Tag Archives: Hollywood

Fountain stands for social and political theatre in LA with ‘Building the Wall’ and ‘Citizen’

CITIZEN WALL layout

That Was The Week That Was was a satirical television show in the early 1960’s that brought focus to social and political issues of the day. The Fountain Theatre may look back on this current week, May 1 – May 7 in 2017, and brand it the same name. This week, in an unplanned juncture of synchronicity, the Fountain Theatre has two acclaimed productions running simultaneously in Los Angeles — one at its 78-seat Hollywood home on Fountain Avenue, the other at the 300-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City —  each dramatizing in mesmerizing fashion the urgent issues of race, injustice, and politics.

The Fountain’s National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan was a smash hit the moment it opened in March at the intimate Fountain Theatre, selling out weeks in advance.  Set in the near future, the powerful new drama unfolds as a man awaits sentencing in a federal prison for carrying out the orders of Trump’s national policy to round-up and detain immigrants by the millions.    

 

Meanwhile, across town at the mid-sized Kirk Douglas Theatre, the Fountain’s acclaimed and award-winning encore production of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, is galvanizing audiences. The centerpiece of Center Theatre Group‘s inaugural Block Party celebrating intimate theatre in Los Angles, Citizen is a searing, poetic riff on race in America based on the best-selling book.   

 

“To have these two important, meaningful productions running concurrently, one in an intimate theatre and the other in a mid-sized venue, is extraordinary,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It exemplifies who we are, what we do, and why we do it.”

Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkkan agrees. “Both Citizen and Building the Wall deal with the issue of race and the fundamental question of who is it we mean when we say, ‘We, the people,'” explains Schenkkan. “For more than twenty five years, the Fountain Theatre has been presenting exhilarating, necessary theater, wrestling with the most pressing social and political issues of the day.” 

LA Stage Alliance Executive Director Steven Leigh Morris points out that this week is no anomaly. Morris notes, “That the Fountain Theatre has two productions running simultaneously — one at its home space in East Hollywood and the other at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of Center Theatre Group’s Block Party program — is a testament to the rigor and meticulous artistry that has been part of The Fountain tradition for twenty-seven years.”

By all accounts, this is an unforgettable week for the Fountain. We vow to continue our commitment to create, develop and produce meaningful new plays that bring to life urgent issues, week after week, for many years to come. 

Tickets/Info BUILDING THE WALL

Tickets/Info CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC

Fountain Theatre affirms its commitment to diversity at Hollywood gathering

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Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs

Fountain friends, longtime and new, enjoyed an unforgettable afternoon Sunday at the magnificent Hollywood apartment of actress and Fountain board member Karen Kondazian. Delicious middle eastern fare from Adana was served to thirty invited special guests who marveled at Karen’s extraordinary home, the panoramic view of Hollywood,  and chatted about the achievements and future of the Fountain Theatre.

The afternoon salon was organized so distinguished friends and supporters of the Fountain could stay connected with the theatre and each other. New colleagues and associates from the Los Angeles business and arts communities were introduced to the Fountain’s inner circle. And the Fountain unveiled a new level of sponsorship, the Artistic Directors Circle, for elite donors who underwrite specific plays or programs or an entire season. 

Fountain Co-Artistic Directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs were joined by Producing Director Simon Levy, Associate Producer James Bennett and Director of Development Barbara Goodhill.

“Diversity sits at the heart of our artistic mission,” said Sachs. “When Deborah and I founded the Fountain back in 1990, it was to offer an artistic home for theatre and dance artists, of all backgrounds, to create and develop new work that reflects the cultural diversity of our city and our nation. The Fountain Theatre sits in the center of District 13, the most ethnically and culturally diverse district in Los Angeles. 32 languages are spoken at the local high school.

“Our programing is community-driven. When we think about putting a season together, we ask ourselves which community needs to be served? Which cultural, religious or ethnic group is struggling with an issue that needs to be dramatized? Who’s voice needs to be heard?”       

