Tag Archives: James Bennett

Smoldering romance in classic noir film ‘Brief Encounter’ and new play ‘Arrival & Departure’

Brief Encounter 2

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard

by James Bennett

Sometimes the most important things in our lives aren’t singular, momentous events of shattering spontaneity, but instead, slow burns that steadily coalesce into an unstoppable force; such is the case in the smoldering romance depicted in Noël Coward and David Lean’s masterpiece Brief Encounter.  The film deposits us into a beautifully shot noir-esque chiaroscuro world where the contrasts painted on the silver screen mirror the push of the social norms expected of our upstanding subjects and the pull of their desperate, hopelessly contained passion.

As with Brief Encounter, our couples in the world premiere of Stephen Sachs’ new play Arrival & Departure meet in a train station, (theirs the kind that churns coal and grinds steel, ours the kind that surges below the earth.) Brief Encounter’s couple’s first rendezvous transpires in a tidy and charming tea shop, ours in a gritty Dunkin’ Donuts. Over the course of the production, fans of the classic may notice some deviations, updates, and modifications – but none of them alter the thrust of this timeless piece. The heart of yesterday beats with the same rhythm as the heart of today.

Brief Encounter, based on Coward’s one-act play Still Life, is just one of Lean and Coward’s many collaborations, and remains a beacon that has gone on to inform the genre and influence many cinematic brief encounters since. Coward, never married and secretly gay, adapted his one-act with such skill as to retain all the desire and simmering torment he felt in his heart, and that drove his protagonists toward their scintillating, but ultimately doomed affair.

Today, our world is fraught with global geopolitical distress, corruption, panic, and cruelty emanating from the highest offices in our land. Speed of light communication allows us the privilege of experiencing first hand the acute crises of people the world over. Everything is immediate, huge, and of dire importance – this is not the case with Brief Encounter. Lean, who later would become known for his epics (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago) instead delivers to us a simple, clean, purely shot film that takes us deep into the hearts of humankind, and shows us that something close, something intimate, something that slyly unfurls in our psyche can become powerful enough to overcome a lifetime of repression. Perhaps it was only someone who could see things so large, could so beautifully show us something so small.

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE Love Story to Star Married Deaf Actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE postcard front FINAL2

An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most romantic movies of all time. Stephen Sachs directs Deaf actors Deanne Bray (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, Heroes) and Troy Kotsur (title role in Cyrano at the Fountain, Big River on Broadway) in Sachs’ newest play, inspired by the screenplay for Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter. The world premiere of Arrival & Departure will open on July 14 and continue through September 30 at the Fountain Theatre. The cast also features hearing actors Jessica Jade Andres, Adam Burch, Brian Robert Burns, Shon Fuller, Kyra Kotsur, Aurelia Myersand Stasha Surdyke.

In Sachs’ new spin on the classic 1945 British film, a Deaf man (Kotsur) and a hard-of-hearing woman (Bray), two married strangers, meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. As their casual friendship develops into something deeper, each is forced to confront how their simmering relationship could forever change their lives and the lives of those they love.

“A train station is a place of transition, a place people go when they’re on their way to someplace else,” notes Sachs. “‘Arrival & Departure’ is not only a travel term. It expresses the journey of change that the people in this play are experiencing. What happens when you find your soul mate, but the circumstances of life get in the way?”

Kostsur and Bray are married in real life, and Sachs wrote the play with them in mind.

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE 2

Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur

“This is my valentine to the two of them,” he says. “But the characters they portray aren’t the only ones seeking human connection in the play. Other storylines interweave through the piece. Each character has a reason to reach out to someone.”

The 1945 classic film Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean with a screenplay by Noël Coward and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, was named “the most romantic film ever made” according to 101 industry experts polled by Time Out London. The Film Society of Lincoln Center named it “one of the most achingly romantic films ever made.”

The play is performed simultaneously in spoken English and American Sign Language with additional use of open captioning, so that both Deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the production.

The creative team for Arrival & Departure includes set designer Matthew G. Hill, lighting designer Donny Jackson, video designer Nick Santiago, composer and sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Michael Mullen, prop master Michael Navarro, movement director Gary Franco and ASL masters Lisa Hermatz and Jevon Whetter. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer. Simon Levy, Deborah Culver and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre. Executive producers are Karen Kondazian; Diana Buckhantz and The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation; and Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber. Producing underwriters include Dorothy and Stanley Wolpert; Suzanne and Don Zachary; Lois Tandy; Debbi and Ashley Posner; and The Howard and Helen Family Foundation.

