Tuesday, April 29, 2014

From Africa to America: Director and Playwright Crispin Whittell

Purple Lights Director Let the Play Wash Over Him and Work Its ‘Magic’

Director Crispin Whittell, center, with actors, left to right, Connor Barrett, William Apps, Christina Elmore and Virginia Veale.
Director and writer Crispin Whittell's early life was globally shaped, much the opposite of the characters in the play he is directing at South Coast Repertory, The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois by Adam Rapp.

Born in Kenya, Whittell lived in different locations around Africa—Nigeria, Algeria—until age 14, when the family returned to the United Kingdom; his father's job postings kept the family on the move. As a young adult, Whittell studied English literature at Cambridge University. Now based in Los Angeles, he is an active director and playwright. SCR caught up with him during a break in work on Joppa.

How did you early experiences in Africa shape your life?
Hugely, I think. It's probably why I'm here rather than in the UK. One of the things about the United States that I fell in love with was the scale of the place. I love big horizons and that's something America and Africa have in common. I found England, by comparison, just a tiny bit claustrophobic. And, of course, growing up abroad gives you a slightly different perspective on the world, which is useful for a writer.

Who mentored you?
My friends. I wrote my first play when I was about nine years old. I directed it, too, and was the lead. I've always known theatre is what I was going to do, whether it worked out or not. I was a member of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain in my teens. Then I directed a play at school and realized I didn't want to act any more. At university there was no theatre program, but there was a very active drama scene, entirely student-run. We would just write plays and put them on. I think most people would consider me a writer who directs, but I've always thought of myself as a director who can write. Adam likes to direct his own work too. I think it's part of why we get on.

You called Purple Lights a “lovely play,” but said you wouldn’t describe it beyond that. Why?
If you were going to take a punt on one play this year, come see this. Buy a ticket. I knew Adam and found out about South Coast Repertory's reading of this play last fall [at NewSCRipts]. I knew nothing about the play. I just let it wash over me, and work its magic. Adam plays with our preconceptions about people in a way that is very smart and sensitive. Plus, of course, Adam writes in his own way. It's just different, fresh, sometimes odd and always funny. It has that effortless quality of the really talented. You can't teach it. I would say just trust this playwright and come see where the play goes.

What about the cast? 
I can take no credit for casting them, because Adam did. But I can say honestly that they are very, very good at what they do—so if it doesn't work, it's my fault!  We've had a lot of fun. Two of the cast have been in Adam's plays; one has been in this play since its workshop.

What type of an audience member are you? 
I think I'm more patient than I was. I think theatre is something that gets better as you get older. When I was younger, I wanted things to be faster, funnier, ruder. But I think it helps to have had some experience of life to bring to the theatre. So, it doesn't surprise me to hear that audiences for theatre are older; I think they have a better time. That being said, Adam's play is one that I think will appeal to not just one particular audience.

Learn more and buy tickets

Monday, April 28, 2014

Nostalgic Party Follows "Five Mile Lake"

Five Mile Lake, a world premiere by Rachel Bonds, was greeted warmly on First Night and generated nostalgic conversation after the show.  Its universal theme about those who stay and those who leave (their hometowns) had playgoers reminiscing over what those decisions meant to their lives.

Leading the discussion were members of the Playwrights Circle, who underwrote the show.  Also joining in, as they accepted congratulations, were the playwright herself and director Daniella Topol, as well as the actors, including the two brothers, Jamie who stayed (played by Nate Mooney), and Rufus who moved away (played by Corey Brill).

Everyone agreed that the play was not only a conversation starter but an important addition to the theatrical season.  There was further agreement that the party—hosted by The Center Club—was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Do You Tartuffe? Meet the Cast That Does

THE CAST:  Gregory Linington, Nick Slimmer, James MacEwan, Callie Prendiville, Cate Scott Campbell, Lenne Klingamen,
Steven Epp, Becca Lustgarten, Luverne Seifert, Suzanne Warmanen, Chrisopher Carley, Nathan Keepers,
Brian Hostenske and Michael Manuel.
The rehearsal room at South Coast Repertory is packed: fourteen actors comprise the cast for Tartuffe. SCR’s final production of the 50th season is a new adventure for some; for others, it’s a return to a play they love (and four of them have been in previous productions of Tartuffe at other theatres). Some are new to SCR; four are graduates of SCR’s Theatre Conservatory—the Acting Intensive Program—and have supporting roles in Molière’s classic. One actor even has studied clowning. Find out more about our cast for Tartuffe.

Cate Scott Campbell (Elmire) previously appeared at SCR in Pride and Prejudice. Her other theatre credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream at La Jolla Playhouse and several productions with Chalk Repertory Theatre, including the world premiere of Mommune. In New York, Campbell appeared in The Contrast (Mirror Repertory Company) and produced and starred in an evening of short plays at The Barrow Group. Her television credits include “One Life to Live” and the final season of “How I Met Your Mother.”

