Tag Archives: Stephen Adly Guirgis

Martyna Majok shares with Fountain audience how she almost missed phone call of Pulitzer win

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Martyna Majok and “Cost of Living” cast

Playwright Martyna Majok almost missed receiving the call from her agent on winning the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play, Cost of Living. She was supposed to be serving jury duty that day.  Instead, she had postponed it.  She was, therefore, home in her New York apartment to receive the call that would change her career forever.

Sharing the story with our Fountain Theatre audience in a post-show Q&A discussion Saturday night, Martyna explained that her husband, actor Josiah Bania, had the day off work that day. They were planning on doing their taxes. He was taking a nap on the couch when Martyna’s phone rang around three o’clock. Her agent was on the phone screaming, “You won the Pulitzer!” Her reaction? She was furious. “How dare you!” she yelled back. “You know how much this means to me. This is not funny!” For nine minutes on the phone, Martyna’s agent tried to convince her. But she would have none it. It wasn’t until the texts began flooding in from friends — including one from her playwright pal Stephen Adly Guirgis — that she accepted that her wish had come true.

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Since that fateful phone call, her life has spun into a whirlwind of national attention. Yet the work remains the same. The Fountain Theatre is proud to be producing the West Coast Premiere of her funny and beautiful play, and we’re pleased to now call her our friend and a member of our Fountain Family.

Cost of Living is earning rave reviews in a limited run to Dec 16th. More Info/Get Tickets

‘In The Red and Brown Water’ Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney Wins $150,000 Award Prize

Tarell Alvin McCraney

Tarell Alvin McCraney

Playwright of Acclaimed 2012 Fountain Production Wins Windham Campbell Award

What’s it like getting a phone call telling you you’ve won $150,000? Ask playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer of In The Red And Brown Water produced last year by the Fountain Theatre

Tarell joins two other two playwrights — Stephen Adly Guirgis and Naomi Wallace — and six fiction writers as inaugural recipients of the first-ever Donald Windham Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes, English-language awards that call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.

“It is an extraordinary blessing to be named an inaugural recipient of the Windham Campbell Prize at Yale”, says Tarell. “An added honor to do so alongside such incredible artists whom I admire greatly.”  

Prizewinners receive an unrestricted grant of $150,000. 

When the phone rang last March at his hotel room in New York, McCraney was $175,000 in debt. He was casting for his new play Choir Boy for the Manhattan Theatre Club. It took him a while to fully understand the nature of the news. When the information of the award registered, McCraney put down the phone and cried.

The Windham Campbell Prize cites:

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s working class characters inhabit an extraordinary mythic universe, speaking a poetic language through which we grasp the spiritual stature of embattled people.

"In the Red and Brown Water", Fountain Theatre (2012)

“In the Red and Brown Water”, Fountain Theatre (2012)

Playwrights never expect such financial rewards. They just hope their works are produced on stage somewhere. Their main goal is to make a living being a writer and most — even the names of playwrights we all know and admire — have to supplement their income by teaching or some other gig to pay the bills.

So, what’s Tarell going to do with the money? 

“Who knows what I’ll do with it,” says McCraney, 32. “Hopefully l’ll just look at it in my checking account for about a few months before I decide to do anything with it.”

 McCraney goes to Atlanta to see a production of Choir Boy at the Alliance Theatre, then off to London at the end of the month to start rehearsals for his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra which he is also directing. That production will also play Miami at the end of the year and begin performances at the Public Theater in New York in February.

The Fountain Theatre introduced Los Angeles audiences to McCraney’s work with the award-winning 2012 LA Premiere of In The Red And Brown Water. The Fountain is now in discussion about producing Choir Boy in our coming season.

Diarra Kilpatrick is a natural as a force of nature

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Diarra Kilpatrick

The actress has been called ‘superb’ in her role in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s ‘In the Red and Brown Water,’ a play that exists in two conceptual dimensions.

by Reed Johnson

Before Diarra Kilpatrick was cast in August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” at age 12, she already knew what she wanted to do with her life: anything but acting.

So when her hometown Detroit newspaper interviewed her about the production at a suburban theater, Kilpatrick told the reporter she wanted to be a lawyer or maybe the president of a public relations firm. But definitely not “a struggling actor,” she said.

Recounting that anecdote recently at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, where she’s playing the lead role in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s mytho-poetic drama “In the Red and Brown Water,” Kilpatrick laughed at the memory of her precocious pre-adolescent self.

Because by the time the article went to press, Kilpatrick knew what she absolutely had to do with her life: Be an actor.

“It was the quality of the actors that I got a chance to work with and see them up close,” she said, explaining her overnight career conversion during “The Piano Lesson.” “And the production, the material — it was August Wilson.”

Startling transformations are the stuff of theatrical magic, and they’re central to McCraney’s play, which opened at the Fountain in October and has been extended through Feb. 24. “In the Red and Brown Water” is the first of McCraney’s trilogy “The Brother/Sister Plays,” produced off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 2009.

Set during the “distant present” at a mythical housing project in a make-believe Louisiana bayou town, “In the Red and Brown Water” exists simultaneously in two conceptual dimensions.