Arrival & Departure is supported, in part, by generous grants from the David Lee Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

Deanne Bray was born deaf and has been bilingual in American Sign Language and English since the age of two. She kicked off her acting career in 1991 at the Fountain Theatre, where Stephen Sachs directed her in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Bray is best known for the title role in Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, which ran for three seasons on the PAX network. She has appeared in numerous TV shows, including a recurring role on NBC’s Heroes alongside Milo Ventimiglia and Masi Oka. On stage, Deanne has been seen in Deaf West Theatre productions of Big River, Sleeping Beauty Wakes and My Sister in This House. A graduate of Gallaudet University, she has a Masters in Sign Language Education and a California K-12 Teaching Credential from CSUN. She currently teaches ASL at Oak Park High School.

Troy Kotsur has been acting and directing for over 24 years, earning multiple awards for his work on stage. Deaf since birth, he attended Gallaudet University, where he played basketball for three years before leaving to become a professional actor with the National Theatre of the Deaf. In 1994, Troy moved to Los Angeles and joined the company of Deaf West Theatre, where he has performed in countless productions. His television guest-starring roles include Criminal Minds, Scrubs, CSI: NY and Sue Thomas F.B.Eye in a recurring role (starring alongside Deanne Bray) that became a fan-favorite. In film, he stars in Wild Prairie Rose and in the upcoming Inside Track, and he has had notable supporting roles in The Number 23 with Jim Carrey, Universal Signs and Father’s Day Breakfast. He directed the award-winning independent film No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie, the first film in the history of SAG commercial feature films to be directed by a Deaf director and to be executive-produced exclusively by Deaf executive producers. Troy’s stage credits include the Tony Award-winning run of Big River on Broadway, as well as starring roles in Deaf West Theatre productions of American Buffalo (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award nominee), Our Town at The Pasadena Playhouse, Cyrano at the Fountain (L.A. Drama Critic’s Circle Award for best actor, Ovation Award nominee), A Streetcar Named Desire (L.A. Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly awards) and Of Mice and Men (LA Weekly Award for best actor).

Stephen Sachs is an award-winning playwright, director, producer and the co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre, which he co-founded with Deborah Culver in 1990. He recently adapted and directed a celebrity reading of the screenplay for All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall starring Bradley Whitford, Joshua Malina and Jeff Perry. His stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Stage Raw Award at Fountain Theatre) inaugurated Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and was chosen to represent Los Angeles theater for Grand Park’s new Our L.A. Voices Arts Festival. His play Bakersfield Mist enjoyed a three-month run on London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and is now being produced in regional theaters across the country, translated into other languages and performed worldwide. Other plays include Cyrano (L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist), Sweet Nothing in My Ear (PEN USA Literary Award finalist) and several others. He wrote the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in My Ear for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Sachs’ directing credits My Name is Asher Lev (L.A. premiere); Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris (U.S. premiere); Bakersfield Mist (world premiere); Completeness by Itamar Moses, starring Jason Ritter; Side Man starring Christine Lahti; The Train Driver by Athol Fugard (U.S. premiere); Conor McPherson’s Shining City (L.A. premiere); the world premiere of Fugard’s Exits and Entrances at the Fountain (Ovation Award, L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award) and off-Broadway at Primary Stages; Fugard’s The Road to Mecca (L.A. premiere); Arthur Miller’s After the Fall (Ovation Award); Sweet Nothing in My Ear (world premiere); Hippolytos, inaugurating the outdoor classical theater at the Getty Villa in Malibu; and many others. Sachs was recently honored with a Certificate of Commendation from the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

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 and again, this year, as the centerpiece of Our L.A. Voices at Grand Park; and an all-star reading of All The President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s most recent production, The Chosen, enjoyed rave reviews and ran for five sold-out months.

MORE INFO/GET TICKETS

The Fountain Theatre gives voice to a cry of sexual assault in new play ‘The Lighthouse’

LIGHTHOUSE photo

Garret Wagner, Kelley Mack, Michael D. Turner and Chops Bailey.

By Catherine Womack

“It’s beach week, baby!” A tall, handsome college athlete cracks open a cold beer as he flops onto a worn sofa. The semester is over for Shane and his friends, and the stress of final exams is quickly fading into a blur of sun, sand and mojitos served in red Solo cups.

