are the forces aligned against that and aligned in favor of that? I also feel very deeply, more and more, what a lot of people are feeling, obviously, that the globe is shrinking and we are all citizens of the world. That phrase comes up several times during the play. Characters say ‘I was taught to be a citizen of the world. I hope to be a citizen of the world.’

"I actually think that these characters are all struggling in their own way to be a citizen of the world but that we’re coming at that project with enormously different, specific circumstances. Everybody in this play, although they have very, very different ideas about what should happen—everyone is in their own way right.”
Broadway veteran Theresa Rebeck is one of the most prolific playwrights working in the American theatre today. She’s also an award-winning novelist, screenwriter and an outspoken advocate for gender parity in New York theatre.

Thematic issues of power and gender often infuse Rebeck’s dramatic work—and her newest play Zealot is no exception.  This thrilling drama of diplomacy taps into the zeitgeist of political unrest and feminist activism in the Middle East following the Arab Spring.

Zealot unfolds in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest of Islamic cities, on the first day of the Hajj, the holiest of Islamic pilgrimages. Ann Haddad, the American undersecretary of state, has shown up with little notice, seeking the help of Edgar Featherstone, the temporary British consul in Mecca. There has been some disturbing chatter on the Internet—and she has come to represent America in the region.

When a peaceful, religious protest turns violent and threatens to become an international crisis, Ann and Edgar must wage a battle to reconcile their diplomatic duties with their own humanity—and decide whether to save a life that hangs in the balance.

In an interview in BOMB magazine, Rebeck talked about the innate power of theatre: “I’m not interested in small theater anymore….there’s a lot of struggle in [playwriting], so when I write, I want it to mean something, to have a larger effect… A lot of people say theater needs to be metaphoric or poetical—non-naturalistic—which I think is a mistake. You have to embrace the notion of theatricality, and there are many ways to do it, but for me theatrical means strong.”

Rebeck’s plays have been produced extensively in America and abroad. Her Broadway credits include Dead Accounts (2012); Seminar (2011); and Mauritius at the Biltmore Theatre (2007). Her other plays include The Scene, The Water’s Edge, Loose Knit, Spike Heels (Second Stage Theatre), The Understudy (Roundabout Theatre Company) and Poor Behavior (Center Theatre Group).

In 2012, Rebeck created NBC’s hit television show, “Smash”, which was nominated for multiple Primetime Emmy Awards. Her other television credits include “Third Watch”, “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and “NYPD Blue” (for which she won a Peabody Award). Rebeck’s films include Harriet the Spy, Gossip and Seducing Charlie Barker. She has won numerous awards and in 2011, she was named one of the 150 Fearless Women in the World by Newsweek. SCR has commissioned her to write a forthcoming new play.

SCR Artistic Director Marc Masterson has been a champion of Rebeck’s work since his tenure at Actors Theatre of Louisville. In 2003, he produced the world premiere of Omnium Gatherum (co-written with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros; Pulitzer Prize finalist, 2003) as a part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Masterson also premiered Rebeck’s The Scene (2006 Humana Festival) and produced Bad Dates during Actors Theatre’s 2005-06 season.

Masterson says: “Zealot will be the fifth play by Theresa that I have worked on. I admire her prolific dedication to craft, the wide range of styles that she has explored and the fierce intelligence that shines through everything that she does. Theresa is passionate, articulate, and committed to making great theatre.”

Theresa Rebeck—On Storytelling

Theresa Rebeck was one of the first American playwrights to move seamlessly between writing for theatre, film and television.

“Once in a while I say, ‘I’m an artist,’ and people get startled that I use the word to define myself. For some reason we’re not used to that word anymore, which seems a shame. Especially because I don’t know what else you’d call me, or people like me. Writer would be another accurate word. So would playwright. But the one I use a lot, that covers film and television as well as theater, is storyteller. I am somebody who sits around and tells stories at the dinner table, narrating my day. I tell stories all the time; my head is swimming with them. In that sense, I am a neoclassicist and would define myself as one. I am interested in beginnings, middles, and ends, and the elegance of that.

"I find it graceful and hopeful and life-affirming. Stories teach us so much. I really do see them as a sort of humble, human way to struggle toward enlightenment"
—BOMB Magazine

A prolific TV writer, Rebeck says there’s something unique about writing for the stage:

“I find it unimaginably beautiful to see language and humanity and lights and sound all come together in this moment of storytelling, which is so potently in relationship to the audience, the presence of the audience,” she says.

She believes the task of art is to create community. Theater does that “in such an immediate and electrifying way,” she says.

“In many ways, theater is a lesson in empathy. When theater works at its best, your heart is moved by the trials of or joy of somebody acting a story out for you on the other side of the stage lights.”
-excerpt from “’Smash’ Stars An ‘Interesting Tribe’: Theater People, NPR, Jan. 28, 2012

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Powerhouse Cast For "Zealot" Premiere

THE CAST OF ZEALOT (l. to r.): Charlayne Woodard,  Alan Smyth, Adam El-Sharkawi, Demosthenes Chrysan and Nikki Massoud.

