The Fountain Theatre launches its 25th Anniversary with the Los Angeles premiere of “Reborning”

Ryan Doucette, Kristin Carey and Joanna Strapp.

Ryan Doucette, Kristin Carey and Joanna Strapp.

How far would you go to create a family?

Launching the Fountain Theatre’s 25th Anniversary Season, Simon Levy directs Kristin Carey, Ryan Doucette, Joanna Strapp — and some very unusual, one-of-a-kind dolls — in the Los Angeles premiere of Reborning by Zayd Dohrn. How far would you go to create a family?. A darkly funny psychological thriller that takes an unsettling look at work, motherhood and the power of healing, Reborning opens at the Fountain Theatre on Jan. 24.

In Reborning, a young artist who crafts custom-made dolls begins to suspect that a demanding client may be the mother who abandoned her at birth. As she tries to unravel the mystery, she discovers the path to her own “reborning.”

“The play is funny and twisted, but also deeply emotional and very moving,” says Levy.

Ryan Doucette and Joanna Strapp

Ryan Doucette and Joanna Strapp

A reborn doll is a manufactured vinyl doll that has been transformed to resemble a human baby with as much realism as possible. Although many consumers collect reborns as they would regular dolls, others use them to replace a child they once lost or a child that has grown up. The dolls often come with fake birth or adoption certificates, and their “parents” care for them as they would an infant. Because of their realistic appearance, reborn dolls have occasionally been mistaken for real babies and rescued from parked cars after being reported to the police by passers-by.

“It’s a pretty dark play, but kind of a comedy too,” explains Dohrn, who first became aware of reborn dolls when his wife was pregnant and they were searching for baby clothes online.

“We stumbled across numerous sites and forums for reborn dolls,” he says. “Buyers would testify how the dolls comforted them. I was trying to balance my own fears and hopes about becoming a father with my work as a writer and an artist, and I became fascinated. These dolls are realistic enough to be upsetting — beautiful and grotesque and odd all at once.”

Reborning received a workshop production at The Public Theater in New York City, followed by a world premiere production at The SF Playhouse in San Francisco. San Francisco’s Eagle News called it “A major triumph… a taut thriller that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. You don’t want to miss it,” while the Chronicle praised the play’s ability to balance “humor, suspense, and trauma.” The SF Weekly wrote, “Reborning proves that grim topics and taboos can also be damn funny.”

Zayd Dohrn

Zayd Dohrn

Zayd Dohrn’s other plays include Outside People (The Vineyard Theatre/Naked Angels), Want (Steppenwolf First Look) and Sick (Berkshire Theatre Festival. His work has also been produced and developed at Playwrights Horizons, the Atlantic Theater Co., Manhattan Theatre Club, Goodman Theatre, South Coast Rep, Ars Nova, Kitchen Dog, Theatre for One, Boston Playwrights’, New York Theatre Workshop and the Royal Court Theatre in London, among others. He has written screenplays for the American Film Company, Bedlam Productions, and Vox3 Films, as well as a pilot for HBO. He earned his MFA from NYU and was a Lila Acheson Wallace Fellow at Juilliard, where he twice received Lincoln Center’s Lecomte du Nouy Prize. He teaches playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University.

Simon Levy

Simon Levy

Simon Levy was honored with the 2011 Milton Katselas Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. Directing credits at the Fountain include The Normal Heart (LADCC Award for Best Revival), Cyrano (LADCC Awards for Direction and Production), A House Not Meant to Stand; Opus (LA Weekly Awards, Best Director); Photograph 51;The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (Backstage Garland Award, Best Direction); The Gimmick (Ovation Award-Solo Performance); Master Class (Ovation Award-Best Production); Daisy in the Dreamtime (Backstage Garland Awards, Best Production and Direction); Going to St. Ives; The Night of the Iguana; Summer & Smoke (Ovation Award-Best Production); The Last Tycoon, which he wrote and directed, (5 Back Stage  awards, including Best Adaptation and Direction); and Orpheus Descending (6 Drama-Logue awards, including Best Production and Direction). What I Heard About Iraq, which he wrote and directed, was produced worldwide including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Fringe First Award) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival (Fringe Award), was produced by BBC Radio, and received a 30-city UK tour culminating in London. He has written the official stage adaptations of The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon for the Fitzgerald Estate, all published by Dramatists Play Service.