The 2017-18 Fountain Theatre season includes the world premiere of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan, Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, the world premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy Kamps, the world premiere of Freddie by Deborah Lawlor, the stage adaption of The Chosen by Chaim Potok, and the world premiere of Arrival and Departure by Stephen Sachs performed in Spoken English and American Sign Language.

 

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Fountain Board members Dorothy Wolpert, Karen Kondazian, Dick Motika, Jerrie Witfield, Don Zachary, and Oscar Arslanian welcomed guests Nyla Arslanian, Miles and Joni Benickes, Lorraine Evanoff, Bennard Gillison, Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Lucinda Cowell and Ron Michaelson, Victoria Meyers, Bonnie Nijist and Arthur Zeesman, Jacqueline Schultz, Mark Stankevich, Ron and Elaine Stein, , and Stanley Wolpert.

Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor spoke to the group, reviewing the recent accomplishments of the Fountain Theatre, its fundraising goals, and outlining the upcoming 2017-18 season. They expressed the artistic heart and soul of the company and its dedication to diversity and inclusion by serving a wide variety of communities throughout Los Angeles. And they articulated the challenges and objectives moving forward, describing the Fountain as an essential treasure on the cultural landscape of Los Angeles. And declared that the Fountain’s longtime dedication to diversity was essential in these turbulent times. 

“We are an immigrant nation, ” stated Sachs. “Los Angeles is a world city, rich with the multi-colored fabric of diversity.  At this moment in history, now more than ever, it is crucial that the Fountain Theatre maintain its mission of diversity and inclusion and community focus,  where people from all backgrounds are seen on our stage and in our audiences.”

“The Fountain Theatre may be small in size, ” he concluded. “But we are large in vision, in purpose, and in our commitment to creating and producing meaningful work that has the power to change lives.”

What’s it like to walk the red carpet?

oscars-red-carpetHe has strolled down many red carpets in his celebrated career. At the Writers Guild Awards, the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Venice Film Festival, and the Oscars. He wrote the screenplay for Hacksaw Ridge, nominated Best Picture for this year’s Academy Awards.

The world will be watching the Oscar ceremony this Sunday, and gawk at the parade of celebrities as they strut the red carpet beforehand. What’s it like to march down that crimson pathway with all eyes and cameras tracking your every step? For playwright Robert Schenkkan, author of our upcoming world premiere Building the Wall, the carpet is not always magic. Particularly if you’re a writer.

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Robert Schenkkan at the Venice Film Festival

“The clusterfuck of a red carpet is always where the writer is reminded of his or her place in the food chain, ” admits Schenkkan. “You are absolutely the most important person in the universe, until anybody else steps on the red carpet — then you’re just chopped liver. You can see the heads snap and the cameras snap, and whoever you’re talking to, their eyes are immediately doing the Hollywood over-your-shoulder shuffle. This is something one is used to, but it’s a humbling experience, always.”

Another other-worldly aspect of Award nights are the gifting lounges, where vendors shower talent with free offerings that vary from high-end beauty products to fine wines to elegant clothing to free travel packages at exotic resort islands. For Schenkkan, the touring of gift salons is a strange ritual unto itself.

“You have to make an appointment, and then you’re assigned a guide who walks you through this bizarre bazaar of products and services, ” he explains. “These things are really kind of entertaining in their own way. There’s a whole formality to it. But again, there’s the reminder of where you are in the food chain, particularly as a writer.”

Robert remembers one incident in particular. “Many years ago when I did this, there was a resort island package. I’m a scuba diver, so I’m always interested in that. They have to artfully, discreetly explain that while they would love to gift you with this, actually they have to reserve it for somebody more important than you. It’s a little weird.”

The ups and downs of a Hollywood screenwriter. Thankfully, unlike the film industry, playwrights in the American theatre are held in much higher esteem. And few are held higher than Robert Schenkkan. Which is one of the many reasons why we are so honored to be premiering his newest play at the Fountain Theatre.