Onstage at the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood, six young actors fall easily into the rhythms of day drinking and banter inside the fictional rented vacation home. The set is sparse, but the inside jokes and casual flirtations between its occupants feel so real you can practically smell the salty air and taste the PBR.

But there is an elephant in this living room.

Perched on a tall director’s  chair  in  the  middle of the stage, seemingly invisible to the revelers, sits a silent female lifeguard. Only when she’s left alone with Jesse,    the    play’s    central character, does the lifeguard begin to speak.

“Are you sure you want to be wearing that?” the lifeguard asks, peering disapprovingly over her sunglasses at Jesse’s short denim shorts and tank top. “Are you trying to get laid for attention or validation?”

Hypercritical, judgmental and disparaging, the lifeguard is a constant presence throughout Amanda Kohr’s 80-minute, one-act play, “The   Lighthouse.”   As   the winner   of   the   Fountain’s competition-style Rapid Development Series, the play received two nights of free semi-staged readings last week — all part of an effort to give a louder voice to playwrights under 30.

James B and Jessica B

Jessica Broutt and James Bennett, co-creators/producers of Rapid Development Series.

One of several surrealist elements in the show, the lifeguard plays the part of Jesse’s darkest inner voice following a traumatic sexual assault at the beach house. “The Lighthouse” is Kohr’s indictment of rape culture and the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Kohr said the play was inspired by the 2015 case of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, and was informed by Kohr’s own experiences.

On two printed sheets of folded white office paper that served as the program for the evening, Kohr, 27, wrote candidly about her own story:

“I grew up accepting sexual assault — the act was so prevalent that it swam below the radar under the perception as normalcy. By 16 I had been manipulated into unwanted sexual situations, assaulted and catcalled.”

As an undergraduate at James Madison University in Virginia, Kohr said in an earlier phone interview, she “heard about, witnessed and experienced so much sexual assault and harassment among college-age students that it just become normal.” At times, she said, she felt like it was “harder to find had.”

Kohr  wrote  “The  Lighthouse” in summer 2016. She had read Jon Krakauer’s reported narrative, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” and she closely followed the Stanford case as it unfolded. She was appalled by the leniency of Turner’s sentence — six months, reduced to three months for good behavior — and was inspired by the letter that his victim read at the sentencing hearing.

“I am a firm believer that entertainment can help educate,” Kohr said, “so I really strove to draw my audience in through comedy and then bash them with the truth.”

Kohr wrote the play more than a year before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, sexual assault and harassment became a national cultural conversation, and #MeToo became a movement.  That’s  one  reason Jessica Broutt, 25, the co-founder and co-producer of the Fountain’s Rapid Development Series, found Kohr’s play so compelling.

Broutt, who interned at the Fountain as a college student and worked briefly as the company’s box office manager, came up with the idea for the series with Fountain associate producer James Bennett four years ago.

“We noticed that there weren’t really a lot of young people going to the theater,” she said. “We would go to all these awesome reading series at other theaters, but it was never young people who were playwrights, and they generally weren’t  L.A.- based.”

Jessica Hailey Broutt, Kieran Medina and Amanda Marie Kohr at Fountain Theatre.

Jessica Broutt, Kieran Medina and Amanda Kohr at Fountain Theatre.

Broutt and Bennett pitched the idea to the Fountain’s management as a sort of theatrical battle of the bands. Broutt would select four plays by L.A. playwrights under 30. The theater would provide the actors and the space, and each play would receive a “snapshot” reading at which audiences vote for their favorite, drawing them more actively into the experience.

The actors and directors are volunteers, and the performances are free.

“We were trying to rule out all the reasons why people our age don’t goto plays,” Broutt said.

This year marks the series’ fourth season. Broutt says that when she read “The Lighthouse,” she knew immediately it was special.

“I just felt like, wow, this is a play that is taking on rape culture and breaking it down in a way that is educational and provides a surrealism and a humor that will engage people,” she said. “It’s very rare for me to see something that is doing all of those things effectively. And then as we were going through development last fall, the Harvey Weinstein stuff came out.”

In just a few months Kohr has been able to work with Broutt to polish the play, have it receive two short readings as it progressed through the competition, and watch it performed onstage in its entirety for the first time.