Set design for Reborning is by Jeff McLaughlin; lighting design is by Jennifer Edwards; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design and set dressing are by Misty Carlisle; consulting doll artist is Amy Karich; associate producer is James Bennett; assistant stage manager is Shawna Voragen; and the production stage manager is Terri Roberts

Reborning  (323) 663-1525  MORE INFO/Get Tickets 

Set Designer Andrew Hammer Weaves a Magic Spell with ‘Broomstick’ at the Fountain Theatre

'Broomstick' set design by Andrew Hammer (photo by Ed Krieger)

‘Broomstick’ set design by Andrew Hammer (photo by Ed Krieger)

Jenny O’Hara’s mesmerizing solo performance in our acclaimed LA Premiere of Broomstick has been rightly hailed by critics as a “tour-de-force”.   The same can certainly be said of the extraordinary set design by Andrew Hammer. Andrew has created an absolutely enchanting witch’s cottage that is magically rich, detailed and charming and somehow manages to be both spooky and inviting at the same time. Audiences have been marveling and buzzing about the marvelous set after each performance. We thought you’d like to meet the guy who created the set — and all the buzz.

Andrew received his training at Pacific Conservatory Theatre and has designed sets throughout Southern California. In addition to set design, he is currently a paint and color specialist at Walt Disney Imagineering.

Andrew Hammer

Andrew Hammer

What drew you to accepting to design Broomstick? 

First and foremost, the setting of the script was really exciting to me. A Disney-esque witch’s cottage in the woods? What could be more interesting to design? The recommendation of the Fountain from designer Brad Kaye was also a huge coup.

When you first read the script, what did you think? 

My first reaction was “Oy Vey! It’s in verse?” But like so many works, it is an entirely different beast when it is read out loud by an actor. And with Jenny performing it? Well, she transforms it

What is your normal process in designing a set? Was Broomstick typical of your process or different?

Well, there really isn’t  a “normal” process. What was specifically atypical about the Broomstick process was that [director] Stephen Sachs had a very clear idea of what he wanted and also an amazing sketch to communicate it.  I’ve never received so much from a director before. A designer’s ultimate goal is to give the director what he wants, so it was like receiving Cliff’s Notes and made my job so much easier. Of course, I’m an artist and have a (GIANT) ego, so I did have some changes to make it my own. So much of the time,  directors don’t know what they want. They can tell you what they don’t want, but that’s usually after you’ve drawn it.

BROOMSTICK set SS 1

What were the challenges of designing the set? 

Unlike larger theaters that we learn about and cultivate our craft in at  school, 99-seat houses in LA  are always … well …  unique, small and never ideal spaces, almost never designed as theaters. I initially envision the set way too large, and then it is a process of scaling it down to something that can fit within the space, and serve all the needs of the show. I wanted the set to be able to “transform” when she is in the thick of her stories, but budget and time and other factors designated that most of that needed to happen through lighting.

What influences did you want to bring into your design? What elements were important to you?

Stephen was also specific that he wanted a Disney look, which is a look I know well. I wanted to make the Witch’s cottage quaint, and beautiful, in a spooky way. I wanted to physically manifest her lack of sanity presenting her cottage as messy, and look like a period episode of Hoarders.

BROOMSTICK set Halloween night photo FB

One of the fantastic elements of the set is all the marvelous and detailed set dressing. Where did all that terrific stuff come from?

I happen to be a Halloween aficionado, and I’ve been creating fake candles since I was eighteen so all of the candles and lanterns come from my own collection. I have [props/set dressing designer] Misty Carlisle to thank for letting me take over the set dressing, because I just went crazy with it. The endless amount of stuff onstage is a combination of the Fountain’s stock, borrowed items, and endless shopping at thrift stores. I like to get my hands dirty and don’t have the luxury of a greens man, so I took to nature to find branches, weeds and those pesky leaves that always get caught on Jenny’s dress.

BROOMSTICK set SS 2

How was your collaboration with the director and other designers?

Stephen is very clear at communicating what he wants, yet open to ideas. He’s very passionate and would very frequently perform moments of the show and describe what he wanted to happen. His excitement was infectious and made it very easy to get into. [Lighting designer] Jennifer Edwards and I have worked together so much, she is like a sister to me. I’m very spoiled that she’s realized that as long as I get what I want, I’m happy,  and everyone else is going to be better off. She still manages to give the director everything he needs, make the show look stunning, and with only 24 channels? It’s baffling.

Your set for Broomstick is earning rave reviews from critics and generating a lot of excited response from audiences who see it. Does that give you pleasure? How does it feel to have a set design that evokes such enthusiasm? 