Now, Robert, on Opening Night of Building the Wall at the Fountain, don’t expect any fancy gift lounges offering you a scuba diving vacation package on an exotic island resort. But we’re happy to offer you a free snorkel.

Unless, of course, someone more important wants it.

Building the Wall opens March 18 at the Fountain Theatre.

Quotes in this post originally appeared in Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West.  

 

 

 

 

 

James Dean: The passing of an actor, a landmark, and time

James Dean with Silver Porsche

James Dean fills the tank one last time. Sept 30, 1955.

by Stephen Sachs

It is one of the most historic gas stations in Los Angeles. Seen by millions across the globe in an iconic photograph of a Hollywood legend. The destination for fans and followers worldwide as if on pilgrimages to a religious site. And it has now been torn down.

The gas station at the corner of Beverly Glen and Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks, where James Dean filled up the tank of his new Porsche 550 Spyder for the last time and then drove into immortality, has been demolished. One of the last remaining locations connected to Dean’s final day is gone.

If you’re a Dean fan, the gas station and the famous photograph snapped the final morning of his life are well known.

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Casa de Petrol, 1961

Originally named “Casa de Petrol,” the gas station opened in 1948 as an adjunct to the landmark Casa de Cadillac dealership next door. At the time, the intersection on Ventura Blvd was known as “Casa Corner,” and included a Casa burger stand and a “Casa de Cascade” car wash. Only the dealership remains and is still in service.

Sixty-one years ago, on the morning of Friday, September 30, 1955, James Dean woke and had coffee. He was living in a log cabin-styled rented house on Sutton Street in Sherman Oaks a few blocks behind the La Reina Theatre, not far from the gas station. He had recently completed filming on “Giant” and was taking his new Porsche Spyder to Salinas for the car races that weekend. Mechanic Rolf Wütherich, stunt man friend Bill Hickman, and photographer Sanford Roth would go with him.

The group met that morning at Competition Motors in Hollywood, on Vine Street near Fountain Avenue, to give the Spyder one final check. Dean’s father and uncle arrived at the shop for a visit. While the Porsche was being serviced and prepped for the race, the group walked across the street to the Hollywood Ranch Market for doughnuts and coffee.

The car was ready around 1:30 p.m. Dean slung himself into the driver seat of the Spyder, now dubbed “Little Bastard.” Wütherich dropped into the passenger seat. They pulled out of Competition Motors and turned northbound up Vine Street, Hickman and Roth following behind in a Ford station wagon. To get to Route 99 (now the I-5), the group headed west down Ventura Blvd.

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Rolf Wutherich and Dean leave Competition Motors, Sept 30, 1955.

Dean needed to fill up the gas tank for the 345-mile drive to Salinas. He pulled into the gas station on Ventura at Beverly Glen, near his house, at approximately 2 p.m. He hoisted himself out of the Porsche to gas up the tank. Wütherich hopped out, grabbed Dean’s camera and snapped a now-famous photo of Dean standing at the service island.

At approximately 2:15 p.m. Dean climbed back into the Porsche. He gunned the engine, with Wütherich beside him, and turned right on Ventura, then right on Sepulveda Blvd. on their way to Route 99 North and over the “Grapevine.” Around 5 p.m, they stopped at Blackwell’s Corner, a roadside café and gas stop in Lost Hills, to top off the tank, stretch their legs and grab a snack before heading on to Salinas. But Dean would never make it.

Dean was killed near Paso Robles at approximately 5:45 p.m, at the junction of Route 466 (now 46) and Route 41, when a 23 year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, driving a black-and-white 1950 Ford Tudor, crossed into the highway intersection and slammed into Dean’s Porsche. Turnupseed and Wütherich survived the crash. Dean became a legend. He was only 24 years old.