Zealot is set in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The British consul and the American undersecretary of state are locked in a battle of wills and wits—and a life hangs in the balance. This dynamic world premiere by Theresa Rebeck features an equally dynamic cast—four-fifths of whom are making their SCR debut. They hail from Dublin and Seattle, with many stops in-between. Their performances have earned high praise, including Tony and Obie Awards. You’ve seen them in shows from Broadway to La Jolla, in stage, television and film. Meet the cast of Zealot.

Demosthenes Chrysan (as Usama) is making his SCR debut. His London credits include Blood and Gifts at the National Theatre. He appeared on Broadway in Golden Boy (Lincoln Center Theater). Other New York credits include Urge for Going (The Public Theater), Aftermath (New York Theatre Workshop) and Queens Boulevard (Signature Theatre Company). Regionally, he has appeared in Travesties (McCarter Theatre Center), Water by the Spoonful (Hartford Stage), Tennis in Nablus (Alliance Theatre), The Kite Runner (San Jose Repertory Theatre), Homebody/Kabul (Trinity Repertory Company) and Blood and Gifts (La Jolla Playhouse). He has appeared in the films A Case for You, Behind the Mirror, Santa Claus in Baghdad and on television in “Boardwalk Empire,” “Damages,” “Louie,” “30 Rock,” “Killing Kennedy,” “The Fear,” “Reckless,” “Blue Bloods” and will be recurring in the new series “Flesh and Bone.”

Adam El-Sharkawi (as Yousef) is making his SCR debut with Zealot. He is a recent graduate of the MFA acting program at California State University, Fullerton. At CSUF, his credits include Dollhouse, Twelve Angry Jurors, Lobby Hero, The Drunken City and Measure for Measure. His other theatre credits include All’s Well That Ends Well (Great River Shakespeare Festival), Sinbad: The Untold Tale (Adventure Stage Chicago), Romeo and Juliet (New Swan Shakespeare Festival), Harper Regan (Steep Theatre) and The Book of Liz (Chemically Imbalanced Comedy). He is a very happy California transplant and a very proud Seattle native.

Nikki Massoud (as Marina) is making her SCR debut. She is a recent graduate of the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA acting program. Her recent roles include The Dove in Conference of the Birds (B Street Theatre), Ruthie Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (Trinity Repertory Company) and Laura/Ensemble in The Glass Menagerie Project (Arena Stage). Her Brown/Trinity Rep roles include Celia in As You Like It, Marisol in Marisol and Mary Swanson in Middletown. She earned a BA in history, psychology and theatre from Georgetown University; attended the British-American Drama Academy (BADA) and earned an MFA in acting from Brown/Trinity Rep.

Alan Smyth (as Edgar) appeared at SCR previously in Absurd Person Singular. He is from Ireland, where he trained at the Dublin School of Acting. His theatre credits include The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Salome, Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, The Sunshine Boys (Gate Theatre); The Freedom of the City, The Importance of Being Earnest (Abbey Theatre); The Plough & the Stars, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear (Second Age Theatre Company); Cinderella, Mother Goose, Aladdin, Jack & the Beanstalk, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty (Gaiety Theatre); The Merchant of Venice, How the Other Half Loves (Andrews Lane Theatre); and Normal and Trios (Meridian Theatre Company). He produced the Irish premieres of Burn This by Lanford Wilson, Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies and The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard. On television, he appeared in “Ballykissangel,” “Career Opportunities” (BBC), “CSI: NY,” “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” “The Bold & the Beautiful,” “Leverage,” “The Last Ship,” “Grimm,” “Person’s Unknown,” “Children’s Hospital,”  “The Middleman” and “Caper.” He was also a series regular on Ireland’s number one show, “Fair City,” for five years. His film credits include Bobbie’s Girl (Showtime), Becoming Jane (JA Films), The Fallen Faithful (Other Side of the River Prod.), Botched (Madigan Pictures) and The Crooked Mile (Tribeca ‘First View’ Award).

Charlayne Woodard (as Ann) is a two-time Obie Award winner and Tony Award nominee who has written and performed four acclaimed solo plays: Pretty Fire, Neat, In Real Life and The Night Watcher. Her play, Flight, is an adaptation of African and African American folktales. Her acting credits include off-Broadway productions of The Witch of Edmonton (Obie Award), Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood (Obie Award), Jon Robin Baitz’s Substance of Fire (Second Stage), Lynn Nottage’s Fabulation (Playwrights Horizons) and Athol Fugard’s Sorrows and Rejoicings (Second Stage); regionally in Taming of the Shrew (Kate, Shakespeare Theatre Company) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (La Jolla Playhouse); and on Broadway in Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Tony nomination). She completed a TCG/PEW Charitable Trust National Theatre Artist Residency Program Fellowship at Center Theatre Group and has taught at California Institute of the Arts.  Her film credits include Unbreakable, Sunshine State, The Crucible and Eye for an Eye. Her television credits include recurring roles on “Law & Order, SVU;” “Terminator: Sarah Connors Chronicles;” “ER;” and “Chicago Hope.”

