Tag Archives: Sabina Zuniga Varela

New Video: Behind the scenes of exhilarating reading of new play on gun violence

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Cast announced for special reading of Lauren Gunderson’s ‘Natural Shocks’ at Fountain Theatre

Actresses Amy Pietz, Victoria Platt, Suanne Spoke, and Sabina Zuniga Varela will combine their versatile talents to play the same lead character in a special reading of Natural Shocks, Lauren Gunderson’s funny and powerful new play on gun violence and gun control, at the Fountain Theatre on Friday, April 20th at 11:19am. Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs directs.

The timing is intentional: April 20 is the 19th anniversary of Columbine and the day of the National School Walkout, organized by the student activists in Parkland, Florida. The reading at the Fountain Theatre starts on April 20th at 11:19am, the date and exact time of the Columbine shooting.

“The Fountain Theatre has a long history of social and political activism,” explains Sachs. “Our celebrity reading of All the President’s Men at LA City Hall and our world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s Building the Wall are recent examples. With Lauren’s play, I believe we need to add our voice,  as theatre artists and citizens, to the national outcry of young people across the country against gun violence and advocate for gun control in this country.”

Amy PietzAmy Pietz has appeared in over 300 episodes of television, most recently starring opposite Jason Alexander on Hit The Road.  She was a series regular on No Tomorrow, The Nine Lives of Chloe King, Aliens in America, Rodney, The Weber Show, Muscle and Caroline in the City (SAG Award Nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy).  She has had recurring or guest starring roles on: You’re The Worst, The Magicians, The Office, Trust Me, Maron, How To Get Away With Murder, Dexter, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and many others.  Film roles include those in The Year of Spectacular Men, Halfway, Prom, The Pact II, Autumn Leaves, Rudy, Jingle All the Way, Dysenchanted, Jell-Oh Lady, The Whole Ten Yards, and others. Her favorite theatre credits include: Stupid Fucking Bird at the Theatre @ Boston Court (Ovation Award, LA Drama Critics Circle Award), The Boswell Sisters at The Old Globe Theatre, Christmas In Naples at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Lobby Hero at the Odyssey Theatre (Ovation nominated), Fiorello and Company (Ovation Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical).  Currently producing a film on gun control called Bodyman, Amy is passionate about getting guns off of our streets.

Victoria PlattVictoria Platt is currently in Antaeus Theatre Company’s production of Native Son. THEATRE: Jelly’s Last Jam (BROADWAY), Building the Wall and Roxy in Cyrano (Fountain Theatre), Venice (Public Theater & Kirk Douglas Theatre – Ovation Award Nom), Sammy (Old Globe), Pippin (Mark Taper Forum, Asphalt (Red Cat), Atlanta (Geffen).  Select TV/FILM: Major Crimes, Bones, The Mentalist, Castle, Criminal Minds and contract roles on both All My Children & Guiding LightH4 (adaptation of Henry IV which she co-produced with Harry Lennix & Terrell Tilford) and as Josephine Baker in HBO’s Winchell. Upcoming film:  #Truth (Charles Murray dir.), The Gleaner (opp. Angus MacFadyen, Harry Lennix dir.), InterferenceFramed and CW’s Lucifer.

Suanne SpokeSuanne Spoke has an extensive career in theatre, television & film, appearing in the critically acclaimed film Whiplash and starring in the feature film Wild Prairie Rose,  winning multiple awards on the festival circuit. On television Suanne recurred on Switched at Birth, Famous in Love and has guest-starred on many others. She can currently be seen recurring on General Hospital. She has performed at numerous theatres and has won every major acting & producing award in Los Angeles including three-time recipient of the Ovation Award/Lead Performance by an Actress. She was most recently seen in the West Coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek  at the Fountain Theatre. Suanne serves on the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts, teaching acting in the Graduate Film Directing program.