Christopher Carley (Valere) is working at SCR for the first time. His New York theatre credits include, on Broadway, The Beauty Queen of Leenane (directed by Gary Hynes); off-Broadway in A Skull in Connemara (Roundabout Theatre Company) and Once in a Lifetime (Atlantic Theater Company); and off-off Broadway in On the Nature of Religion (Atlantic Theater Company) and Suspicious Package (Wordmonger Productions). Regionally, he has appeared in The Cripple of Inishman (Portland Center Stage) and Poor Beast in the Rain (directed by Wilson Milam). In film and television, his credits include Gran Torino (directed by Clint Eastwood), Lions for Lambs (directed by Robert Redford), Garden State (directed by Zach Braff), Agent Orange (directed by Tony Scott), American East, Miss Nobody, Homecoming, “The Sopranos,” “House,” “CSI: NY,” “The Crazy Ones,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “ Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Num3ers,” “Veronica Mars,” “Ro,” “Ed” and “Campus Ladies.”

Steven Epp (Tartuffe) is making his SCR debut. Epp is an actor, writer, director and was co-artistic director at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, winner of the 2005 Tony award for Best Regional Theatre, from 1983-2008. His acting credits include title roles in Tartuffe, Crusoe, Hamlet, Gulliver, Figaro, The Miser, The Servant of Two Masters and Accidental Death of an Anarchist. He co-authored Children of Paradise, winner of the 1993 Outer-Critics Circle award for best new play. His regional credits include productions at Guthrie Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Trinity Repertory Theatre, The Spoleto Festival, American Repertory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alley Theatre, Intiman Theatre, CenterStage, The Shakespeare Theatre, PlayMakers Repertory, Seattle Repertory Theater, and The New Victory Theatre, off-Broadway. Epp is the co-artistic director of The Moving Company based in Minneapolis. He was a 1999 Fox Fellow, and a 2009 McKnight Playwrights Center Theatre Artist Fellow.

Brian Hostenske (Damis) appeared at SCR previously in Pride and Prejudice, Noises Off, The Brand New Kid and Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business. His theatre credits include Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Center Theatre Group; Edith Can Shoot Things And Hit Them with Artists at Play (Los Angeles Ovation and GLAAD Media Award nominations), Playboy of the Western World at A Noise Within; The Winter’s Tale and Twelfth Night at Shakespeare Santa Cruz; and Mother Courage at La Jolla Playhouse. 

Nathan Keepers (Laurent) is making his SCR debut. He co-runs The Moving Company in Minneapolis, where he has co-conceived, written, directed and performed (respectively) in For Sale, Out of the Pan Into the Fire, Werther and Lotte, All’s Fair and Come Hell and High Water. Keepers was with Theatre de la Jeune Lune for 11 seasons, where he co-created and performed in many productions including Chez Pierre, The Little Prince, Amerika, Fishtank, The Deception, The Miser, Tartuffe, The Little Prince and many others. In Minneapolis, he has been seen on stage at The Jungle Theater (Waiting for Godot, Fully Committed, The Swan), Ten Thousand Things, Guthrie Theater and Children’s Theatre Company. Nationally, Keepers has worked at PlayMakers Repertory, American Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alley Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse and The Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. He studied with Pierre Byland in Switzerland and Philippe Gaulier in London. 

Lenne Klingaman (Mariane) is making her SCR debut. Her recent credits include Juliet in Romeo & Juliet (Denver Center Theatre Company); Rita in Elvis’ Toenail (Sidewalk Studio Theatre), Viola in Twelfth Night, The Three Musketeers, Henry IV, Part 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare Santa Cruz); Richard III (Intiman Theatre); Flight (P3/east); The Rehearsal, Richard III, Noises Off (A Noise Within); and Measure for Measure, The Fantasticks (Colorado Shakespeare Festival). Her television and film credits include “Cold Case,” Dear White People, Twenties, Love: As You Like It and The Exchange. She recently starred in “The Lizzie Bennett Diaries” spin-off “Welcome to Sanditon.”

Gregory Linington (Cleante) is making his SCR debut. He recently understudied all three roles in the world premiere of Discord: The Gospel According to Jefferson, Dickens & Tolstoy (and performed two of them). A 12-year company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (2000-11), his favorite roles there include Berowne, Cassius, Gratiano, Edgar, Proteus, King Henry VI, Diomedes, Demetrius, Sebastian and Ferdinand; Trofimov in The Cherry Orchard; Mr. Marks in Intimate Apparel; Damis in Tartuffe; and Jack Rover in Wild Oats. He has been part of world premieres at Oregon Shakespeare Festival including Equivocation, Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter and Throne of Blood with tours to the Kennedy Center, Seattle Repertory, Arena Stage and Brooklyn Academy of Music. His television appearances include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Shameless,” “Major Crimes” and “The West Wing.” He worked extensively with Misery Loves Company in Prague, CZ (1995-99) and trained at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts (Class of 1993). In 2013, he completed the Summer Intensive with SITI Company and Anne Bogart. He volunteers at Los Angeles High School, teaching Shakespeare.

