Tag Archives: Maya Lynne Robinson

Next at the Fountain: Powerful world premiere ‘Runaway Home’ is a poetic mother-daughter tale set in New Orleans

RUNAWAY HOME title image

Sometimes what you’re searching for is right where you started. The Fountain Theatre presents a powerful, funny and deeply moving mother-daughter story by Jeremy J. Kamps. Multiple award-winning Shirley Jo Finney returns to the Fountain to direct the world premiere of Runaway Home for a Sept. 16 opening.

Three years after Hurricane Katrina, the unhealed wounds of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward continue to fester. Camille Spirlin (ABC’s American Koko, Fox TV’s Rosewood, Nickelodeon’s Marvin Marvin) stars as 14-year-old runaway Kali. Rhyming, stealing and scamming her way through the still-destroyed neighborhood, she embarks on a journey to pick through the wreckage of what used to be her life. While the rest of the country’s attention drifts, the neighborhood’s residents are left to repair the damage from the inside out. As their attempts at renewal leave a path of destruction in their wake, Kali bears witness to what the floodwaters left behind. Also in the cast are Leith Burke (Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain,Neighbors at the Matrix), Jeris Lee Poindexter (The Darker Face of the Earth, Central Avenue, Gem of the Ocean at the Fountain),Armando Rey (Men on the Verge of a His-panic Breakdown at Macha Theatre), Maya Lynne Robinson (In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain – LADCC Award, Best Ensemble), Brian Tichnell (Dream Catcher at the Fountain, HBOs Silicon Valley, L.A. Theatre Works’ national tour of The Graduate) and Karen Malina White (Citizen: An American Lyric and The Ballad of Emmett Till – Best Ensemble LADCC and Ovation Awards – at the Fountain, currently in As You Like It at Antaeus).

“This play couldn’t be more timely,” says Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “Hurricane Katrina may have ceased in 2005, but the storm of racism, poverty and class inequality rages on in our country to this day. We need look no further than Flint, Michigan, to see systemic government prejudice against citizens of color and the poor. But as Jeremy’s play so beautifully demonstrates, the bonds of family and community will weather any storm.”

When Kamps traveled to New Orleans two years after Katrina to volunteer “gutting and mucking” (stripping homes to the studs to remove mold), he had been teaching middle school in Connecticut. He already had an idea in his head about a runaway girl who collects other people’s garbage, finding meaning in the meaningless.

“Kali’s world paralleled the displacement, hope for renewal, fracture and resilience I was seeing in the social-political reality of the Lower 9th Ward,” he explains. “Whenever a character’s inner life and experience are so congruent with an important social issue, that’s the story I want to write.”

While in New Orleans, Kamps met Antoine, a man in his ‘70s who had just returned to what had been his family’s home for generations. Antoine was going from house to house trying to trace relatives, friends, acquaintances and neighbors, to find out what had happened to them in the years since the storm. “His friendship helped me honor the stories of this community in a truthful way — to see the past, present and future of the Lower 9th through their eyes,” says the playwright.

According to Finney, “Because the media painted them as poor and impoverished, most people don’t realize that the residents of the Lower 9th were working class homeowners. Those homes had been in families for generations. Members of the community were expecting government funds so they could rebuild, but because of red tape and bureaucracy, the money never came, or it took so long that people had to end up using it for rent or just to eat.”

“The mother-daughter relationship becomes the pivotal heart space in this story about this community,” she continues. “The play is very funny because Kali is so spirited, but the rage, helplessness and loss that Kali and her mother share are the core of the play. That is the challenge they both struggle with to find their way back to each other and home. What happens to people when they aren’t seen, when they don’t feel safe? How do you begin to rebuild your life when nobody cares?”

