Tag Archives: Alan Blumenfeld

Celebrity reading of ‘MS. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON’ at LA City Hall is “awe-inspiring”

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“Ms. Smith Goes to Washington” at Los Angeles City Hall

by Christine Deitner

On Thursday, January 24th a lucky group of citizens in Los Angeles was treated to a unique experience–The Fountain Theatre’s reading of a gender-switched adaptation of Sidney Buchman’s screenplay, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  The Fountain’s Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs adapted the work that was hosted by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.  An impressively talented ensemble of tv, film, and theatre veterans gathered in the John Ferraro Council Chamber in Los Angeles City Hall and though the original work is 79 years old the gender switch makes it feel like yesterday’s tweetstorm or this morning’s news.

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Sponsored, in part, by the Feminist Majority Foundation and in association with the League of Women Voters, the event’s cast included Joshua Malina, Jeff PerryBellamy Young, Sam Waterston, Alan Blumenfeld, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Leith Burke, Tim Cummings, Cameron Dye, Spencer Garrett, Chet Grissom, Morlan Higgins, Aurelia Myers, Jenny O’Hara, Felix Solis, Jack Stehlin, Mark Taylor, and Sal Viscuso.

Councilmember O’Farrell introduced Mr. Sachs with a moving speech about the importance of the arts in society. 

“Politics falls short of completely illuminating the complexity of issues,” he stated, “this is where the arts come in.”

In 2017, Mr. O’Farrell hosted the Fountain’s reading of All The Presidents Men and he noted that he hopes this will become an annual event.  Reflecting on the record number of women who now hold public office, O’Farrell also spoke about the role that local artists play as public servants, illuminating issues in unique ways.

In Sachs’ version, an idealistic, newly elected female senator finds herself fighting corruption in male-dominated Washington. Bellamy Young’s take on the movingly patriotic Jennifer Smith [originally Jefferson played by James Stewart] is endearing and as successful as a figure of naive nobility as Mr. Stewart was in the film.  It doesn’t seem like Mr. Sachs had to change very much beyond references to gender [Girl Rangers here instead of Boy Rangers] and one reference to “fake news” that worked very well in context, but boy does Jennifer Smith’s predicament feel familiar.

It’s Governor Hopper’s daughter [it was a son in the film] who encourages her father to choose Jennifer with the line “It’s 1939, not the dark ages, pop.” and a list of women who have held office before.  It shouldn’t have been surprising to hear it but we can thank Mr. Sachs for educating us about these women that included Senators Rebecca Latimer Felton [1922] and Hattie Caraway [1932].  Sam Waterston has the role of one of two villains, Senator Joseph Paine; a man who knew Jennifer’s father yet openly wonders whether they can “control a woman” in Congress.  The other is Jim Taylor, a nefarious businessman/mob figure played by Jeff Perry.

Fans of the film will know that Smith speaks fondly of his father a number of times, recalling that he often said, “Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.” As Jennifer learns that a swath of land in her state is going to be turned into a useless dam that is only an avenue for graft, she becomes determined to fight for that land where she was hoping to create a girls camp for young women across the nation.  Joshua Malina is her charmingly cynical assistant Chester Saunders [Jean Arthur in the film] who begrudgingly assists her in writing a bill for that girl’s camp.  As they work together, Jennifer’s enthusiasm for the bill starts to wear down Saunders’ certainty it will fail and when she becomes aware of the relief bill that includes the dam, she decides to filibuster with his help.

Paine and his pro-dam cohorts do all they can to attack Jennifer’s character as they angrily state any blocking of the relief bill will lead to starving the people.  Paine likens her attempt to hold the floor to holding the people hostage.  There was an audible gasp in the audience followed by a few laughs for this reading took place near the end of Trump’s wall-inspired government shutdown.  All of the pain that shutdown was inflicting on government workers was present in the room at that moment.

Jennifer stands firm in her convictions, even when Paine reads telegrams purportedly from her home state asking her to stop. She reads the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and goes on till her voice is hoarse and even Paine can’t take her suffering anymore.  He breaks down and admits everything – and when Waterston embodied that moment, he tore the roof off the place, it was awe-inspiring.  Jennifer and Saunders have one last moment of celebration before the ends that felt a little rushed but that might have been due to the fact that the TVs behind the cast popped on. 