Michael Manuel (Madame Pernelle/Officer) is happy to be returning to SCR where he appeared as Big Stone in Eurydice, Francis Flute/Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in numerous readings and workshops since 1994. Manuel was last seen in Impro Theatre’s Unscripted Shakespeare at the Pasadena Playhouse. He has worked in regional theatres across the country including The Empty Space Theatre, Seattle Repertory, Group Theaters, Yale Repertory, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival and Theatre For a New Audience on the East Coast. In Los Angeles, he has worked with the Mark Taper Forum, Cornerstone Theater Company, A Noise Within, Shakespeare Festival LA, Geffen Playhouse, Interact Theatre Company, Upright Citizens Brigade, Main Street Players, About Productions and Parson’s Nose. He has appeared in numerous television programs and films. 

Luverne Seifert (Orgon) is making his SCR debut. His performance credits include The 39 Steps, Servant of Two Masters, The Government Inspector, The Ugly One (Guthrie Theater); The Music Man, Measure for Measure, Vasa Lisa, Man of La Mancha, My Fair Lady, Othello, Raskol, Richard the Third, Little Shop of Horrors, Antigone (Ten Thousand Things); and For Sale (The Moving Company). His other theater credits include Polonius in Hamlet, (off-Broadway, New Victory Theater); Tartuffe, Amerika, The Three Musketeers, Chez Pierre, Children of Paradise, Gulliver, Twelfth Night, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Yang Zen Froggs, Germinal, Don Juan Giovanni (Theatre de la Jeune Lune where he was an artistic associate); The 39 Steps (Arizona Repertory Theater); The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Tales of a West Texas Marsupial Girl, Antigone (Children’s Theater Company) and productions at La Jolla Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Trinity Repertory, ArtsEmerson and Spoleto Festival. He is currently head of the bachelor of arts actor training program at the University of Minnesota. He received a 2003 McKnight Fellowship for Theater Artists and a 2009 Ivey Award. Training Augsburg College, Burlesque Center for Clown, Switzerland. 

Suzanne Warmanen (Dorine) is making her SCR debut. Her theatre credits include Pride and Prejudice, The Winter’s Tale, Macbeth, The Importance of Being Earnest, A View From the Bridge, Lost in Yonkers, Pirates of Penzance, Hedda Gabler, The Playboy of the Western World, Summer and Smoke, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, The Rover, A Doll’s House, Top Girls, Tone Clusters, Naomi in the Livingroom and A Christmas Carol—all at Guthrie Theater; A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur at Gremlin Theatre; All’s Fair/The War Within at The Moving Company; Amerika, or the Man Who Disappeared at Theatre de la Jeune Lune and Measure for Measure at Ten Thousand Things Theatre. Her recordings include the vocal CD “All Around Woman.” She appeared in the film Herman, U.S.A. She is the recipient of the 2009 Society of Promethians award.

Becca Lustgarten (Servant) is thrilled to be returning to the SCR stage this season, where she recently portrayed Letta in Death of a Salesman, directed by Marc Masterson. Her favorite credits include Three Sisters at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, directed by Michael Greif, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Hangar Theatre, directed by Kevin Moriarty, and a number of new plays developed and produced by the Actors Studio NYC and Primary Stages ESPA* Drills. Lustgarten received her BFA in theatre arts from Boston University and studied at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy. She is a graduate of the South Coast Repertory Acting Intensive Program. In addition to her theatrical work, she is a musician and singing bartender.

James MacEwan (Soldier/Officer) was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of South Coast Repertory’s Acting Intensive Program and is thrilled to return to SCR after appearing in A Christmas Carol in 2013. Some highlights from his South African credits include Mamma Mia, The Rocky Horror Show, Grease, Don’t Drink the Water and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. He has appeared on international television in “Wild at Heart” and the HBO series “Generation Kill.”

Callie Prendiville (Servant) is a graduate of the SCR Acting Intensive Program, and has also studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum and Queen Mary College in London. Recent credits include Mary in The Car Plays at La Jolla Playhouse; Cecily in The Odd Couple at North Coast Repertory; Abigail in The Crucible at MOXIE Theatre; Emma in The Language Archive; and Mayella in To Kill a Mockingbird. She is also an actor with the Story Pirates, a sketch comedy troupe that encourages literacy by performing stories written by children. Prendiville holds a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of San Diego and an MFA in Performance in Theatre, Television, and Film from CSU Los Angeles.

