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It has travelled around the world and it is now coming home. Just in time for the holidays.
Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs, the Fountain’s smash hit comedy that went on to see productions around the world including London’s West End, will return to the Fountain for a limited 4-week engagement beginning Nov. 19. Sachs will again direct, with Jenny O’Hara (Transparent, The Mindy Project) and Nick Ullett (As the World Turns) reprising the roles they created.
Inspired by true events, Bakersfield Mist is the story of Maude Gutman, an unemployed, chain-smoking ex-bartender living in a run-down California trailer park, who believes the painting she bought in a thrift store for $3 is really an undiscovered masterpiece worth millions. When stuffy New York art expert Lionel Percy arrives to evaluate the work, the result is a fiery and often hilarious debate over class, truth, value and the meaning of art.
“Stephen’s play has enjoyed success around the country and the world, so when Jenny and Nick became available, we jumped at the chance to bring it back,” says producer Simon Levy. “We live in such stressful times, and this play offers the perfect antidote — it’s very funny, yet also thought-provoking. Just in time for the holidays.”
Bakersfield Mist premiered at the Fountain in June, 2011, garnering glowing notices including a “Critic’s Choice” review in the Los Angeles Times which exclaimed “It’s exhilarating in the extreme when a world premiere play strikes rich on every conceivable level.” The production was hailed a “Go!” in the LA Weekly and a “Critic’s Pick” in Backstage. It played to sold-out houses for more than six months, rivaling only Sachs’ own Central Avenue as the most successful world premiere of a new play in the Fountain’s 26-year history. Bakersfield Mist opened on London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid for a 3-month run.Vanity Fair called Sachs’ play “Not to be missed… tackles large creative questions with well-timed zingers,” The Times of London found it to be “thoroughly entertaining… put a smile on my face and kept my brain buzzing for a good while afterward,” The New York Times labeled it “clever… a battle of wits,” and it received the 2012 Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play. In the U.S., Bakersfield Mist has been produced by Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Florida and in an extended run at the Olney Theatre in Maryland, where it is Helen Hayes Award-recommended and was lauded “5 Stars… provocative, fast-paced and cleverly funny” by DCMetro. The play is currently running in Chicago in a Jeff Award-recommended production at the Timeline Theatre which has been praised as “Highly Recommended” by the Chicago Sun-Times and “the perfect evening of theatre” by Chicago Theatre Review. Bakersfield Mist is now being produced in regional theaters across the country; it has been translated into other languages and is being performed around the world, including in Iceland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Scotland, Australia and Canada.
Set design for Bakersfield Mist is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; sound design is by Peter Bayne; props and set dressing are by Terri Roberts; and the fight director is Edgar Landa. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer; associate producer is James Bennett; and Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.
Stephen Sachs’ other plays include Dream Catcher, Citizen: An American Lyric (adapted from the internationally acclaimed book by Claudia Rankine), Heart Song (Fountain Theatre, Florida Stage), Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LA Drama Critics Circle award and LA Weekly award nomination for Best Adaptation), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Open Window (Pasadena Playhouse, Media Access Award for Excellence), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Back Stage Garland award, Best Play), Sweet Nothing in My Ear(PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Media Access award, NEA grant award), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue) and The Baron in the Trees. 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 co-founded The Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor in 1990.
by Howard Shalwitz
The loss of my friend and colleague Zelda Fichandler, the legendary founder of Arena Stage, has got me thinking about the role of theatre in our society.
Over the past decade, I had a few cherished opportunities to compare notes with Zelda about the founding of our respective theatres. As different as Arena Stage and Woolly Mammoth are, there’s one word that always came up for both of us: art. Here’s a quote from Bob Levey’s obituary of Zelda in the Washington Post:
“From the start, Mrs. Fichandler wanted… to reverse what she called, with characteristic dramatic flourish, ‘the contraction and imminent death of the art of the theater.”
And here’s a quote from Woolly Mammoth’s founding manifesto that I wrote with Roger Brady in 1978:
“Among all the art forms, theatre is the one which is least often taken seriously as a form of art… [and] it should be so taken. That is the long and short of what we propose.”
What do we mean when we proclaim that theatre is “art” rather than “entertainment?” We certainly don’t mean that theatre shouldn’t entertain, shouldn’t captivate audiences with diversion and delight and amazement. The survival of our theatres depends on this. The difference lies in what we ask our audiences to do when they’re in our theatres.
When we set out to entertain, we ask our audiences to sit back, relax, and enjoy themselves on terms they already understand. When we set out to make art, we ask our audiences to sit forward, to encounter something different, and to meet the artists halfway in figuring out how it works and what it means. Entertainment nestles us comfortably inside the lives we already lead. Art challenges us to stand outside our own experience and look at our lives and our world in new ways.