Jeremy Kamps’s plays have received awards and recognition including the William Saroyan Human Rights Award Finalist (2016); Page 73 Semi-Finalist (2017); Ruby Lloyd Apsey Award (Gutting); The Goldberg Prize; Woodward International Playwriting (What It Means To Disappear Here); Hudson Valley Writers Center and the NYU Festival of New Works (Water Hyacinth). His play Breitwisch Farm will be produced by Esperance Theater Company in NYC later this year. Recent productions include Gutting, presented by the National Black Theatre of Harlem and What It Means To Disappear Here (Ugly Rhino, NYC). His work has been produced/developed with Esperance Theater Company, Company Cypher at the National Black Theatre of Harlem, Ugly Rhino, Dixon Place, Hudson Valley Shakespeare, The Amoralists and New York Theatre Workshop. His fiction has been published in The Madison Review and The Little Patuxent; has been honored with the H.E. Francis Award, the Howard/John Reid Fiction Prize and was a Lamar York Prize finalist; and has been recognized in Glimmertrain, Inkwell, The Caribbean Writer and New Millenium. He is a member of the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater. Also an educator and activist, Jeremy has lived and worked for lengthy periods of time in Latin America, India and East Africa, where he focused on support and empowerment for former child soldiers, displaced peoples and child rights. He recently received the Theatre Communications Group “On the Road” grant to return to Kenya where he conducted drama workshops as part of his research for a new play on flower farms. He has facilitated drama and writing workshops around the world and for all ages. He has an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Shirley Jo Finney has previously directed acclaimed Fountain productions of Citizen: An American Lyric (selected for CTG’s first annual Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre) The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water (for which she earned her second Ovation award), Heart Song, The Ballad of Emmett TillYellowman, Central Avenue and From the Mississippi Delta.  Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, L.A. Theatre Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and at the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed a critically acclaimed production of the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha, and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me.She is the recipient of the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.

The creative team for Runaway Home includes scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, lighting designer Jennifer Edwards, composer/sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders, props designer DeAnne Millais, choreographer TylerJanet Roston and dialect coach Tyler Seiple. The production stage manager is Jessaica Shields; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen SachsSimon Levy 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 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s upcoming Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre; and the naming of seven Fountain productions in a row as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times. 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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Fountain Theatre Wins Top Honor at 2014 Ovation Awards

Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs waves from the stage at the 2014  Ovation Awards.

Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs waves from the stage at the Ovation Awards.

It was a memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre Sunday night, November 2nd,  at the 2014 Ovation Awards hosted by LA Stage Alliance and held at the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel. The Fountain was honored with the prestigious Best Season Award (“The Normal Heart”, “My Name is Asher Lev”, and “The Brothers Size”) for overall excellence and received the 2014 BEST Award from the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation recognizing exceptional theatre organizations that contribute to the cultural vibrancy of Los Angeles.

Often hailed as LA’s version of the Tony Awards, the peer-judged Ovation Awards recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area. The LA Times has referred to the Ovation Awards as the “highest-profile contest for local theatre.”

Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs

The Best Season Award is the preeminent Ovation honor. It recognizes a theatre company’s overall excellence throughout an entire season. Over the years, The Fountain has received more nominations for the Best Season category than any other theatre in Los Angeles. This year marks the 5th time that The Fountain Theatre has been nominated for Best Season since the category was created 6 years ago. The Fountain has now won the award twice.  

“Being honored with the Best Season Award is particularly meaningful to us because it doesn’t go to one person,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It celebrates the achievement of an entire season of artists. Therefore, the award goes to — and is shared by — all of the many actors, designers and production team members in our Fountain Family who made our 2013-14 Ovation Season such a success. ”  

Acclaimed productions in the Fountain 2014 Ovation Season included the exclusive revival of The Normal Heart, the Los Angeles Premiere of My Name is Asher Lev, and the Los Angeles Premiere of The Brothers Size.   

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Shirley Jo Finney, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Theo Perkins, Stephen Sachs, Matthew Hancock.

2014 BEST Award winners, with Biller Foundation Executive Director Sarah Lyding

2014 BEST Award winners, with Biller Foundation Executive Director Sarah Lyding

The Fountain was also honored Sunday night with the BEST Award presented and funded by The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation.  The BEST (Building Excellence in Small Theatre) Award recognizes exceptional theatre organizations that contribute to the cultural vitality of Los Angeles with long-term viability. The Fountain was honored for its ability to think creatively, the quality of its ideas and aspirations, and the organization’s ability to differentiate itself from other Los Angeles theatre companies.

Our sincere thanks to LA Stage Alliance and The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation for their ongoing dedicated support of intimate theatre in Los Angeles.

Enjoy These Photos from the 2014 Ovation Awards

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New Video: ‘In the Red and Brown Water’

Our critically acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of In the Red and Brown Water by Tarell Alvin McCraney recently won two Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for Best Director (Shirley Jo Finney) and Best Ensemble. Enjoy this new short video clip of the opening sequence and see why!