In lieu of credits, images of every woman who has held a seat in Congress appeared in succession on the screens. Members of the audience stood to applaud them, with more standing when California’s own Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein appeared.  But it wasn’t till the video closed on a split screen image featuring Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren that the whole house got to their feet shouting.  It was a memorable, moving moment that reminded this reviewer of all the things that can be good and honorable and right in this country.  It also seemed like a hell of an idea for a presidential ticket in 2020 but that just shows how easy it was to get swept up in Jennifer Smith’s patriotic fervor.  Ms. Smith may seem naive and inexperienced, but that character’s faith in what is good in the country is honorable and constant – and those are traits we could all stand to develop in our own lives today.

This post originally appeared in The Theatre Times.

 

Sam Waterston joins cast of Fountain Theatre’s ‘Ms. Smith Goes to Washington’ at L.A. City Hall

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Sam Waterston

Sam Waterston (Law & Order, The Newsroom, Gracie and Frankie) will join Scandal co-stars Joshua MalinaJeff Perry and Bellamy Young for a one-night only, all-star reading of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington at Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

The gender-switched adaptation of Sidney Buchman’s screenplay for the 1939 Jimmy Stewart classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is adapted and directed by Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. The free reading is being presented by the Fountain Theatre in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and with exclusive permission from SONY Pictures. It will be hosted by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and will take place in the John Ferraro Council Chamber.  A catered reception will follow in the City Hall Rotunda.

In Sachs’ version, an idealistic, newly elected female senator finds herself fighting corruption in male-dominated Washington. Young will star in the title role, and Waterston has been cast in the pivotal role of Senator Paine.

The full cast includes Joshua MalinaJeff PerryBellamy YoungSam Waterston, Alan BlumenfeldGilbert Glenn BrownLeith BurkeTim CummingsCameron DyeSpencer GarrettChet GrissomMorlan HigginsAurelia MyersJenny O’HaraFelix SolisJack StehlinMark Taylor and Sal Viscuso.

The event is a follow-up to the Fountain’s hugely successful 2018 celebrity reading of All the President’s Men. It is sponsored, in part, by the Feminist Majority Foundation and in association with the League of Women Voters.

Ms. Smith Goes to Washington takes place on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the John Ferraro Council ChamberRoom 340 of Los Angeles City Hall200 N Spring St.,Los Angeles, CA 90012. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Admission is free; however, seating is extremely limited. For more information, and to enter the ticket lottery, go to www.mssmith.org. Due to high security at the venue, no walk-ups will be permitted.

Photos: Company celebrates acclaimed run of ‘The Chosen’ at closing party

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The cast and director of ‘The Chosen’. 

After a critically-acclaimed, six month sold-out run, our production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen celebrated its final performance yesterday to another full house and a standing ovation.  The Chosen has earned its place as one of the most successful productions in recent Fountain Theatre history.  Equally important, it touched many hearts, moving and inspiring audiences. 

Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and directed by directed by Simon Levy, the production featured Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Steve B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel.

Following Sunday’s final performance, the company toasted the long, gratifying run with the audience in our upstairs cafe. 

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Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs announced from the stage Sunday that Fountain Theatre will bring its acclaimed production of The Chosen to the Oshman Family JCC Arts Center in Palo Alto in October.  

Akiva Potok, son of ‘The Chosen’ author, joins cast of acclaimed production for Q&A

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Akiva Potok chats with the company of ‘The Chosen’ and audience in Q&A.

What’s it like to grow up in a house where your father is the author of a beloved internationally best-selling novel dubbed “the Jewish Catcher in the Rye” that is taught in classrooms around the world? Last night, you could have asked Akiva Potok this question yourself, when the Fountain hosted a Q&A discussion following the sold-out performance of the stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. Akiva is Chaim Potok’s son. 

The lively conversation with Potok drew intriguing questions from the audience. Akiva described his relationship with his world-famous father as one that grew closer when Akiva was in his early twenties and his father gave himself permission to become more open and vulnerable with his son. Audience members commented on the skill and authenticity of the actors and the powerful appeal of the story.  One gentleman pointed out that the play’s central spiritual and philosophical theme, that two opposing realities can be true at the same time, has been proven in modern physics and quantum theory.  

Akiva was joined onstage by actors Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman, Sam Mandel, and director Simon Levy. The discussion was moderated by Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. 