Sabina Zuniga VeraleSabina Zuniga Varela, a native New Mexican based in Los Angeles, is an artist, educator and organizer committed to the path of social justice, authentic representation and storytelling.  She is an award winning theatre actor with an MFA from the University of Southern. California. She also holds an MA in Special Education with a focus on twice-exceptional/gifted learning. She is currently a producing director for the LA based theatre company: By The Souls of Our Feet. Most recently she was seen on stage at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival & Portland Center Stage in the title role of Luis Alfaro’s Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles and was seen in Season 3, Episode 3 of ABC’s American Crime.

Based on Hamlet’s “To be or not to be,” Natural Shocks is a classic Gunderson play: a 60-minute tour-de-force that bursts to life when we meet a woman waiting out an imminent tornado in her basement. She overflows with quirks, stories, and a final secret that puts the reality of domestic violence and guns in America in your very lap. The play is part confessional, part stand up, and part reckoning.

“The play is written as a solo play for one actress,” explains Sachs. “I have Lauren’s permission to have four actresses read the role, as one voice. Together, they are one woman — and all women. I think having the play read by four women adds diversity, theatricality and a stylized musicality that is worth exploring.”

“I wrote the story to continue to push the narrative away from the perpetrators of gun violence and toward the people whose lives are lost, shattered, and shadowed because of it. So many of these people are women. And there is such a tight connection between violence against women and gun violence,” insisted Gunderson.

Gunderson is right: the connection between domestic violence and gun violence is well documented. More than half of the mass shootings from 2009-2016 involved a partner or family member. Nearly half of American women who are murdered are killed by their intimate partners. American women are 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other developed nations. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed. In short, domestic violence and grievances against women are the “canary in the coalmine” for gun violence. Any effort to end gun violence must address domestic violence as well.

Lauren GundersonLauren M. Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America of 2017, the winner of the Lanford Wilson Award, the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award, she is also a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and John Gassner Award for Playwriting, a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s 3-Year Residency with Marin Theatre Company, and a commissioned playwright by Audible. She studied Southern Literature and Drama at Emory University, and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. Her work has been commissioned, produced and developed at companies across the US including South Cost Rep (Emilie, Silent Sky), The Kennedy Center (The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful And Her Dog!), Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The O’Neill, The Denver Center, San Francisco Playhouse, Marin Theatre, Synchronicity, Berkeley Rep, Shotgun Players, TheatreWorks, Crowded Fire and more. She co-authored Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley with Margot Melcon, which was one of the most produced plays in America in 2017. Her work is published at Playscripts (I and You, Exit Pursued By A Bear, The Taming, and Toil And Trouble), Dramatists (The Revolutionists, The Book of Will, Silent Sky, Bauer, Miss Bennet) and Samuel French (Emilie). Her picture book Dr Wonderful: Blast Off to the Moon was released from Two Lions / Amazon in May 2017.

Reserve Seats to Natural Shocks at Fountain Theatre. National website

Snapshots: Closing Party for “El Nogalar”

A beautiful Sunday afternoon for the final matinee of "El Nogalar",

Before the final matinee, the audience gathers in the upstairs cafe.

Mexican food was enjoyed at the after-show party.

Stage manager Mitzi Delgado and her mother, Adela Delgado.

Actress Sabina Zuniga Varela and Fountain Producing Director Simon Levy.

Actress Isabelle Ortega.

Actor Justin Huen and William Sachs.

The Fountain Trio: Simon Levy, Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs.

Sabina Zuniga Varela with her proud parents.

Deborah Lawlor and Denise Blasor.

The "El Nogalar" company.

Bravo on a wonderful run!

“El Nogalar” is a Moving and Powerful “Must-See”!

by Leah Bergman

Have you ever watched a film and been deeply and profoundly moved,   or read a book that changed your perspective?  That is the type of impact that the play El Nogalar, written by Tanya Saracho, is having upon audiences everywhere.

El Nogalar delves into the complexities that Mexico is facing due to the drug war.  “It is topical and what is happening right now.  If you take a glass and you put it on that area and look inside, everyone is being affected by that,”  said Saracho.

The play artfully weaves through the intricacies of the Mexican caste system and how the drug war is affecting each person’s role within the societal unit.  Saracho does this in such a poignant way that the viewer is able to see and feel each character’s point of view in a personal way.  The pain and sorrow that is felt by the characters becomes universal where everyone, Latino or Non-Latino, can relate.