Nick Slimmer (Servant/Officer) is thrilled to be returning to SCR’s Segerstrom Stage for his second show of the season, previously appearing as Thomas Shelley in A Christmas Carol. Slimmer is a graduate of South Coast Repertory’s Acting Intensive Program as well as a graduate of SCR’s Teen Acting Program. He plans on attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in the fall on a merit scholarship. Some of his favorite past roles include Peter in Peter Pan (Arts and Learning Conservatory), Matt in Dog Sees God (Garage Theater), Rapunzel’s Prince in Into the Woods (SCR Youth Conservatory), Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park (SCR YC) and Cat in the Hat in Suessical (SCR YC).

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Finding Hope in "The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois"

Playwright Adam Rapp

Playwright Adam Rapp is a writer’s writer. One of the most prolific playwrights in the American theater, he’s also a novelist, a screenwriter, a director and a musician.

To say that he’s busy these days is an understatement.

Rapp’s newest play, The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois, is an SCR commission premiering during the 17th annual Pacific Playwrights Festival—April 25-27—the same week he screens his latest film Loitering with Intent at the Tribeca Film Festival.

And although he’s new to South Coast Repertory, Rapp has long-since established his reputation in the American theatre as one of the most daring, talented playwrights working today.

Theatrically, Rapp is renowned for the visceral style, edge and poetry of his plays, which are at turns beautiful, provocative, oddly funny, and intensely humanistic. He’s perhaps best known for his Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama Red Light Winter, awarded for a production he directed at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York, where he lives.

His body of dramatic work is deep and includes the plays Nocturne, Stone Cold Dead Serious, Blackbird, Essential Self-Defense, Kindness, The Metal Children, The Hallway Trilogy, and Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling.

SCR’s Artistic Director Marc Masterson commissioned Adam shortly after arriving here from Actors Theatre of Louisville, where he premiered two of his plays—Finer Noble Gases (2002) and The Edge of Our Bodies (2011)—in the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

When asked what first drew him to Rapp’s work, Masterson says “I produced Finer Noble Gases because when I read it, it made me laugh and I thought it was interesting and challenging and theatrical.”

Their artistic collaboration resulted in a friendship, continued conversations and two commissions over the last twelve years.

“There’s often something dangerous in the circumstances of Adam’s plays” says Masterson, when asked what excites him most about his work. “There are often juveniles who are in potential danger, who find their own resilience and their own way of handling seemingly impossible situations. The worlds he investigates often contain people on the fringes of society, who are surviving in ways that point to the resiliency of the human spirit.”

“I find a lot of hope in his plays,” Masterson says, “and a kind of admiration for what people are capable of in difficult circumstances. Ultimately, they are affirming—and his new play is definitely full of hope.”

Rapp’s new play, The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois, is a powerful, cumulative drama about the transformative power of reconnection. It tells the story of Ellis Shook, a bipolar man who lives alone in a small duplex apartment in Paducah, Kentucky. Ellis works nights buffing floors, doesn’t have many friends—and always remembers to take his medication. But when two inquisitive teenage girls arrive at his doorstep, their visit forces him to confront a tragic past while offering him a glimpse of hope and a brighter future.

Asked about his inspiration for writing The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois, Rapp said: “I wrote this play because I’m haunted by the notion of lost time—how years of our lives fall into black holes; holes in my own lives and others.”

Regarding the play’s protagonist, Ellis Shook, he says: “How does a man beset by early-adulthood madness reassemble his life after institutional regulation? What happens to the world 13 years after he’s left it, especially a world in which an analog culture has fallen away to digital dominance? How does one reassemble and reconnect the parts of one’s life after such a prolonged, misunderstood incarceration? Oddly enough, perhaps ironically, a major social media platform is what leads Ellis Shook to locate a 13-year-old girl of great importance to him. The modern world becomes the conduit to the scariest, but perhaps most important encounter he can imagine. I’m hoping the moments he shares with her in this play are far from digitally influenced, but rather ones that can be braved only with the muscles of the heart and the longing in the throat.”

Read more about Adam Rapp in this interview by playwright Marsha Norman, BOMB Magazine.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A 21st-Century Pandora Unleashes Questions

Julie Marie Myatt works as the resident playwright at South Coast Repertory, thanks to the grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. Through the grant, Myatt and 13 other playwrights across the country are given the opportunity to develop new works (with regional theatres acting as their home base and resource) during a three-year process. One year in, Myatt’s curiosity has already revealed the fascinating stories of SCR’s own audience members.

Questions are the catalyst for Myatt’s project. Last season, she was found in the SCR lobby before shows by a sign that read, “Tell a Playwright.” Those most curious audience members approached her and shared stories about love, life and dreams. Myatt likened this process to speed dating. Simple questions began the short exchange, but by showing genuine interest she found she could get people to open up in an uninhibited way. “I’ve learned—and been reminded of in such amazing ways—just how very interesting people are, and the infinite number of stories there are in the world,” said Myatt.