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Friday, October 3, 2014

No Strangers to Chemistry: Jaimi Paige and Graham Hamilton

Graham Hamilton and Jaimi Paige in Venus in Fur.
They’re perfect strangers. A playwright-director and actress meet for the first time when she arrives late for an audition. Thus begins an unexpected battle for power as they discover more about each other.

In real life, actors Jaimi Paige and Graham Hamilton are no strangers. Earlier this year, they worked on a production in Los Angeles and bonded from that experience. Venus in Fur by David Ives reunites the pair for another heated battle between the sexes. We talked with the two about their first meeting, working together again and what they really think of each other:

Earlier this year, you both worked on another play called Tender Napalm in Los Angeles. Can you tell us how that came about?

Jaimi Paige: My good friend—and our director—Edward Edwards and I had found the script and we wanted to produce it. We knew how important it was to find the right actor to play the male role and started brainstorming and searching. Edward found Graham's information online, and about a week later I met him randomly at an audition. We read together at that audition, and I knew immediately he was the guy.

Graham Hamilton: She told me that she and her director were looking for someone to play the role of Man. Within a couple hours I was reading the script for Tender Napalm. I can honestly say that I'd never encountered anything like it. The language, the story, the depth of the characters and the outrageous ambition it would take to bring it to life absolutely floored me. As soon as I finished the script I wrote Jaimi to ask what the next step was. A week later Jaimi, Edward and I gathered in her living room to read it out loud and see what we had on our hands. Our tremendous chemistry was evident as we played off each other with incredible ease. We read the play cover to cover without stopping and I'll never forget the feeling in the room after I spoke the final words. The three of us stared, agape, in silence.

Jaimi: It felt like magic to me.

Graham: I can't remember who, but one of us said, "So, how do we do this?" Long story short, we began envisioning the production we wanted to create. Everything from the space, to lighting, to design, to fundraising and to the team of artistic collaborators that we wanted—it all fell into our laps.

Jaimi: It proved to be a really extraordinary experience for all of us on many levels.

Did that experience make it easier for you to jump into Venus in Fur?

Jaimi: Of course! I've had so many people over the course of Tender Napalm point out our chemistry. We do have incredible chemistry together, and that is so much fun to play with. More important to me is the trust that I share with Graham. Chemistry is one thing, but when it is anchored to a deep trust and mutual respect for each other, then you can really dive in and explore the story without hesitation or fear.

Graham: Yes, in many ways it's been easier. We play together so well that the process had moved rather quickly, with leaps and discoveries happening daily. On the other hand, it remains a challenge. Venus in Fur is a very tricky play, and there are many traps for the actors to fall in; some of which I'm still crawling out of. Its multi-dimensional nature entices the mind to analyze, but from an acting standpoint, it really wants to be shot out of a gun and played to the end without too much thinking. There's so much going on for these characters, but beneath it all are simple motivations that we anchor ourselves to constantly, no matter how intricate and ambiguous the story seems. It's easy, so long as I trust myself and stay connected to Jaimi.

What’s it been like to reunite for another intimate two-person play that deals with the power play between men and women?

Jaimi: Incredible. Graham is an amazing partner, he is so powerful and he digs so deep into his work, which is essential in this piece. He challenges me every minute and I feel myself having to raise my game all the time. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working on this piece with Graham and Casey [Venus in Fur director, Casey Stangl].

Graham: It's been a blast. It's easy to be intimate with Jaimi because she's so damn good! I'll never be able to take all the power from her, but it's always fun to try.

What have been some fun moments for you during rehearsals?

Jaimi: It's such a fun show to do. There have been so many moments. I really do enjoy the dynamic between Graham and Casey. They've worked together before and they have such a great relationship, and that makes for a really great and comfortable place to play.

Graham: Aside from cracking up at Jaimi's hairpin turns, it's been fun watching Casey, who has directed this play before, discover it all over again. It's a great rehearsal room and I enjoy laughing at Jaimi vicariously through our director and the stage management.

What’s one word you would use to describe your cast mate?

Jaimi: Connected. Graham is such a deep, connected individual. He is so connected to the story, each moment and he’s always locked in with me. He's that way in life, too. He's connected with the earth, with the people around him and he makes such an impact in everything he does. On stage and in life, he's been a huge inspiration to me.

Graham: AWESOME. Jaimi's work is awesome. It fills me with awe. I tease her sometimes and say that she's 'scary', but it's true. Working so closely with her is like standing beneath a mountain or paddling into a pounding sea. She draws you in like a precipice.

See this duo electrify the stage and get your tickets to Venus in Fur now!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Grand Illusions:" An Evening of Extraordinary Things

September 13, 2014.  Just as Gala Chair Olivia Johnson predicted, South Coast Repertory’s “Grand Illusions” Gala lived up to the subtitle she gave it months ago—when planning first began.

“It’s going to be an evening of extraordinary things,” Oliva told the Gala Committee—and she (along with her talented committee) made that happen—from the moment guests walked through the white-carpeted “hall of mirrors,” dramatically lit with contemporary chandeliers, until they danced a final number beneath the swirling lights of Club Argyros.

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