The play was inspired by Anton Chekhov’s  The Cherry Orchard.   The name “El Nogalar” reflects what is grown in Mexico – Pecans.  Saracho said,”My mom picked the name…, she said, ’Look it up on your internet. It can’t be cherries. We don’t grow cherries!’”

The name wasn’t the only twist that Saracho added; she made the cast mostly females.  She likes to expose, “Life from the point of view of women. “  She continued with, “Talking about Latina women and Mexican women and complicating their image is important to me.  It is also important to me to change their stereotype.”

Her vision of bringing light to the woman’s perspective began before being commissioned by Chicago’s Teatro Vista to write El Nogalar.  Twelve years ago Saracho formed an all-women’s company entitled Teatro Luna.  “When we formed Teatro Luna, we were called man haters in the press…  My writing has been criticized for that. There are enough plays for men,” said Saracho.  She contests claims of being exclusive by saying, “It is not exclusive.  It is inclusive.  I am including the female voice.”

The female voice is not the only theme expressed in her writing.  Saracho passionately explains, “I’m obsessed with class– if we are speaking thematically.  I’m obsessed by how we (Latinos) are seen as the immigrant in the U.S., and I’m obsessed with gender.”    This would not seem surprising as she was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, but grew up in the adjoining border towns of Reynoso, Mexico and McAllen, Texas.   She was entrenched in both cultures learning both languages.  She was educated in the U.S.   She attended high school in Texas and went on to Boston University to graduate in theater studies.

At Boston University her writing skills flourished.  She put up three plays for the student festival.  This, however, was not the beginning of her story telling.  “I was the one who entertained the sisters and I was always a story teller.  I liked to terrify them with “La Llorona”, a legend of a wailing women,” she laughs contagiously, and continues, “I used to tell jokes.  Now I don’t even know one joke… My grandparents would put me on the table and you would either dance or tell a poem or a joke.”

There seems to be no limit to her storytelling and incredible talent. In fact, El Nogalar is actually the first in a trilogy that Saracho has written.  Song of the Disappeared is the next play in the series.  It takes place on the Texas side of the border where the crime element has now infiltrated.  The last installment of the trilogy is entitled Nights.  The characters have been kidnapped and stay alive by telling stories like in the book:  Thousand Nights and One Night.

El Nogalar is so moving that it truly is a must see.  Saracho’s soulful writing leaves a profound impact on viewers.  This play has put her on the radar, and is only the beginning to a brilliant career. Saracho is definitely someone to watch for in the future.

Leah Bergman writes for Latino Weekly Review.

El Nogalar   Now Playing to March 11 (323) 663-1525     More Info

Opening Night Party Photos: “El Nogalar”

The upstairs cafe was buzzing with delicious Mexican food, tequila and happy Fountain folk!

Mark Taper's Diane Rodriguez congratulates Tanya Saracho on her beautiful play.

Actress Isabelle Ortega and friend.

Actress Sabina Zuniga Varela.

Actress Yetta Gottesman.

Sabina Zuniga Varela, Deborah Lawlor, Diana Romo and her brother, Cesar Alvarez.

Playwright Tanya Saracho and director Laurie Woolery.

Actress Isabelle Ortega thanks playwright Tanya Saracho. Besos!

A toast! To the company of "El Nogalar"! Ole!

Tequila shots!

Tequila too strong?

Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs and Tanya Saracho.

To See MORE PHOTOS please go to our Facebook page!

El Nogalar Now Playing to March 11 (323) 663-1525  More Info

Saracho’s “El Nogalar”: Chekhovian Mexicans Via Chicago

by Stephanie Jones

If Anton Chekhov were Latino, playwright Tanya Saracho would have him covered. El Nogalar, her Mexico-set spin on the Russian classic The Cherry Orchard, comes to the Fountain Theatre by way of Chicago.