Along with these personal stories, Myatt is using the ancient myth of Pandora and her box as a jumping off point for this project. She questions, “If Pandora, plagued by her curiosity, were to open the box of 'evils' of the world in 2014, what would be released? And if Hope, as the myth suggest, is the only remaining element in the box, what does that mean to us today?”

Still early in development, she has an idea of what she’d like to do, “It is my hope that the play will be like a tapestry or mosaic where bits and pieces of the audience members’ voices will be woven into the story, and only they will know what is theirs when they come to see the play. Like visiting a memorial wall.”

Myatt continues to collect stories and works to craft a play that features SCR and the community. She’d like audiences to take away from the project that they are vital to the art. She remarks, “I’ve learned so many wonderful details about the people who enter this theatre and come to see our plays. I often feel as if the stage should be turned around, and their lives should be the story, for that single moment.”

While the project has given her insight into daily theatre company operations and current theatre patrons, it also has led her to more questions about where theatre is going in the 21st century. In a sense, she’s opening her own box and unleashing the important questions of today: Why are we doing theatre? How are we engaging audiences? Is the community interested in theatre? How do we get newer audiences to attend?

The answers to these questions may lie within, just as Hope did for Pandora.

PPF Playwright Rajiv Joseph: Four Questions

Playwright Rajiv Joseph.  Photo by Mark Kitaoka
Earlier this season, South Coast Repertory’s NewSCRipts series presented a new work by Rajiv Joseph, Mr. Wolf. In the story, the only world that 17-year-old Theresa has ever know revolves around Mr. Wolf, who taught her the universe. When she is taken from him, she has to grapple with who she is and where she belongs in the world. That work has a second SCR reading on Saturday, April 26, at 10:30 a.m., as part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival.

Joseph’s works include Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a 2010 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Animals Out of Paper, The North Pool and The Lake Effect. He is the book-writer and co-lyricist for the new Peter Pan musical, Fly, and the co-screenwriter of the just-released film, Draft Day.

SCR checked in with Rajiv Joseph recently, ahead of PFF, with four questions.

What drew you to writing?
I was 10 years old and my dad, who is from India, took us back to India to see his family. I was in the fifth grade at the time and I was going to miss three weeks of school. This was a huge experience for me and my biggest fear was having to make up all that schoolwork to cover the three weeks. My teachers agreed with my parents that the trip would be educational. One teacher said that instead of doing homework, I should keep a journal of my time in India. I did that and it set me off on the road to writing. I reconnected with that teacher a few years ago through Facebook, so we stay in touch now.

It wasn’t until college that I pursued writing as a “craft.” I was interested in being a novelist, then a film writer and finally a playwright and I had teachers along the who all influenced me.

Maria Thayer, Kira Sternbach, John de Lancie, Jason Butler Harner and Sue Cremin in the NewSCRipts reading of Mr. Wolf.
What goes through your mind during a play reading, like Mr. Wolf earlier this season at NewSCRipts?
I know [with a reading] that I’m not done with the play. Usually, I pay close attention to the audience. I try to “read” the audience as much as I can. I can sense when they’re engaged and not engaged; what they find funny or not funny; or what they find boring or not boring. Those are all useful to help me continue working on the script. I didn’t have a particular inspiration point for this play, except that I started thinking about how different people share a loss like this and how they might react to it. I also love working with great actors because they can help the piece grow.

Why is a South Coast Repertory important to you?
SCR is an incredible theatre for a number of reasons. One thing that jumps out at me is how SCR fosters community among artists. Especially with the Pacific Playwrights Festival! That is such a celebration each year—I’ve met so many actors, playwrights and directors each year through PPF. Also, SCR is special because of how it commissions playwrights and in that way, SCR is creating a wonderful community of writers.

Here’s your “Desert Island” question: If you were stranded on a desert island, what script would you want to have with you?

Wow, that’s a tough one! Most likely, the play I’d want with me is what inspired me to be a playwright in the first place—it’s what I saw in graduate school: Our Lady of 121st Street by Stephen Adly Guirgis.

Find out more about the Pacific Playwrights Festival and buy tickets. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Debut Time at SCR: Cast For "The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois" May Be New, But Known

THE CAST:  William Apps, Connor Barrett, Virginia Veale and Christina Elmore
It’s always exciting to welcome new actors to the South Coast Repertory “family.” That’s the case with four actors who all are making their SCR debut in Adam Rapp’s new work, The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois. But you may recognize them from other places—television, film and stage. Meet the cast for Purple Lights.

William Apps (Ellis) is making his SCR debut. He is a professional actor based in New York City. His theatre credits include True West at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Bad and the Better at Playwrights Horizons, Hallway Trilogy at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Happy in the Poorhouse at PS 122, Ghosts in the Cottonwoods at Theater 80 St. Marks. His film credits include Regretting Fish (Cadillac Films).

