Tag Archives: Tennessee Williams

Fountain serves the heart of its mission with ongoing ‘Pay What You Can’ performances

MON Aug 22 PWYC 3Sometimes, on some nights, the value of what we do — and why we do it — manifests itself in a clear and affirming way. Last night, happening simultaneously in two sections of town, was one of those evenings. 

Town Hall

Town hall meeting at LATC

Last night at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown LA, hundreds of members of the LA theatre community held a town hall meeting to discuss the damaging (and, according to lawsuits filed, potentially illegal) plan by Actors Equity Association to eliminate the 99-Seat Plan, a blow that would cripple dozens of intimate theatres in Los Angeles and could cause several to close.  

Meanwhile, at the very same moment on Fountain Avenue, a full house of theatre-goers were enjoying a performance of our acclaimed west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. And, like every Monday night at the Fountain Theatre, the public ticket price was Pay What You Can.

Our ongoing Pay What You Can performances on Monday nights have blossomed into a popular LA theatre institution. Every Monday night at the Fountain, patrons choose to pay whatever they can afford. And because it is typically the night off for theatre folk, Monday nights at the Fountain provide many actors in LA with the opportunity to see a performance they wouldn’t normally be available to attend — and see it at whatever price they choose.

“It’s all about being of service,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We instituted Monday night performances as Pay What You Can shows months ago and it’s really caught on. Not only does it keep theatre affordable and accessible for all, it creates community.”

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“It’s insane when you think about it,” he continued.”Creating non-profit theatre in an intimate venue with only 78 seats is a money-losing venture anyway. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘not-for-profit’ theatre. And to be offering valuable tickets every week on Monday nights on a Pay What You Can basis? It makes no sense. Can you imagine walking into Best Buy every Monday night and buying a new laptop by paying whatever you can? Or a new dishwasher at Sears and pay only what you can afford?”  

“Look, there’s nothing wrong with being financially sound and responsible,”says Sachs. “But as a charitable non-profit organization, the core reason for our existence, the very heart of our purpose,  is not about making money. We are here to create art and to be of service to the community and enhance the lives of the people of Los Angeles.”      

Last night in two sections of town, the fundamental philosophical difference between what Actors Equity wants to take away versus the public service LA intimate theatre provides to audiences and artists was on display. One was being debated. The other was actually happening. 

The Fountain Theatre will forge ahead with its mission to create theatre of the highest quality possible, to engage diverse artists and audiences in the meaningful and life-enhancing shared experience of intimate theatre,  and make it accessible and affordable to as many as we can.

It’s what we do. And why.     

 

NEW VIDEO! Rave Reviews for ‘Baby Doll’ at Fountain Theatre

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Owner of famous ‘Baby Doll’ house enjoys play and company at Fountain Theatre

BABY DOLL owner group

Eustace Winn IV surrounded by Baby Doll cast

Last night was a magical evening of Southern hospitality right here in the heart of Hollywood. The Fountain Theatre and the company of Baby Doll had the pleasure of welcoming Eustace Winn IV, proprietor of the actual Baby Doll House in Benoit, Mississippi, into our home. Mr. Winn was thrilled watching our west coast premiere and enjoyed meeting the cast and sipping mint juleps with the company in our upstairs cafe after the sold out performance.

Eustace Winn is the current owner of the historic Burrus House, a stately Greek Revival style plantation home which began being built by his family in 1858. The family moved into the house in 1861, shortly before the Civil War. The house served as a hospital during the conflict. There are stories that John Wilkes Booth spent ten days in the Burrus House after shooting President Lincoln in 1865. In 1928, the last remaining Burrus family member who lived there passed away, and the house entered into decades of decline, decay, and vandalism.

Baby Doll house movie

“Baby Doll” movie (1956)

Nearly 100 years later in 1955, film location scouts were asked to find a suitable “decadent and dilapidated southern mansion” for Elia Kazan’s new movie version of the Tennessee Williams play, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. When they discovered the worn down Burrus House in Benoit, Mississippi, they knew they found what they were looking for. The film was Baby Doll, starring Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach and Karl Malden. The movie was later nominated for four Academy Awards and the Burrus House became a tourist destination.