Its very exciting, and it feels very good to get that praise. The finished set created a lot of very hard work for a lot of people, not just myself. There are moments when I feel people, and myself wondering… “Why are you creating this much work?” It’s wonderful to have that sigh of relief and realize that all the hard work has not gone unnoticed.

What is your current job at Disney Imagineering? What do you do? Do you enjoy it?

I’m a paint and color specialist with Imagineering and, yes,  I am loving it. It was a dream since I was a child to work there and, by now, it’s a really pleasant surprise to have it happen. Because of my background in design, I’ve already been given buying and set dressing opportunities.

What projects do you have coming up in the future?

Design projects as fun as Broomstick are rare, so right now I’m concentrating on being at Disney full time. I’m involved with a number of super secret projects right now, including Disneyland Shanghai, and have already been asked to go to Shanghai, which would be very exciting!

Broomstick ends Dec 14 (323) 663-1525 MORE INFO/Tickets

 

VIDEO: Actor Ryan Doucette on the LA Premiere of the Darkly Entertaining ‘Reborning’ at the Fountain Theatre

Reborning Jan 21 – March 15 (323) 663-1525  

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VIDEO: Actress Kristin Carey on the Power of Healing in the LA Premiere of ‘Reborning’ at the Fountain Theatre

Reborning Jan 21 – March 15 (323) 663-1525

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VIDEO: Actress Joanna Strapp Invites You to the Darkly Funny LA Premiere of ‘Reborning’ at the Fountain Theatre

Jan 24 – March 14, 2015 (323) 663-1525  More Info/Get Tickets

First Rehearsal for LA Premiere of Comedy/Drama ‘Reborning’ at the Fountain Theatre

Director Simon Levy addresses the company.

Director Simon Levy addresses the company.

The company of actors and production team for our Los Angeles Premiere of Reborning met together for the first time Monday night at the Fountain for the first rehearsal. Written by Zayd Dohrn and directed by Simon Levy, this smart, funny, dark comedy/drama stars Kristin Carey, Ryan Doucette and Joanna Strapp. It opens January 24, 2015, to launch our 25th Anniversary season.

Reborning is a darkly funny and unique story that takes an unsettling look at family, motherhood and the power of healing. A young artist who crafts custom-made lifelike latex dolls for parents who have lost their child begins to suspect that a demanding client may be the mother who abandoned her at birth. As she tries to unravel the mystery, she discovers the path to her own “reborning.”

Ryan Doucette, Joanna Strapp and Kristin Carey.

Ryan Doucette, Joanna Strapp and Kristin Carey.

At Monday night’s first rehearsal, producer Stephen Sachs spoke about how proud the Fountain was to present the LA premiere of Dohrn’s play and to introduce the work of this exciting young playwright to Los Angeles audiences. The company completed paperwork and administrative business and then the cast read the play aloud. It was exciting to hear the script come alive as it was read by our talented actors.

Joanna Strapp

Joanna Strapp

Kristin Carey and Ryan Doucette

Kristin Carey and Ryan Doucette

Reborning Previews Jan 21-23, 2015; opens Jan 24 – Match 15, 2015.   (323) 663-1525   MORE INFO/Get Tickets 

Is Art Failing Us in These Hard Times?

Philip Seymour Hoffman in 'Death of a Salesman'.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in ‘Death of a Salesman’.

The social responsibility of art

by A. O. Scott

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, I’ve been waiting for “The Grapes of Wrath.” Or maybe “A Raisin in the Sun,” or “Death of a Salesman,” a Zola novel or a Woody Guthrie ballad — something that would sum up the injustices and worries of the times, and put a human face on the impersonal movements of history. The originals are all still around, available for revival and rediscovery and part of a robust artistic record of hard times past. But we are in the midst of hard times now, and it feels as if art is failing us.

global-economyFor the past few years, like a lot of other people, I’ve been preoccupied — sometimes to the point of obsession, lost sleep, free-floating dread and active despair — by the economic state of the world. I spend more time than is healthy pondering the global labor market, the minimum wage, rising inequality, the collapse of the middle class, Thomas Piketty, Janet Yellen and the gross domestic product in China, India and Brazil. Closer to home, I’m grateful for my luck and worried about my neighbors, anxious about my children’s prospects and troubled by the fissures that divide my city and my country.