There’s the 21st century world of Oya (Kilpatrick), a high school track star torn between her college ambitions and the need to care for her ailing Mama Mojo (Peggy A. Blow) and between her affection for the stammering, sweetly devoted Ogun (Dorian Christian Baucum) and the dangerous erotic heat she feels whenever Shango (Gilbert Glenn Brown) comes around her door.

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”

But in another dimension — parallel, yet inseparable — the play is a spiritual struggle that draws on the stories, cosmologies and archetypal gods of the Yoruba people of West Africa, whose legends were transported by slaves to the New World. Virtually all of the play’s 10 characters are named for traditional Yoruba orishas, or spirits: Elegba, the shape-shifting trickster; Shango, god of fire and lightning; Ogun, the deity of iron-working and war.

And Oya, goddess of the Niger River, wind, storms and, as Kilpatrick puts it, “revolutionary transformation.”

“It’s not like ‘Let’s redecorate the house,’ it’s like ‘Let’s tear this [stuff] down! Let’s knock the walls out!'” Kilpatrick explained. “So when Oya comes into your life, people fear her because it means your life is about to change.”

For Kilpatrick, the task was to simultaneously, plausibly portray Oya as a contemporary young woman as well as a force of nature. “This is a girl who listens to Nicki Minaj and Rihanna,” Kilpatrick said. “This is the texture of right now. But yeah, we also carry in our DNA these stories from hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”

In his review, Times theater critic Charles McNulty praised the Fountain’s production, directed by Shirley Jo Finney, as “sensational” and Kilpatrick as “superb.”

Growing up in Detroit, Kilpatrick was taken regularly by her mother to plays, art exhibitions and other cultural events. “Let me just say, if there was a play that was done in Detroit I probably saw it, particularly if it was a black play, and let’s say 95% of them are black plays in Detroit.”

Between ages 12 and 16, Kilpatrick took part in Detroit’s Mosaic Youth Theatre, one of the country’s most accomplished youth theater programs. She also acted at her private college prep school, Detroit Country Day, before moving to the theater program at New York University, where she performed in plays like Suzan-Lori Parks’ “In the Blood” and Stephen Adly Guirgis,’ “Our Lady of 121st Street.”

“I was one of the only black girls who had made it that far who could cuss and make it sound real,” Kilpatrick said, laughing. NYU instructors strongly encouraged her to lose the vestigial Southern accent she’d picked up from her South Carolina-migrant forebears.

Given the realities of casting for African American actors, Kilpatrick said, it’s important to be able to switch accents and speech styles depending on the role. “You don’t want the private school to eat up all the richness of … your flavor. Because no matter what that flavor is, that’s going to be your calling card at the end of the day.”

Kilpatrick came to Los Angeles in 2007. She has appeared in the Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble’s version of “Three Sisters,” set in Trinidad, and a half-black, half-Mexican transgender male in the Bootleg Theater’s production of Gary Lennon’s “The Interlopers” last year, among other roles.

But getting to play a role like Oya “is a blessing,” especially with this cast and “Shirley Jo at the helm,” she said.

“There aren’t parts like this for black women very often. It’s like Hamlet, it’s like King Lear, it’s Medea. It’s an opportunity to really go in there.”

In the Red and Brown Water  Extended to Feb 24  (323) 663-1525 More

Casting: Does Race and Ethnicity Matter?

“Do Better or Step Down” – Stephen Adly Guirgis, playwright

Stephen Adly Guirgis

Should a white actor play a Latino role?

The question is immediate for the Fountain. Rehearsals for our next production — opening next month in January —  are underway.  The play, set in Mexico, is the West Coast Premiere of  El Nogalar by Latina playwright Tanya Saracho. The characters in the play are all Mexican. Our cast of five actors are Latina/Hispanic/Latino.  We would cast it no other way.

The cast of "El Nogalar".

At the Fountain, reflecting cultural diversity on our stage is at the heart of our artistic mission.  We believe that the culture from which any play is drawn is core to the story it is telling and the characters that inhabit that story.

We are who we are. And we are where we come from. Our racial/ethnic/cultural/tribal/spiritual/religious DNA is core to influencing who we are and helps dictate the stories we tell. For the Fountain, our allegiance is to the truth of the voice of the playwright.

This issue has resurfaced  because playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis recently spoke out against the casting of two white actors as the Puerto Rican lead characters in a professional production of his Tony-nominated play The Motherfucker With the Hat at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT. The Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors complained to the theater, TheaterWorks, noting that the production had casting calls in New York City, a training ground for many Hispanic actors, and yet still cast two Caucasians.

Guirgis, who discussed his concerns with the play’s director, Tazewell Thompson, and executives at TheaterWorks for weeks, said in an interview that he decided to make his concerns public because the TheaterWorks executives “are in a position of accountability and yet refuse to take responsibility for mistakes in the casting.” The production has ended, but Mr. Guirgis decided it was still worth speaking up because he hoped other theaters would make the effort to cast Hispanic actors, when available, in the two lead roles.

“I know there are parts of the country where it’s harder to find a lot of Latino actors,” Mr. Guirgis said. “But this play was cast in New York City and in Hartford, and you can’t tell me that there weren’t qualified Latino actors to play characters who are Puerto Rican.”

In Hartford, Connecticut, the mayor is Puerto Rican. Continue reading