Many years before launching the Fountain Theatre, I was an actor. I became a Dean fan as an acting student at Los Angeles City College. Like generations of young actors before me, I was galvanized by James Dean. I was riveted by his films and read many books about him, studying the brooding photographs. I was thunderstruck. Not only by his raw, hypnotic acting. By him. His charismatic look, his outsider persona, the way he embodied an ache of loneliness twisted with a tormented, artistic intensity. He was cool.

When you’re a passionate college acting student in your 20s, still figuring out who you are, Dean was the guardian angel of the troubled, misunderstood young man. Like millions of young male actors, he was “me.” Or who I wished I was. I analyzed his acting, his posture, his walk, his manner. Researching his troubled life, he seemed like a vulnerable wounded man/child, perpetually reaching for something just out of grasp. The way he died sealed it. So young, so talented, so cool, enigmatic and beautiful. The low-slung sleek silver Porsche shooting down the dry, barren highway toward the sun. The metal shards and shattered glass exploding like a bursting star.

dean-and-rolf-wutherich-in-porsche-final-drive-sept-30-1955

Dean and Wutherich, Sept 30, 1955.

After ten years, I stopped acting. I began writing and directing plays. Running theatre companies in Los Angeles. I launched the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood in 1990. Married, became a father. Moved to the San Fernando Valley. No longer a young actor. I was soon a middle-aged husband and a dad with two sons. But I was still a Dean fan.

After dropping one son off at school at Sherman Oaks Elementary on Greenleaf Street, I would sometimes drive one block over to Sutton Street and stare at Dean’s last home address. The house he rented there is gone, burned in a fire many years ago. A new modern home now hides behind a metal gate to keep onlookers out. But the tree-lined street looks much the same. It’s easy to imagine Dean stepping out that bright morning on the last day of September, on what would be his final day.

Many years have passed. My sons and I have gotten older. The gas station where James Dean fueled up for his final ride became a flower shop in the 1980’s. But they kept the original building intact. The service bays, filling pump islands, classic awning — all still there. Over the years, running errands with my wife and kids — chatting over play dates and summer camps and which detergent to buy at the grocery store — we would happen to drive by the old gas station in our family car. Silently, secretly, I’d shoot a glance at the empty service bay island and see Dean and the Porsche, filling up one last time.

Then, last week, came a shocking surprise. After dropping off my older son for an appointment, I drove by the old gas station. I couldn’t see it. It was hidden, encased by heavy green construction fencing and iron scaffolding. Tractors, haulers and earth movers standing ready.

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I frantically parked my blue Honda on Moorpark Street and dashed to the site. Found a gate in the fence and pushed in. The old gas station stood in front of me like a haunted abandoned relic surrounded by dirt, a large pile of rubble nearby. Two construction workers, wearing hardhats and work gloves, stood near their equipment. I rushed quickly to them.

“Do you mind if I have a look?” I asked. “I won’t get in the way. You see, this is kind of an important place -“

“James Dean.” The husky guy on the left, construction manager Doug Thane, smiled. I was clearly not the first fan to appear at the site since demolition began. There had been others.

construction-workmen-curtis-listerman-and-douglas-thane

Listerman and Curtis

“I didn’t know anything about it, ” admitted Thane. “And then people started showing up. Taking pictures. Wanting things. Some lady took a piece of pipe.”

Thane’s wiry co-worker, Curtis Listerman, squinted into the midday sun. “James Dean was cool, man,” he nodded, running his hand over his balding head. “I look just like him.”

“What’s this place going to be after they tear it down?” I wanted to know. “What will go up in its place?”

“I don’t know,” Thane shrugged. He then pointed across the street. “I think a strip mall. Like that.”

“Folks are saying they should make it a museum or something to James Dean,” chuckled Listerman, wiping the dust from his mouth.

Another construction worker, Dave Wiesing, stepped up. Wiesing was a bit older. He confessed he was also a Dean fan. He knew what the fuss was about. Several times, he and his wife had taken part in the annual James Dean Final Drive, a yearly event on September 30th that draws hundreds of people from all over the world to trace Dean’s route from the site of Competition Motors in Hollywood to the fatal intersection in Cholame.