Strictly speaking, none of this has much to do with my designated area of professional expertise, which could reasonably be defined as writing about the stuff that people seek out to escape such worries and anxieties. Serious art and popular entertainment, in their diverse ways, offer refuge and distraction. Their pleasures and comforts are not trivial, but essential. Art is the domain of solved problems, even if the problems are formal and the solutions artificial.

But if art, ideally, floats free of the grim reality of work, need and sustenance, that reality is nonetheless its raw material and its context. Intentionally or not, artists in every form and style draw on and refashion the facts of life that surround them, and the resulting work takes its place among those facts. What I’m grandly and abstractly calling “works of art” are more concretely and prosaically books, songs, movies, plays, television series, environmental installations, paintings, operas and anything else that falls into the bin of consumer goods marked “Culture.” These goods are bought and sold, whether as physical objects, ephemeral real-time experiences or digital artifacts. Their making requires labor, capital and a market for distribution. The money might come from foundations, Kickstarter campaigns or retail sales or advertising revenue. The commerce between artist and public is brokered by the traditional culture industry (publishing houses, television networks, record labels and movie studios) and also by disruptive upstarts like Amazon, Netflix, Google and iTunes. But the whole system, from top to bottom, from the Metropolitan Opera House to the busker in the subway station below it, is inescapably part of the capitalist economy.

media icons

And that economy, in turn, provides an endless stream of subject matter. Much as I respect the efforts of economists and social scientists to explain the world and the intermittent efforts of politicians to change it, I trust artists and writers more. Not necessarily to be righteous or infallible, or even consistent or coherent; not to instruct or advocate, but rather, through the integrity and discipline they bring to making something new, to tell the truth.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

If I want to understand the dreams of the gentry and the nightmares of the poor in early-19th-century England, I turn to Jane Austen and William Blake. All the news you need about class divisions in Paris and London later in that century can be found in the pages of Balzac, Dickens and Zola. The history of European painting from the Renaissance to World War I is, in large measure, the history of power, wealth and social status. In the 20th century, film, theater and television tell the same story, as comedy, tragedy, thriller and farce. Class consciousness in Depression-era Hollywood ranged from tuxedoed and mink-coated swells in Manhattan penthouses to strikers on the picket line. Postwar Broadway was the kingdom of Willy Loman and Stanley Kowalski, and as television became a fixture of middle-class homes, it chronicled the struggles and aspirations of families — the Kramdens, the Conners, the Jeffersons, the Simpsons — trying to achieve or maintain middle-class status.

blackish-key-art-fullAnd now? Should we be looking high or low? At sitcoms or science-fiction allegories or realist dramas? At a movie like “Snowpiercer,” which imagines a train speeding across a frozen, apocalyptic landscape as a microcosm of global inequality? At a television series like “Black-ish,” which illuminates the contradictions of upward mobility in a decidedly non-post-racial America? Some of my previous Cross Cuts columns have tried to plot the contemporary intersections of culture, class, work and money. In the past year and a half, I’ve written about how movies like “The Great Gatsby,” “Pain & Gain” and “Spring Breakers” reflect our ambivalence about wealth and materialism; about how Leonardo DiCaprio has become the movie-star embodiment of that ambivalence; about the gentrification of Brooklyn and the eclipse of middlebrow taste; about the contradictory status of creative labor and the state of the working class as depicted in the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

But I want to go further. I want to know more about the political economy of art at the present moment, to think about how artists are affected by changes in the distribution of wealth and the definition of work, and about how their work addresses these changes. So I decided to ask them.

This fall I sent out a plea, accompanied by a questionnaire. My intention was to conduct a bit of unscientific research, and also to advance a discussion about what art has done and should do at this moment of political impasse, racial tension and economic crisis, which at once resembles earlier such moments and has its own particular character. My questions were simple and far from new. The social responsibility of art has been a topic for debate since the ancients. But the answers that came back — from playwrights, filmmakers, rappers, poets and storytellers who have directly confronted these issues — testify to the complexity and the urgency of the issue. These thoughts — largely shared by email, and edited and condensed for space here — convey the sense of a conversation that is going on wherever audiences and creators grapple with the relationship between art and the world. It is my hope that what these artists have to say will provoke reactions from other artists and from readers, viewers and listeners.

Here is the panel discussion with artists on how they address social issues.

AO ScottA.O. Scott is a journalist and chief film critic for The New York Times. In addition to his film-reviewing duties, Mr. Scott often writes for the Times Magazine and the Book Review.