Connor Barrett
(Barrett) is making his SCR debut. He previously worked with Adam Rapp off-Broadway, regionally and internationally on two of Rapp’s other plays: Finer Noble Gases at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre; Bush Theater, London; and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where the production won the Fringe First Award; and The Metal Children at Vineyard Theatre, NYC. Most recently, Barrett played Saul Kimmer in Adam Rapp’s production of the Sam Shepard play True West at Actors Theatre of Louisville. His other regional credits include the Geva Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center and Williamstown Theatre Festival. His other New York credits include the Summer Play Festival and the New York Fringe Festival. His film and television credits include “You’re Whole” (Adult Swim), “Parks and Recreation,” “CSI: NY,” “Harry’s Law,” Razzle Dazzle (Funny or Die), “Rita Rocks,” “Do Not Disturb,” “The Jury” and “Guiding Light.” Barrett received his BFA from Northwestern University and his MFA from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program.

Christina Elmore (Monique) is making her SCR debut. She is a recent graduate of American Conservatory Theater’s MFA program, where her favorite roles included Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Olga in Three Sisters, and Woman in Will Eno’s The Flu Season. Her regional credits include Belle in ACT’s A Christmas Carol, Marianne in Sacramento Theater Company’s Tartuffe and writer/ensemble member in the Guthrie Theater’s Going Live, part of the Guthrie Experience for actors in training. Now based in Los Angeles, she can be seen in last year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning film, Fruitvale Station and as regular a on TNT’s new series, “The Last Ship,” which premieres on June 22.

Virginia Veale
(Catherine) is making her SCR debut. She is a Juilliard School graduate and recipient of the 2012 John Houseman Award for showing excellence in the classics. She appeared most recently in Five Very Pretty Girls (New York Theatre Workshop), Barefoot in the Park (Bucks County Playhouse), My Children! My Africa! and All My Sons. Her recent film credits include Harmony Hill, Hotline and Awkward Moments. Veale is the co-founder of the breakout sketch series “Don’t Talk In The Kitchen.” The series’ most recent episode was awarded as one of the top 25 videos of 2013 by Funny Or Die.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Inside "Five Mile Lake" with Daniella Topol and Rachel Bonds

Five Mile Lake Playwright Rachel Bonds and Director Daniella Topol
Five Mile Lake examines two sets of people from small town life: The people who have left home and the others who stayed. The lakeside town has a distinct hold over the characters and as the play unfolds, they come face to face with the paths they’ve chosen in life. Director Daniella Topol and playwright Rachel Bonds discuss their inspirations when approaching the play, the effects of leaving home and the relationships between the characters.

As a director, what sparked your interest when approaching Five Mile Lake?

Daniella Topol: I love the way Five Mile Lake captures the depth and complexity of human relationships and intimacy with honesty and humor. The characters speak in casual and familiar ways, but carry longing and grief underneath. This darkness slowly burbles up in surprising and moving ways. Rachel's dialogue has a particular rhythm and it is thrilling to orchestrate this musicality while calibrating the emotional terrain. The rehearsal process has been joyful, muscular, exhausting, moving and surprising. And the actors have been fearless in navigating the complexity of this emotional terrain.

Coming from a small town yourself, did you find inspiration from your own personal experiences while writing Five Mile Lake?

Rachel Bonds: Yes. I'm from a tiny, very beautiful place in Tennessee. It was a lovely place to grow up, in many ways, but ultimately it wasn't a place I could stay. I still find it strange that sometimes I feel more at home in Brooklyn now. Though I feel the pull back to that tiny place at times, which is probably linked to nostalgia, to missing childhood and my dad and the woods behind our house.

In Five Mile Lake, the characters all seem to be dealing with the choices they’ve made and the paths their lives are set on. How do you believe this translates into the relationships between the characters?

Topol: In the first scene, Mary asks Jamie if he ever feels claustrophobic. He doesn't, he answers, because he lives on a giant lake, which is big enough for him. This causes Mary to roll her eyes and proclaim that they are very different people. This question of similarity and difference continues to appear throughout the play as an important and resonant theme. The characters who find themselves grappling with similar existential questions share an intimacy and understanding.

Bonds: All the characters are facing the choices they've made—they're all at separate "crossroads" moments. The characters are looking back at what they've done and what they're proud of—and ahead to the various roads they've paved. And now there is this question, now, of "was this the right road to take?" So, then there's this new conflict between the characters, as some want to move ahead, some want to turn back, some want to take a different road entirely and some are stuck in place—unable to really go forward or back. And so tension is created between them.

The play looks at two sets of people, those who have stayed and those who have left. How do you think leaving your hometown affects you as a person?

Topol: I grew up outside of Washington, D.C. and first left home to go to Carnegie Mellon to study theatre. Ironically, both of my parents grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Carnegie Mellon as well (not in the theatre program). So, by going away to school, I was actually connecting more deeply to my parents' roots. This taught me that leaving home can sometime mean that you are actually coming home. My next big move was to go to New York City where I still live today. NYC has expanded my worldview and my understanding of humanity and myself. But I return to where I grew up quite often and feel that it gives me great comfort to have close relationships with family members and old friends who still live there.