‘In the Red and Brown Water’ – Opening Sequence

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Fountain Theatre Sweeps Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards

Fountain Theatre wins Best Season Award.

Fountain Theatre wins Best Season Award.

On Monday night, the Fountain Theatre won 7 LA Drama Critics Circle Awards:

  • Best Season 2012 – El NogalarCyranoThe Blue IrisIn the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Production – Cyrano
  • Best Director – Simon Levy, Cyrano
  • Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney, In the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Lead Performance – Troy Kotsur, Cyrano
  • Best Ensemble – In the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Writing (Adaptation) – Stephen Sachs, Cyrano

Fountain Theatre Sweeps with 7 Awards on the Gala Night

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PHOTO SLIDESHOW: ‘In the Red and Brown Water’ Closing Party

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Final Performance, Set Strike, Closing Party and Thai Food

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Black History Month: Revelations of African American Culture in ‘In the Red and Brown Water’

"In the Red and Brown Water" (photo by Ed Krieger)

“In the Red and Brown Water”

by Natalie Mislang Mann

Kinetic energy charged with emotion. That describes Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water presented by The Fountain Theatre. The location of this acclaimed, vibrant, nonprofit performance space in a humble Los Angeles neighborhood foreshadows the economic reality of the play’s kaleidoscopic mix of characters traversing the stage. In this context, McCraney’s play represents a microcosm of shattered dreams and unrealized potential within the larger world.

Treading In the Brown and Red Water, the audience descends into the protagonist’s depths. Set in an impoverished section of the fictional San Pere, Louisiana, Diarra Kilpatrick’s Oya is a passionate runner who abandons a college track scholarship to take care of her dying mother, Mama Mojo, played by Peggy A. Blow. In the process of losing her dreams, she escapes into a fiery relationship with Gilbert Glenn Brown’s Shango and relinquishes the one man, Ogun, who declares his heartfelt love. As Ogun, Dorian Christian Baucum exudes an honest, inner-strength that contrasts with Shango’s impulsive personality.

Diarra Kilpatrick and Gilbert Glenn brown in "In the Red and Brown Water"

Diarra Kilpatrick and Gilbert Glenn Brown in “In the Red and Brown Water”

On a superficial level, the plot reads formulaic: Tragedy hits girl. Girl turns to wrong man. Girl finds herself alone. However, McCraney’s vision is anything but banal. The onstage interactions between Oya and the characters with Yoruba deity names evoke the transcendental belief that spirits interact with humans in the everyday world. Through Oya’s relationships, the audience begins to explore not just socio-economic realities, but the human desire to survive. Simultaneously visceral and intellectual, this “circular” ode to human spirit emerges then concludes in similar yet distinct ways.

Peeling away In the Red and Brown Water’s stratum is akin to unraveling textual and historical layers of a Sorrow Song. Within this context, McCraney’s drama illustrates civil rights activist W.E.B Du Bois’ analysis of slave songs as “the music of unhappy people, of the children of disappointment [which] tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wonderings and hidden ways.” Through the allusion to Yoruba deities, McCraney echoes aspects of African American culture that used to remain hidden. His knowledge of Yoruba Diaspora adds to the dialogue of African American art.

Mama Moja

Peggy Blow as Mama Moja

While prominent art historians, such as Robert Ferris Thompson, have examined the spiritual and practical aspects of West African culture brought to the Americas through the slave trade, In the Red and Brown Water pushes beyond enumerating bodies of work which focus on elevating African American folk art from obscurity to cultural center. McCraney indirectly asks: Why stop there? He bridges the aesthetic, spiritual and socio-political gap that encompasses not just race, gender, class and sexual identity, but – most importantly – the psychological self, the whole self affected by poverty onset by institutionalized human bondage.

During the ensemble’s performance, parallels between In the Red and Brown Water and choreographer Alvin Ailey’s Revelations arise. Known for drawing on the emotional and spiritual experience of African Americans rooted within a rich musical tradition, Ailey, who McCraney cites as one of his influences, connected the past to the present. Traces of Ailey’s influence emerge as drumbeats pulsate through the heart of the play, interweaving through spiritual scores and contemporary beats. The connection between past and present compounds in an agonizing scene. In the midst of electronic house music, Oya breaks down. Tapping into her primal emotions, she ruptures into African dance, which emphasizes the beauty of African American culture ingrained within the realities of personal struggle.