Saracho wrote the play in 2004 while performing as an actor in Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad, at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The LA-based Alfaro was then in the last year of his co-direction of Center Theatre Group’s Latino Theatre Initiative. At his urging, Saracho took the story she had in mind and went to work.

“I feel like when I met Luis, that’s when everything happened,” says Saracho. “He actually took me aside and said, ‘If you’re going to do this, you need to get serious about this writing thing.’ Because it’s not that I wasn’t serious. I had my own company [Teatro Luna] and we devised work, so we did ensemble-built performance. But as a playwright, I hadn’t written any plays by myself. But he was like, ‘You can do this.’”

Tanya Saracho

With Alfaro on her side, Saracho told herself:  “If El Maestro can do it, let me try it.” Alfaro has continued his guidance on the play, serving as the dramaturg for the Fountain production.

As an actor, director, and playwright, Saracho was able to remain hands-on throughout the development of her play. “All my three passions – they let me do all three things, which is very Chicago” — where theater artists tend to be hyphenates, she says. “They’re not one thing or another and it’s respected. It [prevents] pigeonholing yourself.”

The small Chicago company Teatro Vista commissioned El Nogalarin 2005. But Teatro Vista and the Goodman have a history of collaborations, and soon the Goodman expressed interest in it.

Saracho felt somewhat intimidated by the Goodman label. “I was like, ‘No, no. It’s the Goodman. The Goodman should not read my play.’” But at the same time, “it was really more than encouraging. It was like the seal. ‘Here you go.’ I mean people read plays and that doesn’t happen. Nice things like that keep happening. It just opened a lot of doors.”

Diana Romo

The Goodman, which produces Latino Theatre Festivals every two or three years,  “totally watched me and let me kind of do anything and just provided a stage. [That] was the biggest thing.”

Despite the encouragement Saracho received, she originally held back some of the play’s content. That was made clear at a reading of the first draft.

“I thought it was terrible. In the first version, I was really afraid of the crime element. I just adjusted it. It wasn’t as overt as it is now,” says Saracho. “I was like – when I first heard it – ‘What am I doing? Why am I a coward right now? I’m being a coward.’ ”

After some much needed character development and a little soul searching, El Nogalar was on its way. It received a staged reading at the 2010 Latino Theatre Festival, with the premiere following in spring 2011, produced by Teatro Vista and presented by the Goodman, at the Goodman.

“When I started Teatro Luna in 2000, our [Latino] audience was not used to going to the theater. We went to concerts, we went to dance, but theater was not where we put our disposable income as Latinos and the Mexican community,” says Saracho. “They would go see comedy but not theater. So, it took us a while to kind of nurture [them], and now they follow me to stuff and they also watch out for other [playwrights]. The movement took about 10 years and now we’ve trained the audience, [saying] ‘Look, this could be awesome.’”

Sabina Zuniga Varela, Justin Huen

Saracho was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, but moved with her family to McAllen, Texas — near the Rio Grande — in 1989. She majored in theater studies at Boston University. El Nogalar traces its roots to Chekhov, whom Saracho named as one of the few writers she identified with while in college.

“I’ve always talked about at cocktail parties and to anyone who would listen – ‘You know, Chekhov is basically Latino.’ In college, he was the most Latino playwright I came across, which is a bad thing — that I didn’t get exposed to Latino playwrights in college, because I was just identifying with any old Russian,” says Saracho. “The women, I identified [with them]. They resonated. They seemed familiar. They seemed Latin American. They’re full, rich, passionate, confident, flawed, complicated and they’re highly emotional. Highly flawed but really deep.”

El Nogalar tells the story of the Galvan family in northern Mexico, who have come home to claim their pecan orchard (“el nogalar”) after 15 years. Maite, the family’s matriarch, and her daughters return after squandering the family’s savings only to find the orchard overgrown, only two servants, and the land taken over by local drug cartels.

Laurie Woolery

Director Laurie Woolery, who is also associate artistic director of Cornerstone Theater,  speaks up. “How easy the land can be taken from people in Mexico and Central America is really, for me, what resonated because I know my tia and mother as immigrants – when they came her to the United States – it was all about [buying] land. Buy land. Own land here. Because in Mexico [and] Central America, it can be taken away from you. Even if you own it, it can be taken away. For me, what resonated about this piece is investment in the land, in the earth, where you plan yourself, where your family can grow up out of.”