“Is it okay if I have a look around?” I asked. “Before it’s all gone?”

As construction manager, it was Thane’s call. He peered at me and grinned. “Go ahead.”

The small glass-paned office was long empty with graffiti sprayed across its walls. On the front door of the old office, someone had spray-painted the letter “J” and a heart. A message to Dean and the world.

I walked over to the service island and stood in the exact spot where Dean fueled up his Porsche nearly sixty-one years ago. Much was still there, as it was. The metal columns supporting the tin decorative awning, the cement pedestal that held the three red Mobil gas pumps. The pumps themselves were long gone but the footprints were still visible in the cement.

Standing there was like stepping into the famous photo snapped by Wütherich that fateful day so long ago. Everything looked liked it did. Except now a yellow tractor was parked where Dean’s Spyder once stood.

james-dean-gas-station-tracker-in-same-spot-as-deans-porsche

“You want to take something?” Thane offered cheerfully.

“Can I? Really?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “What do you want?”

I glanced around. There was nothing in the huge pile of rubble that seemed connected to Dean in any way. And what was still there from the photograph — the columns, awning — were impractical to take. Then it hit me.

“Do you have a sledge hammer?” I asked Thane. He nodded. I beckoned. “Follow me.”

I lead Thane and his sledge hammer over to the service island cement pedestal where Dean had fueled his car. The cement was still untouched. Unharmed. Intact. As it was when Dean was here.

“That,” I pointed. “I want a piece of that.” I chose the exact spot of the cement service island pedestal where the Porsche had been parked decades ago, where Dean stood. “There. Right there.”

Thane hoisted the hammer. Raised it above his head. And with a loud grunt and a glisten in the sun, the sledge hammer swung down and — for the first time in sixty-one years — broke off a large chunk of history.

I held the heavy piece of cement like a holy artifact. A smaller chip broke off in my hand. I examined it up close. Like it was going to tell me something. What am I going to do with it? I don’t know. But I knew I had to have it. I guess it’s kind of like the people who chisel a chip off his tombstone. They want to hold a piece of something — anything — that will make them feel that way again.

My older son is now twenty-four, the same age as Dean. And the twenty-four year old actor I once was, so long ago, is a memory. What we once were is no more.

The house Dean rented on Sutton Street is gone. Competition Motors on Vine Street is gone. The Hollywood Ranch Market is gone. Even the original highway intersection where the crash occurred in 1955 is not there. It was moved. The highway was realigned decades ago. The crash site now sits in a grass field.

But the gas station had remained. Still standing. Until now.

Instead of a Porsche Spyder, I stroll back to my Honda. I get in. Drop the heavy chunk of cement in the back. The smaller chip I gently place in the cup holder between the front seats. A piece of Jimmy beside me.

Everything changes, including ourselves. Like old buildings torn down. What remains, we hold on to. Like the chip of cement I now keep in my car.

A talisman of James Dean and the young man I once was.

I turn the ignition of my Honda. Start the car. Rev the engine, good and loud, just to show I still can. Shift the gear into drive. Point my car toward the sun. And the afternoon horizon.

james-dean-gas-station-door-with-j-heart

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre. This post originally appeared in LA Observed.  

NEW! Fountain launches Sangria Saturdays & Margarita Mondays with ‘My Mañana Comes’

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Is this fantastic or what? We have a hot new play and the days/nights are heating up again. What better way to cool down and savor a delicious new hit play than with a glass of tangy Sangria or a frosty Margarita in a our charming upstairs cafe?

Cafe layout

The Fountain Cafe

With the opening of our fabulous LA Premiere of the comedy/drama My Mañana Comes, the Fountain is launching two marvelous special offers before and after the performance in our indoor/outdoor cafe: Sangria Saturdays & Margarita Mondays throughout the run of the play. Drinks are only $4. 