Bonds: I don't spend much time thinking that I should have stayed in the place I grew up—I couldn't personally have really grown as a person or a writer if I had. But I do miss it. I do feel the pull back there sometimes, even though I know my home is really in the city now. I think leaving has made me feel brave and guilty and melancholy—and it's given me something to write about.

Hear them talk more about the play in this video.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

"Rest" Touches Hearts

There was a soft glow in the air following the world premiere of Rest, playwright Sam Hunter’s powerful play with its seamless blend of sadness and humor.

According to Andy Johnson, honorary producer with his wife, Olivia, "First in The Whale and now in Rest, Sam Hunter always manages to find that thin line between the dark and the light sides of our humanity.  We're honored to be a part of sharing his talents with our SCR audiences."

As they gathered on a candlelit Ela’s Terrace, with its white, snowy look reminescent of the play’s setting, First Nighters and their guests congratulated the playwright, Director Martin Benson, the actors and designers for unforgettable evening of theatre.

In the days since First Night, critics and audiences alike have agreed, with the Los Angeles Times calling Hunter “a welcome theatrical voice from the American West,” adding that Benson “elicits terrific ensemble work from his cast.”

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Ties That [Sometimes] Bind

Lake People

The world premiere of Five Mile Lake marks the return to South Coast Repertory of director Daniella Topol, who made her SCR debut directing Catherine Trieschmann’s How the World Began in 2011. Topol’s association with SCR artistic director Marc Masterson dates all the way back to their shared time at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, where she was associate producing director.  Since those early days she has made a national reputation for herself as a director of new work, having staged the premieres of plays by such esteemed writers as Rajiv Joseph, Sheila Callaghan and Carla Ching (all of whom also have strong SCR connections).

Corey Brill
Nate Mooney
Rebecca Mozo
Nicole Shalhoub
Brian Slaten
The cast she has assembled for Five Mile Lake includes both SCR veterans and newcomers to the company. Rebecca Mozo (Mary) appeared earlier this season in 4000 Miles on the Segerstrom Stage, after previous roles in The Parisian Woman, In the Next Room or the vibrator play, The Heiress and Doubt, a parable, among others.  Corey Brill (Rufus) returns to SCR after playing a fetus in Noah Haidle’s Smokefall and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

Nate Mooney (Jamie), Nicole Shalhoub (Peta) and Brian Slaten (Danny) are all making their SCR debuts in Five Mile Lake. Mooney began his theatre career with Actors Theatre of Louisville and Williamstown Theatre Festival, and more recently has made frequent television appearances in such shows as “Breaking Bad,” “Criminal Minds” and “The Riches.”  Shalhoub has appeared in numerous productions off-Broadway and at such major regional theatres as the Goodman, Berkeley Repertory, Hartford Stage and Yale Repertory, among others.  Slaten has appeared locally at the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse and The Antaeus Company, and his acting credits also include many roles in television and film.
Rachel Bonds’ Five Mile Lake may be thought of as a family play, but unlike most examples of that genre—which has dominated American drama since the great foundational plays of Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams—Five Mile Lake includes no parental characters and (perhaps partly as a result of that) no rafter-rattling emotional displays. Still, the influence of absent mothers and fathers has much to do with the dynamics that play out among the two pairs of siblings on whom this gentle story hinges.

As the play opens, we discover Jamie and Mary—who work together in a bakery in a small Pennsylvania town—engaged in the kind of banter we imagine they’ve exchanged every day for years. We can also feel that something is going on beneath the banter for both of them. Jamie’s affectionate teasing has a puppyish, attention-seeking quality, suggesting he may feel more than camaraderie for his attractive coworker. But Mary’s clipped responses offer little in the way of encouragement; something is clearly eating at her. Is it the fact that her brother, a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan, still hasn’t found a job and is forced to rely on her for room and board? Or might there be more to it than that?

Before any hidden truths can come to light, Jamie and Mary’s ordinary day is suddenly turned upside-down by the arrival of Jamie’s older brother, Rufus. Rufus, whom Jamie hasn’t seen in well over a year, has unexpectedly driven down from New York—with his girlfriend, Peta, in tow—to spend a few days in his hometown. He has stopped by the bakery to pick up the keys to the old lake house the brothers inherited from their grandfather. But Rufus’s planned getaway meets a setback when he learns that Jamie now lives in the lake house and is spending his free time renovating it from top to bottom.

This means the brothers must spend a lot more “quality time” together than either of them had bargained for. During their long night of drinking beside the lake, we begin to understand the ties that bind them together, as well as some of the factors that have brought on a passive estrangement between them. 