Art and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. Every play, every production, has elements of both. But in our conversations, Zelda was concerned that theatres across America were tipping too far toward entertainment and away from art. Some of the reasons are obvious: competition for ticket sales, pressure from new forms of diversion, loss of arts education in our schools, shrinking government support.
However, Zelda saw a potentially deeper problem. A couple of years ago, she asked a question I’ll never forget: “What’s happened to the arrogance of the artist in our country?” She talked about path-breaking playwrights like Arthur Miller, Caryl Churchill, and August Wilson, who boldly expanded the stylistic framework and political range of our theatre, and European stage directors like Liviu Ciulei and Lucien Pintilie, whose experimental approaches completely changed the way we look at classic works.
The forward motion of theatre as an art form depends on playwrights, directors, designers, and actors with the arrogance, the chutzpah, to try things that are different. It also depends on audiences who have the confidence to meet them with openness, empathy, and a spirit of inquiry. When we wrestle with the play itself, then we’re led to wrestle with what the play is about, what it’s saying, why it matters. This is what gives the art form of theatre its relevance in relation to the pressing questions our society is facing.
Howard Shalwitz is the Artistic Director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC.
The Fountain Theatre is now casting a 3-week development workshop for Freddie, a new project by Deborah Lawlor that combines theatre, dance and music to tell the unforgettable true story of a legendary dancer.
Based on a true story. Greenwich Village, 1964. Freddie Herko was a brilliant 28 year-old ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent haunted by dark self-destructive demons. A fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Herko became more eccentric, unpredictable and self-destructive. While dancing in his NY apartment to Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Herko leapt out the window and fell to his death five stories down. The project “Freddie” chronicles the friendship between Freddie and Shelley, the naive young woman caught under his spell who desires to be a dancer. By fusing theatre, music, dance and video, the project will capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era.
Director: Frances Loy
Writer: Deborah Lawlor
Producer: Stephen Sachs
Co-Producer: Simon Levy
Associate Producer: James Bennett
Casting Director: Frances Loy
Dates: 3-week rehearsal period in October, culminating in 3 public performances. Exact dates to be determined based on artist availability.
This is a 3-week developmental workshop of a new theatre piece combining theatre, dance/movement and music. To explore and discover how the text intertwines with dance/movement. It will culminate in 3 public performances. This project is supported, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
20 to 30 years old, male. Charismatic, dynamic, tortured soul. Must have strong training and experience in classical ballet.
20 to 25 years old, female. Naive, innocent, excitable, light quality. Must have strong training and experience in classical ballet.
[GLORIA/DIANE DI PRIMA/MARGARET/BABY JANE]
30 to 50 years old, female. Seeking versatile actress to play multiple roles. Grounded, motherly quality. Flirtatious and exuberant. Must have some training in classical ballet.
30 to 40 years old, female. Darkly mystical and mysterious. Must have some training in classical ballet.
20 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles, including aloof to friendly to intimidating to gregarious. Must have some training inn classical ballet.
20 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles, including gregarious Italian and down-to-earth dependable.
[JIMMY WARING/ROTTEN RITA]
40 to 50 years old, male. Two roles: sober, sage “mentor” type plus lightly effeminate with strong comedy skills.
30 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles: from opera nut who holds forth to straight, strong and dependable husband of Shelley.
There is pay.
Submit electronically via Actors Access
or via email: email@example.com
Due to popular demand and sold-out houses, our critically acclaimed hit west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll, adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann, will extend to October 30th.
Sizzling with sexual tension and darkly comic, this enthralling tale of prejudice, sexual politics and passion is the first-ever Williams Estate-approved stage adaptation of the Tennessee Williams screenplay. Nineteen-year-old married virgin “Baby Doll” Meighan must consummate her marriage in two days, on her 20th birthday — as long as her middle-aged husband, Archie Lee, upholds his end of the bargain to provide her with a comfortable life. When Archie Lee burns down his neighbor’s cotton gin to save his failing business, his rival, Sicilian immigrant Silva Vacarro, arrives to seek revenge. What ensues is a complex mix of desire and desperation, with Baby Doll as both player and pawn.
Directed by Simon Levy, the production features Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky, and George Roland. Steve Hofvendahl will assume the role of Archie Lee (currently played by John Prosky) for all performances in October.
The production has earned rave reviews and audience response has been passionately enthusiastic. Adapted from the Williams screenplay of the controversial 1956 movie, our west coast premiere of Baby Doll offers the rare opportunity to experience a “new” play by Tennessee Williams. Clearly, audiences and critics are relishing the ride.