The play also has present-day implications, especially in light of current conditions in Mexico and the large Latino population in Southern California. According to Saracho, characters like Dunia, the female servant desperately trying to help the Galvan women, represent people currently surviving in Mexico.

But the play as a whole makes a political statement, she adds. “It is always a political act to put brown bodies on stage. And we don’t think about it because we [Latino playwrights] are used to putting brown bodies on stage. I’m so excited that we’re putting five brown bodies on the stage.”

“I’m going to call the Fountain a mainstream theater because it’s not a Latino space or a [African-American] space,” Saracho says. “To have us here, I feel like it’s representing more than just these people. It’s representing a community, obviously not speaking for, but to have those actors. And Latina females – Latina director, Latina writer, a Latina stage manager. There’s something political about that, without seeing the play, but because of that I think it’s important.”

The all-Latino cast consists of Sabina Suniga Varela (Dunia), Yetta Gottesman (Maite Galvan), Isabelle Ortega (Valeria Galvan), Diana Romo (Anita Galvan), and Justin Huen (Lopez) with Frederica Nascimento designing sets and Lonnie Rafael Alcarez designing lighting.

Diana Romo, Yeyya Gottesman, Isabelle Ortega

“I think our Latino community here in Los Angeles is really diverse,” says Woolery, “and one thing that I really applaud the Fountain for is wanting to expand the diversity of their season by putting El Nogalarin. I’m excited for the Fountain audience to be able to experience something different. Even within that Latino cast there’s diversity in it. I know that the play is very specifically placed in Mexico, but I love that the casting was inclusive and I’m just hopeful that people are going to come out and see it and support it. I think it’s an incredibly beautiful play.”

Woolery adds that “what’s exciting about playwriting specifically right now is the new voices that are coming out. I mean, who would have ever thought wrestling would make it onto the stages of the theater world [in Kristoffer Diaz’sThe Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity] and be up for one of the top prizes in the country? And I think that gives me great hope for theater in general because so much of what you hear [is] it’s such a struggle to keep a theater open and running and people coming because movie tickets are $15. So, you’ll spend that but will you spend $15 on a play?…How do we encourage people to keep coming back and having that experience?”

Yetta Gottesman

In LA, more than in many cities, notes Woolery, “Geography is a challenge, because “for us to go out and support each other’s work…sometimes just getting across town will take an hour. But I think there is a spirit of people wanting Latino theater to be successful. So, I’m hoping not the just the regular Latino audience but others who don’t necessarily feel that theater is for them will come and see El Nogalar and that there’s an accessibility for audiences to be able to come and feel like their story’s on stage. That there is a place for them in the theater world, that their stories can exist and have value.”

Saracho points out the growing struggle between the theater experience and the virtual experience.

“We just don’t sit and witness and experience the full experience [outside theaters],” she says.  “The person coughing – that is part of the experience. The person unwrapping the [wrapper], the actor that kind of flubbed a line. All that is live theater. [Film] is so perfect for you on the screens. It’s all cut up for you – cut, paste, and done for you, all the thinking. But in this, you’re going to see some cellulite, you’re going see some split ends. Do you know what I mean? It’s real people up there.”

El Nogalar Jan 28 – March 11 (323) 663-1525  More Info

Stephanie Jones writes for LA Stage Times.

Production Photos: the West Coast Premiere of “El Nogalar” at the Fountain Opens Sat JAN 28!

Sabina Zuniga Varela as Dunia

Isabelle Ortega, Diana Romo, Yetta Gottesman

Justin Huen as Lopez

Diana Romo as Anita

Diana Romo, Yetta Gottesman, Isabelle Ortega

Yetta Gottesman as Maite

Sabina Zuniga Varela, Justin Huen

Justin Huen, Sabina Zuniga Varela,

El Nogalar Jan 28 – March 11 (323) 663-1525  More Info