“When I was in college I had a lot of shorter things staged,” Kohn said, “but this is  my  first  thing  that’s  like borderline professional.”

Audience members on Wednesday night were racially diverse and younger than what’s typical in most

L.A. theaters. They laughed out loud as Jesse’s rapist, Shane, was presented as a hero during exaggerated, game-show-style court proceedings. And some wiped tears from their eyes when Jesse found the strength to silence her inner-critic lifeguard and rediscover her own confident voice.

At  the  end  of  the  “The Lighthouse,” the house lights came up dramatically as Jesse called for people to speak out and shine a light on sexual misconduct. In the front row, Kohr hugged her friends. Her #MeToo story had found an audience.

This post originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. 

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

THE CHOSEN 5

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.

Get Tickets

Photos: Opening Night celebration for world premiere of ‘Runaway Home’

7Launching the world premiere of a meaningful new play is always a cause for celebration at the Fountain Theatre. Saturday night, September 16th, was a thrilling night of jubilation as we opened the beautiful, funny and powerful new play Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps. This timely new work about the community of New Orleans surviving together after Hurricane Katrina runs to November 5th.

After the soaring opening night performance, the enthralled audience gathered upstairs in our cafe for a catered reception with the cast and creative team. Food from New Orleans was served, with wine and beer flowing. A truly magical evening highlighting an unforgettable theatrical experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New Video: Inspiring and changing young lives with Theatre as a Learning Tool

See our TAALT web page

As summer ends, what’s next for Fountain intern Annie Barker?

Annie Barker last day Aug 2017

Annie Barker

by Annie Barker

Time is a strange thing. It feels like just days ago I made myself at home at my little desk (so conveniently located next to the air conditioning unit). Yet, at the same time I feel like I’ve been a member of the Fountain Theatre family for months. After ten weeks of commuting everyday from Westchester, five podcasts, and too many laughs, my time as the Fountain Theatre’s Production Intern is coming to a close.

There is no typical day at the Fountain. Some days I spent coordinating groups from Create Now! and A Place Called Home to join us for Building the WallOther days I had my nose in scripts, reading and evaluating over ten plays this summer. The best part about working with the Fountain was that I could be in every aspect of the theatre. As a result, I developed a stronger understanding of not just one thing, but a million things.
Before working at the Fountain, I understood the importance of outreach but did not know how to utilize all of the resources available. While working with Barbara Goodwill (Director of Development), I quickly figured out how to take advantage of these resources. This summer, I also worked with James Bennet (Associate Producer) on casting our world premiere collaboration with LACC, Freddy. 
However, the most important thing I gained from this experience was a family. The people who work at the Fountain are some of the most inspiring and hardworking people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I never felt as if I was just an intern, rather an integrated part of the work environment. I feel blessed, as many college interns don’t find that in their internships. 
 
Something that really added to my experience was the additional programming with my peer group of interns. Led by Jessica Hanna of the Bootleg Theater, we had two jam-packed days of exploring Los Angeles and its art scene. As an out of state student, I had the opportunity to fully dive into the arts scene. Between tours of various performance spaces, MOCA, the Last Book Store, and the Ace Hotel & Theatre, I found inspiration in the city that I’ve called home for the past three years. While meandering through the rooms at MOCA, I came across a painting by Edward Ruscha entitled “FOUNTAIN, SUNSET, HOLLYWOOD.” While the painting may come across as simple, it made me think about the opportunities I had at this little theatre on Fountain Avenue. While my goal may not be Hollywood, the Fountain is a springboard into a lifetime of creative opportunities. 
Hollywood Fountain
 
What comes next? Well, after enjoying two final weeks of my summer, I start my senior year at Loyola Marymount. I dive right back into theatre as the assistant director for our fall musical, Runaways. I will also be working on my senior thesis project by directing (and producing) Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land, which goes up in December. Needless to say, I’m looking at a very busy semester. My summer at the Fountain has provided me the skills to confidently tackle this semester. Long term, I am applying for directing fellowships across the country and down the road, earning my MFA in Directing. While I might not be the Fountain’s Production Intern, I know that my home and place at the Fountain will remain for years to come. Who knows–maybe I’ll be directing here someday! I want to thank LA County Art’s Commission for making this internship possible and all of the staff of the Fountain who invited me into their family. This summer was truly inspiring. 
The Fountain Theatre thanks the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors and the LA County Arts Commission for their support through the Summer Arts Internship program.