Our acclaimed production of The Chosen continues our relationship with the work of Chaim Potok, adaptor Aaron Posner, and Potok’s son, Akiva. The Fountain produced the Los Angeles premiere of Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev in 2014, also adapted by Posner. Akiva visited the Fountain and joined the company for a fascinating post-show discussion at that time, as well.  

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Akiva Potok (center) and the company of ‘The Chosen’. 

Akiva Potok is an award-winning screenwriter, film producer and cinematographer. His latest film, Haze (2016, cinematography) was released theatrically and is presently in distribution on Netflix.  It was hailed by Variety as “Accomplished and energetic” and the LA Times called it a “Fresh take on fraternity life.” It has screened at ten film festivals and at over fifty college campuses stimulating much-needed conversation on the topic of hazing. Akiva’s other films have featured at festivals such as Sundance, Cinequest and The Brooklyn Film Festival as well as many others. Akiva Potok received his MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2003 and presently resides in Beverly Hills, CA.

The sold out run of The Chosen has been extended to May 14th. Get Tickets/More Info

PHOTOS: Cast and guests enjoy opening night party for ‘The Chosen’

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The company of ‘The Chosen’

A beautiful and heartfelt performance was followed by a lively party as cast and audience members celebrated the opening of The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre on Saturday night, January 20th.   The sold-out house leapt to their feet in a standing ovation, then gathered upstairs in our indoor/outdoor cafe for food, drink and festivities with the company.

Actors Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel were feted by Fountain VIP donors, invited guests and members of our Board of Directors.

Looks like the Fountain has another hit on its hands. performances for The Chosen are already selling out in advance. Get Tickets/More Info 

Backstage with veteran actor Alan Blumenfeld from ‘The Chosen’

 

Fountain opens 2018 season with newly revised stage version of Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’

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The cast of ‘The Chosen’ in rehearsal.

Friendship, faith and fatherhood. Jonathan ArkinAlan BlumenfeldDor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel star in The Chosen, the award-winning stage adaptation by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok of Potok’s beloved novel. Simon Levy directs for a January 20 opening at the Fountain Theatre, where performances continue through March 25. The Fountain celebrates the novel’s 50th anniversary (last April) with the West Coast premiere of Posner’s new, streamlined version.

Set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II, the revelation of the Holocaust and the desperate struggle of Zionism, The Chosen is a moving coming-of-age story about two observant Jewish boys who live only five blocks, yet seemingly worlds, apart. When Danny, son of an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic tzaddik, injures the more traditionally Orthodox Reuven during a baseball game between their rival yeshivas, their two universes collide and a unique friendship is born.

“This powerful story shows how essential it is to consider the views of those who are different from us,” says Levy. “It’s an antidote to the toxicity of our times. Potok beautifully depicts what it means to bridge chasms — between modernity and tradition, the secular and the sacred, Zionism and Hasidism, adolescence and adulthood, friendship and family, fathers and sons, the head and the heart, and the struggle to choose for ourselves, to fight for what we believe in and who we want to be.”

According to Posner, “Through the story of two remarkable boys and their remarkable fathers, Potok asks us to contemplate a world where we chose to fill our lives with greater meaning… and where complexity, understanding, compassion and reconciliation are among our highest values.”

In 1967, Potok burst upon the literary scene with The Chosen, his first novel, sometimes referred to as a “Jewish Catcher in the Rye.” A best-seller, it was nominated for the National Book Award and through the years has become a must-read both in and out of the classroom. In 1992, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, it was republished as a young reader’s classic. A film starring Rod Steiger was released in 1981, and a short-lived off-Broadway musical debuted in 1988. Before his death in 2002, Potok collaborated with Posner on the stage version, which debuted in 1999 at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia, where Posner was a co-founder and resident director. Now, nearly 20 years later, Posner has rewritten the script to create a new version, which premiered last month at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT.

In an interview with the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, Posner explained that he has made a number of changes to the script. “I think it’s now a more dynamic, more streamlined play,” he said. “I’m really very excited about this new version. I think it’s going to be stronger in every way. I love the old version, too but I’m hoping this is even better.”

The creative team for The Chosen includes scenic and props designer DeAnne Millais, lighting designer Donny Jackson, video designer Yee Eun Nam; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Michele Young, hair and makeup designer Linda Michaels and dialect coach Andrea CabanRabbi Jim  Kaufmanconsults. The production stage manager is Miranda Stewart; technical director is Scott Tuomey; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.

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