In 2005, one of the Burrus heirs, the late Dr. E. H. Winn Jr., of Greenville, established the Burrus Foundation and the house was fully restored to its former splendor. It is magnificent to see today. 

Baby Doll house

The Burrus House

BABY DOLL Eustace Winn

Eustace Winn

Eustace Winn enjoyed a marvelous evening last night at the Fountain seeing our acclaimed production of the stage adaptation of Baby Doll and socializing with the company. Mint juleps were savored and Mr. Winn passed around a hardbound copy of the script, which he had signed by actors Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, and John Prosky.  

There will forever be a connection between the Burrus House and Hollywood. A new chapter in that Hollywood story continued last night at the Fountain, and will be remembered by all.   

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Students from Michigan State University enjoy ‘Baby Doll’ performance and Q&A

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Michigan State students with cast on ‘Baby Doll’ set.

by James Bennett

Monday night, we were granted the opportunity to host teacher Mark Colson and his fabulous group of intrepid theatre students from Michigan State University, who after a breathtaking performance of our critically acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll engaged in an inquisitive, inspiring, and heartfelt talkback with our amazing cast and director Simon Levy. 

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Director Simon Levy fielded a very good question: What’s the audition process like? Did you know we had over 600 submissions for the titular role of Baby Doll?

Actor John Prosky spoke about his artistic journey in manifesting the unchained, violent, and maddened Archie Lee, a character so far from his natural state he didn’t think he’d ever get the part. But when he came into the room to audition with Lindsay LaVanchy, something magic happened which brought the character to life.

The incredible Lindsay LaVanchy talked about her process of finding Baby Doll inside her. She spoke about how she had to open herself to being childlike, a quest she had undertaken many years ago but was unable to complete until preparing for this role. A typically reserved and precise woman, it took the innocence of Baby Doll to “crack her open”.

It is one of our greatest pleasures to share with and mentor the next generation of great theatre artists. What an incredible night!

This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making theatre accessible to students and young people. 

Steamy ‘Baby Doll’ opens to sold out houses and rave reviews at Fountain Theatre

BABY DOLL Lullaby

Lindsay LaVanchy and Daniel Bess in ‘Baby Doll’ (photo by Ed Krieger)

We knew the summer was going to get hot but we never imagined it would sizzle so quickly.

Our West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll opened this weekend to sold out houses, wild audience response and rave reviews. The Los Angeles Times highlighted Baby Doll as its Weekend Pick,  On Stage Los Angeles hailed the sensual production as “A must see”, StageSceneLA exclaimed “Wow! Pitch-perfect major summer entertainment”and Theatre Notes declared “Don’t miss this production!”

Friday’s sold out opening night was attended by the press, Fountain friends and supporters, members of the Board of Directors and invited Fountain VIP Donors who enjoyed the catered reception with the actors upstairs in our cafe following the performance.

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Everyone had a marvelous time and cheered the stunning performances and beautiful production.        

In this sexy dark comedy, Archie Lee has been married to a seductive young woman/child, called only by the endearment of Baby Doll, for some time, but by agreement with the girl’s now-dead father, the marriage can only be consummated on her 20th birthday, now just days away. The manager of a successful plantation nearby, handsome Silva Vacarro, swaggers in, suspecting that Archie Lee is the arsonist who destroyed his cotton gin the night before. Once Silva sets his eyes on Baby Doll, things get steamy and complicated.

Adapted for the stage by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann from the screenplay by Tennessee Williams of the controversial 1956 movie, our Fountain west coast premiere is directed by Simon Levy and stars Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland.

Advance tickets sales to Baby Doll are going fast. Make your reservation now.     

Emily Mann explores passion and race in ‘Baby Doll’ adaptation at Fountain Theatre

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Daniel Bess and Lindsay LaVanchy in ‘Baby Doll” at Fountain Theatre (photo by Ed Krieger)

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.

Emily Mann_Fountain Theater Headshot

Emily Mann

“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.)

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Lindsay LaVanchy as Baby Doll at the Fountain Theatre

“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.

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NEW VIDEO: Actress Karen Kondazian compares ‘Baby Doll’ to other plays by Tennessee Williams

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