Shirley Jo Finney’s discerning direction coalesces the multidisciplinary facets of Peter Bayne’s talents as composer/sound designer and Ameenah Kaplan’s choreography to evoke the presence of Yoruba culture within a contemporary play. Although Frederica Nascimento’s minimalist set appears stark, she places attention on every detail: From what resembles a divination bowl sitting under the porch to the assorted water vessels on stage. Even the plastic water bottle turned percussion instrument summons the spirit of San Pere. In the Red and Brown Water conjures ancestral spirit as literal, figurative and mystical dreams appear.

Natalie Mislang Mann has a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University and writes for Playwriting in the City.

In the Red and Brown Water  Must End Feb 24th  (323) 663-1525   More

Spotlight: Actress Maya Lynne Robinson Moves from NY to LA and Lands ‘In The Red and Brown Water’

Maya Lynne Robinson

Maya Lynne Robinson

Actress Maya Lynne Robinson moved from New York City to Los Angeles in May, 2012. Two months later, she booked her first play in LA. And what a play and production it turned out to be! To her (and our) good fortune, Maya was cast in the ensemble as the gossipy Nia in our Los Angeles Premiere of In the Red and Brown Water. The production has drawn critical acclaim, been named “Best in Theater 2012” by the Los Angeles Times, and has been extended to Feb 24th.

Why did you move from New York to Los Angeles?

I wanted a change.  I was living in NYC, but working regionally and I wanted to move somewhere where I could live and work.  I also came to focus more on film and television.  I have an extensive theatre background and wanted to broaden my options.   

Any preconceptions about LA being a “theater town”? The Hollywood Industry?

I didn’t know that LA was a theater town!  I thought my focus immediately would be on film and television and “networking.”  That’s the Hollywood Industry perception I was told about.  LA has been much more than networking for me.  It’s helped me create a little family, a sense of community and belonging that I hadn’t felt in a long time, professionally and personally.  I moved here knowing only three people.  

I knew the acting talent pool would be fierce, but I didn’t have any thoughts, one way or the other, on if the actors would be great.  All I thought about was becoming a part of that acting pool.

Maya Lynne Robinson (right) as Nia, Simone Missick (left) as Shun, in "In the Red and Brown Water" at the Fountain Theatre

Maya Lynne Robinson (right) as Nia, Simone Missick (left) as Shun, in “In the Red and Brown Water” at the Fountain Theatre.

‘In the Red and Brown Water’ is your first play in LA.

Yes, it’s  is my first play here.  I moved here in the middle of May and by August 2nd was cast in this fabulous production.  I feel really blessed.  Thank you Shirley Jo Finney and Erinn Anova for believing in my talent, with no one knowing anything about me.  I was fresh off the boat!  And thank you to Stephen Sachs, Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor for allowing me to be a part of the Fountain family.

What has the ‘Red/Brown’ experience been like for you?

This experience has been very interesting for me.  Extremely emotional; taking me out of a comfort zone that I didn’t know I had.  I expected it to be professional.  I never expected the personal bonds to be so strong with the rest of the cast and crew.  We’ve become a family.  I’ve also grown up a bit and learned a lot about who I am.  I felt very “East Coast” when I moved here. Now I just feel like me. It’s hard to put into words, you know?  I’m still transitioning. 

The Fountain Theatre

The Fountain Theatre

How has your experience been working at the Fountain?

The Fountain has been fabulous.  I love the fact it looks like a home. Theatre should feel like coming home.  It’s been a great experience.  I didn’t have expectations of what LA theatre companies would be.  I just dove in.

How do you like living in Los Angeles?

It’s winter time!  70 degrees!  How do YOU think I like LA?!  I love the snow, I’m originally from Cleveland, but a snow less winter hasn’t been that bad.  The traffic though… I can do without the traffic. 

Is it different being an actor in New York versus being an actor in LA?

I’m not sure I’ve processed the differences yet.  I’ve just been blessed to meet people and work immediately.  I spent one week performing ‘Red/Brown’ at night and shuttling to San Diego to be on set during the day.  It  was a very different experience for me; exhausting and fulfilling. 

What are your plans after ‘Red/Brown’ closes?  

To keep acting, finish my one woman show, introduce LA to me. I’m also looking for representation.  I booked this show on my own, but some help, would be fantastic.  Oh, and go on vacation!

In the Red and Brown Water Now – Feb 24  (323) 663-1525  More