  • Sangria Saturdays 3pm & 8pm
  • Margarita Mondays 8pm   

And remember, every Monday is also Pay What You Can Night! Wow! Margaritas and PWYC! Such a deal!

Enjoy My Mañana Comes through June 26. And stay thirsty, my friends. 

   

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: the magic of donuts and tech weekend for ‘My Mañana Comes’

tech design crew

Design and production team at work during tech weekend.

There are no two ways about it. Tech rehearsals are a long, incremental process. Light cues are programmed into computers, sound levels are meticulously adjusted, set and prop elements are continuously added, costumes are inspected under actual lighting. Actors work out the timing of cues, all under the eye of the director. It can be a slow, repetitive and exacting undertaking.

 

donutsOver 26 years, we have found the key to a successful Tech Weekend: donuts. Lots of them. Actually, our three sacred virtues of Tech Weekend are Diligence, Patience and a Sense of Humor. The cast, design and production team for My Mañana Comes demonstrated all three last weekend as we began integrating the design elements into our upcoming LA Premiere.  

 

The play takes place in the kitchen of an upscale New York restaurant. Michael Navarro’s red brick and stainless steel set design creates the environment. The seating at the Fountain has been restored to its original configuration (we were in-the-round for Dream Catcher) and the audience is expected to feel like fine diners with theatre programs designed like restaurant menus.

My Mañana Comes is a funny and fast-paced new play about four busboys in a fancy bistro who juggle plates, their friendship and chase the American Dream. Written by Elizabeth Irwin and directed by Armando Molina, our LA premiere stars Richard Azurdia, Pablo Castelblanco, Peter Pasco and Lawrence Stallings.  It runs April 16 – June 26.

Enjoy these photos from Tech Weekend

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My Mañana Comes April 16 – June 26  MORE/Get Tickets

Fountain Theatre’s ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ to get Off-Broadway production

CITIZEN color logoCitizen: An American Lyric, adapted for the stage from Claudia Rankine’s award-winning book of poetry by Rankine and Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, will headline Primary Stages’ 2016-17 season at Off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre. Citizen premiered at the Fountain Theatre last summer to critical acclaim.

“We are thrilled that yet another Fountain project has succeeded in moving onward and upward,” says Sachs. “In 2007, our world premiere production of  Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances was presented Off-Broadway by Primary Stages, so this continues our relationship with them. Claudia and I are working together on a new draft for the New York premiere.” An announcement for the NY opening was featured in The New York Times.  

CITIZEN Fountain Theatre in Memory 2

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

An intensely provocative and unapologetic rumination on racial aggression in America, Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric has been heralded as one of the best books of the past decade and received the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. In this new stage adaptation by Rankine and Sachs, seemingly everyday acts of racism are scrutinized as part of an uncompromising testimony of “living while Black” in America, from the shooting of Trayvon Martin, to the tennis career of Serena Williams and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his “critic’s choice” review of the Fountain production, Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote, “Claudia Rankine’s powerful writings about the trauma of racism make for a staging and message that resonate,” and Stage raw critic Myron Meisel called it “a transcendent experience.”

“We are particularly pleased that this piece will have a life in theaters across the country,” added Sachs. “By enlivening Claudia’s powerful book to the stage, we add our theatrical voice to the national conversation on race in America.”

Other plays written by Sachs that were created and launched at the Fountain’s intimate venue in Hollywood include Bakersfield Mist, now produced worldwide including London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner; Heart Song, produced at Florida Repertory Theatre; Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (adapted from August Strindberg’s Miss Julie) at Vancouver Playhouse and Canadian Stage Company in Toronto; and Sweet Nothing in My Ear which has been produced nationwide and was adapted into a TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin.

The world premiere production of Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain Theatre was directed by Shirley Jo Finney and starred Leith Burke, Bernard K. Addison, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick and Lisa Pescia. The director and cast for the Primary Stages production have not been announced.  

For more information about the Primary Stages production of Citizen: An American Lyric, visit www.primarystages.org.