“EROTIC… Lindsay LaVanchy draws out all the sensuality and sadness, the petulance and helplessness of Baby Doll … allows us to once again hope that maybe this time romance will live up to its promise” — Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times
“BURSTS WITH SCORCHING SENSUALITY… pays exquisite homage to Williams’s screenplay” — Travis Holder, Arts In LA
“SIZZLING… Don’t miss Baby Doll!… the ensemble is divine… directed with stunning clarity” — Don Grigware, Broadwayworld
“FOCUSES THE HEAT like a magnifying glass in the sunlight… This Baby’s pedigree shows” — Bill Garry, Discover Hollywood
“SPECTACULAR… a phenomenal show that will leave your every sensation aching for more.” — Michelle Sandoval, EdgeMediaNetwork
“STEAMY… a must see for those who love the heat. — Michael Sheehan, On Stage Los Angeles
“OUTSTANDING… Don’t’ miss your opportunity to see this Tennessee Williams premiere.” — Carol Kaufman Segal, Review Plays
“WOW!… A just-right darkly comedic tone and pitch-perfect performances… ‘Baby Doll-icous’ ” —Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA
“VIOLENCE, SEX AND MADNESS, what more could you want?” — Ernest Kearney, The Tvolution
“EXCITING TO WATCH… waves between dark humor, heat, and menace.” — Evan Henerson, Theater Mania
“If you love Tennessee Williams, DON’T MISS THIS PRODUCTION.” —Paul Myrvold,Theatre Notes
“FOUR STARS… The Fountain’s lavish, excellent production does Williams proud.” — Will Manus, Total Theater
In July, actress Lindsay LaVanchy was in the thick of rehearsals at the Fountain Theatre in the lead role of Baby Doll in our west coast premiere when she got a phone call from her agent. Lindsay had booked a guest starring role on the MTV series Scream. It shoots in New Orleans. She would have to leave right away for two weeks.
As the Fountain Theatre scrambled to adjust its rehearsal and production schedule, Lindsay flew to New Orleans. Once there and on the set working, another opportunity suddenly opened for her. She would have a three-day weekend over 4th of July, permitting her time to rent a car and drive the 5.5 hours to Benoit, Mississippi, and stay in the actual Southern mansion where the original 1956 Baby Doll movie was filmed, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach and Karl Malden.
Grabbing her chance to experience a weekend stay at the Baby Doll house, Lindsay hopped in her rented car on Saturday, July 2nd, and drove from the Scream location in New Orleans to Benoit, Mississippi. There was no question in her mind that she would make the trip.
“It’s very important to me to know the reality of a character, that soul, as fully as possible,” she says. “So when I had the opportunity, a 3 day window … I had to go.”
“I knew Baby Doll would not be as realized as she could be if I did not remind myself what it was like to be in that kind of heat, that kind of quiet, smelling those smells, watching the sun come up and go down, every moment swatting away mosquitos, the eeriness of being in a big home alone with neighbors not in earshot, uncomfortably hot nights, a sky full of stars, cotton floating in the air, the kindest people, and how badly one desires a cool drink of water – almost as much as one desires company after spending hours and hours alone in the quiet and the heat.”
It was dusk, the twilight sky getting dark, when Lindsay pulled up to the Baby Doll house in Benoit.
“Driving up to this great Antebellum home at dusk was mystical. Not just because of the artistic connection, but the history this home has seen was palpable. I felt like an outsider that was being called by a siren. Like every step I took could awake a ghost. That both excited and terrified me. I felt uncertain about what the two days on the property wandering around — and sleeping in the actual Baby Doll room alone in the house — would bring up for me in terms of discoveries about the character. However, I had a feeling that if I kept quiet, alert, and open I would be shown what I needed to know. And I was.”
She admits feeling thrilled and awestruck standing in the house that was part of film history. “From an actor’s standpoint, an actor who loves Williams and Kazan and that golden age of theatre and the shocking cinema that they created … I was geeking out.”
The place resurrected not only the lives of fictional characters on film.
“I also felt the ghosts of real people there, too,” said Lindsay. “My grandmother as a little girl was sent away from her family for a few years to a farm of her French-speaking older relatives and I know that had a major affect on her. So being in a place like that (the majority of the time alone) and experiencing that loneliness that causes one to spend so much time in their imagination and creating a world in your head that keeps you company was … real. And this is the reality that Tennessee knew and drew his characters from.”
Staying in the South again, even for a short time, brought home the play’s relevance for Lindsay in other ways.
“I also was in Louisiana when Alton Sterling was shot,” she says. “And then, only a few days later, I was actually in Baton Rouge. I had several shocking experiences that occurred that were so clearly derived from the sadness and frustration of that horrific event – and the centuries of horrific events. I was saddened and ashamed and embarrassed and angry, physically and emotionally, by the lack of change between years ago and the present time. And that immediately reminded me that stories which come from this part of our country need to be shared. These regions, the ones where Tennessee sets all of his plays, are a major artery to the heart and soul of this nation. And we only gaze toward these areas and their people when it becomes national news. It’s a forgotten world. And this is fatal to our country for many obvious reasons.”