At the heart of that estrangement is the fact that Jamie is a “stayer” and Rufus is a “leaver.” Jamie has never had any desire to stray far from the small town in which the brothers grew up; he welcomes the sanctuary of home and family, and nowadays restoring the old lake house has become his consuming passion. Rufus, on the other hand, never liked the town, the lake or the lake house, and couldn’t get away fast enough when he came of age. Now he’s pursuing his PhD in the big city, and failing to return his brother’s calls or to stay in touch with his mother, who asks Jamie about Rufus every time Jamie drives her to one of her frequent doctor’s appointments. Neither brother understands the choices the other has made:  but at the same time neither is fully content with the life he has made for himself. As they move beyond anecdotes and pleasantries, under the influence of the whisky and the cold night air, deeply buried resentments and insecurities bubble to the surface.

The next day Mary is visited at the bakery by her brother, Danny, who announces that he has been offered a job. Rufus drops in, looking for Jamie, and his unnerving reunion with his old friend, Danny, makes it clear why Mary would welcome the possibility of freeing herself from the obligation to care for her brother. Like Rufus, she has never liked her life in this small town, but family responsibilities have kept her tied down. Now Rufus’s surprise return—combined with Danny’s job prospect—presents her with a possible avenue of escape, which opens up when she and Rufus have a heart-searching conversation and discover just how much they have in common.

As the play continues to unfold, we learn that Rufus’s penchant for leaving hasn’t gone away since he left home. Back at the lake house his girlfriend, Peta, is feeling abandoned in more ways than one, and is beginning to wonder just what kind of foundation their relationship is built on. When she unburdens herself to Jamie—a man she has just met for the first time—the network of emotional fault lines among these five characters comes into sharper focus.

Rachel Bonds is a relatively new arrival to the American theatre scene, but she already shows a well developed appreciation for the complexities and nuances of character, the potency of subtext and the rich dramatic value to be mined from ordinary lives. A New York Times review of an earlier Bonds play praises the “sublime tone” of her work, an acknowledgement that atmosphere and a sense of hidden-ness are as important to her plays as character, story and dialogue.

Although its fault lines hold a great deal of unrelieved tension, Five Mile Lake will not culminate in a world-altering earthquake. Its tremors are smaller, subtler, further beneath the surface—but no less unsettling in the truths they reveal about the complicated psychology of human relationships.

Read an interview with playwright Rachel Bonds

Read another interview with Rachel Bonds

Read The New York Times review of Bonds’ earlier play, Michael and Edie

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Following the Actors As They Follow Their Dreams

Julia Hochner, right, in the 1997 Youth Players production of In Your Dreamz
Julia Hochner
As students from SCR’s Theatre Conservatory pursue acting careers, it’s fun to go back with them to see where it all began.  So much fun that we have initiated a series to run periodically—following serious acting students into the world of stage, screen and television.

Actors like Julia Hochner, who is currently making her professional debut in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at Florida’s Gulfshore Playhouse.  Hochner was barely 10 years old when she first came to SCR.  At that point, she had appeared in a few plays in elementary school, which she remembers as “learning lines and knowing where to stand.”

Hochner learned much more during her six years in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory. 

“Initially, the program gave me self-confidence and an outlet for expression,” she says.  “And because SCR was separate from my life at school (with its social pressures and rules) I could really be myself.”

At 10 years of age, Hochner wasn’t aware that the confidence she gained and the freedom that allowed her to be herself was what the program was all about!

After they become more confident, make new friends and learn about theatre, some students decide to take their experience to the next step—and audition for the Players ensemble groups.  And although she didn’t actively make up her mind to pursue an acting career until later, apparently the seed was planted at SCR because Hochner was among the students who took that extra step.  She auditioned and was accepted into the Teen Players, where she appeared in two productions, In Your Dreamz and Generation Why?

She went on to act in high school shows and earned her BA in drama from the University of Washington before moving to New York—and settling in Brooklyn.  She has appeared off-off Broadway in shows including The Fat Man’s Daughter at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, Phases at Cabrini Repertory Theatre and Tape at Night Lights Theatre.

Hochner with actor Benedict Mazurek in Phases by Rachel Carey at
Cabrini Repertory Theatre.
In All My Sons, which runs through April 19, Hochner plays Lydia Lubey, the Keller family’s bubbly next door neighbor.  It’s role she has prepared for by understanding how the character serves the play as a whole. 

“Lydia is such a contrast to the Keller’s tragic story.  Through her laughter and lightheartedness, she gives us a sense of the kind of happiness the Kellers will never have.  I find that very powerful, and of course, heartbreaking.”

Hochner always was a performer at heart, putting on plays in her grandmother’s living room, but, she says, “It was at SCR when I began a deeper, fuller exploration of acting, and I haven’t stopped!”  And, by the way, when she returns to California, Hochner often returns to SCR.  On her most recent trip, she took her parents to see 4,000 Miles.

Learn more about acting classes at SCR and enroll today!