As an actor, an artist, the work — and its purpose — go deeper.
“It’s not about performing,” says Lindsay. “It’s not about me, it’s not about the playhouse. This play and these characters and these issues are history. It’s an educational opportunity, a calling card that hopefully stirs up something inside at least one person each night. At least that’s what I think great artistic ventures should do: start a conversation, stir up the emotional life within, cause a quest for something bigger than oneself, be a north star to the leaders who enable change, and give a nugget of purpose and comfort to the wanderers. Whether an artist accomplishes this kind of truth-giving each night or not, we can only hope and attempt. But it’s a solid foundation to work from. “
And did the weekend at the Baby Doll house help contribute some stepping stones to build that foundation?
“I only wish I could have stayed a month,” she sighs. “It was truly a special time for me, and I cannot wait to go back.”
by Brent Johnson
It was one of the most polarizing films of its time.
In 1956, the black comedy “Baby Doll” — a tale of feuding cotton gin owners and a teenage virgin bride in the Mississippi Delta — drew controversy for its sexualized themes and images. The Roman Catholic National Legion of Decency even launched a campaign to get it banned.
At the same time, the film — written by iconic playwright Tennessee Williams and directed by the legendary Elia Kazan — drew critical acclaim, garnering four Academy Award nominations.
Now, nearly six decades after its release, the movie has come to life as something else: a new play.
“I’m a great lover of Tennessee Williams,” explains playwright and adaptor Emily Mann, artistic director of McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton, NJ. “I’ve directed a number of his plays. I knew him, actually. And I always felt that this particular film didn’t quite come off or have its due. I felt there was a play trapped inside this movie.”
Mann adapted the film with French playwright Pierre Laville, whose own adaptation premiered in France in 2009. The new Mann/Laville adaptation debuted at the McCarter last year. The Fountain Theatre production is the West Coast premiere.
“I read his adaptation and said, ‘Yeah, it’s really interesting, but I don’t think it’s quite right for America yet,’” Mann says. “There were some things that felt rather dated. So, I went back to the original screenplay that (Williams) had written for Kazan and found some other material and started to work on it and fell in love with it and just discovered a play. It’s like finding a new Tennessee Williams play.”
Mann — a two-time Tony Award nominee — says she was drawn to the themes Williams was exploring in the film: “race and caste and color in the South.” And not just between black and white residents, but also between whites and foreigners like Vacarro. They are themes, she says, that continue to rear their heads today — especially in the wake of the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., last year.
“If you look at what’s going on with the shooting in South Carolina and you see that kid, we have the grown-up version of that in this play in the character of Baby Doll’s husband,” Mann says. “He’s a born and bred ‘peckerwood,’ as he calls himself.
“So, you have all of these themes in play — the desire and the passion and the humor and the South,” she continues. “All of the legacy of slavery and reconstruction and Jim Crow, all the way up to what now resonates in a very present tense, that we see why we are dealing with what we’re dealing with, because we see what people came up and out of.”
Mann says the story is less risqué now, but it does include one of the most erotic scenes she’s ever staged: when Baby Doll begins to awaken sexually. However, when it was released, it was the film’s sexuality that drew the most attention — especially the image of Carroll Baker as Baby Doll, dressed in a nightgown and sucking her thumb while lying in a crib. (The movie has been credited with naming and popularizing the babydoll nightgown.)
“That’s pretty risqué no matter how you do it,” Mann explains. “It takes your breath away to see a young girl feel herself aroused to a level where she can barely stand up. It’s not pornographic. It’s just watching a man genuinely know how to touch a woman and get her to places she’s never been and she’s never felt before in her life. It’s transporting. “
Technically, Mann wrote none of the play herself. She pieced the stage version together from Williams’ finished screenplay, his early drafts and other pieces that the playwright had written using these characters — including the one-act play “27 Wagons Full Of Cotton.”
“He was always trying to figure out how to begin and how to end it,” Mann says “Which characters were in, which characters were out. Whether it was a girl’s awakening, or whether it was a rape … I was able to see all of his drafts and see what he might want to construct now. I laced it with those things.”
Tennessee Williams was a man she was happy to call a friend.
“Oh, he was such a darling man,” she remembers. “Funny, irreverent, emotional. He was just like his plays. He called me ‘Miss Emily.’ We just had a lovely relationship. We just got on like a house on fire. He was just an amazing spirit.
“I just wish he were here to see this.”
Brent Johnson is a writer from East Brunswick, N.J. He’s currently a reporter for The Star-Ledger of Newark and the co-founder and co-editor of entertainment website Pop-Break.com. This post originally appeared on JerseyArts.com.
Baby Doll at the Fountain Theatre Now Playing! MORE INFO/GET TICKETS