Tag Archives: West Coast Premiere

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

Take a look at the scenic design for our West Coast Premiere of ‘Cost of Living’

Get a sneak peek at the set design for our West Coast Premiere of the Pulitzer Prize winning Cost of Living by Martyna Majok. The scenic design by Tom Buderwitz includes sliding walls that reveal a bathtub and a shower, plus video panels to evoke time and place.

Achingly human. Surprisingly funny. Cost of Living is a haunting, compelling play about the forces that bring people together and the realities of facing the world with physical disabilities. Opens October 20.

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Fountain Theatre awarded grant for Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Cost of Living’ by Martyna Majok

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Katy Sullivan, Victor William in “Cost of Living”, Manhattan Theatre Club, 2017.  

The National Arts and Disability Center has awarded The Fountain an Arts and Accessibility Grant to support its upcoming West Coast Premiere of Martyna Majok‘s 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cost of Living. The grant will assist in funding the compensation of two actors with disabilities for the production opening October 20th.

“We are grateful to the NADC and the California Arts Council for their support of this important project,” states Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We are proud to produce this Pulitzer Prize winning new play which features two leading roles for actors with disabilities.  It is another example of the Fountain Theatre’s mission of inclusion and our commitment to serving a wide variety of communities in Los Angeles.”

Achingly human and surprisingly funny, Cost of Living is a haunting, rigorously unsentimental play about the forces that bring people together and the realities of facing the world with physical disabilities. Unemployed truck driver Eddie is struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged wife Ani, recently wheelchair-bound with a spinal cord injury. Jess, in a job that she desperately needs, is trying to navigate her duties with John, her new boss with cerebral palsy. But, who is really caring for whom? By shattering stereotypes, the play reveals how deeply we all need each other.

Cost of Living debuted at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2017. The Fountain west coast premiere, directed by John Vreeke, will run October 20 to December 16th.  Casting is now underway.

This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Arts and Disability Center at the University of California Los Angeles.

More Info/Get Tickets

Students share their feelings on the power and intimacy of ‘Baby Doll’

alan-goodson-students-baby-doll-2Reaching out to students and making theatre available to young people is vitally important to the Fountain Theatre. And we love it when students reach back. Such was the case on October 24th when the Fountain hosted teacher Alan Goodson and his students from Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising to a performance of our sizzling West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll.

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Alan Goodson

Goodson, also an actor who has appeared on our Fountain stage, led his college students in a post-show discussion with the professional actors following the Baby Doll performance. The students asked questions of cast members, discussed the issues raised in the play and shared thoughts and feelings about the theatre-going experience itself. For some, it was their first time seeing a live professional production of a play.  

The students then returned to the classroom and wrote papers outlining their insights and describing how the play and production impacted them emotionally, intellectually and artistically.

The Fountain recently received a sampling of their comments:   

“Arguably the most powerful moment of the play comes at the very end. Baby Doll and Aunt Comfort sit outside the house after Archie Lee and Silva have been arrested. Silva has said he will come back for Baby Doll, but her future is uncertain at best….Although it is at the very end of the play, this moment, so beautifully directed by Levy, is when the message of the Fountain Theatre’s performance of Baby Doll comes through loud and clear: sexism in 1950’s America was rampant, and the patriarchal mindset of the culture and characters ultimately led to their crippling stagnancy. The Fountain Theatre’s production of Baby Doll is like a fine wine – it gets better with time. You leave the theatre with the assurance that you have just seen an incredible play put on by a talented group; however, the true meaning of the play seeps through more and more the longer you stew on it.”

This student was drawn into the play by the intimacy of the theatre:  

“The play environment was intriguing. I have never been to a production that was so intimate. The theatre itself was very small, the seats were close together, and the stage was right in front of your eyes. I felt the audience was in this play experience together. The actors were so close I could see every detail in their faces. They made eye contact with us and were able to engage us in the storyline. I was intrigued by the fact that I could examine every small detail about the costumes and the set. Being so close to the actors and the set is very different from going to a big theatre where you can barely see their facial expressions or the set theme.”

For this student, overcoming doubts about seeing the play led to a meaningful experience in the theatre: 

“Before seeing Baby Doll at the Fountain Theatre, I was a bit skeptical if I would enjoy the play after reading the synopsis. But I was pleasantly surprised. The actors portrayed their roles remarkably, showing every emotion and movement as if they were really living in the play….the way the cast fed off of one another made it that much more enjoyable….While there was much controversy surrounding the movie when it first came out, I think Tennessee Williams created a phenomenal and important script. The women empowerment and sexuality themes not only made the play witty and comical, but also made the audience think about how life was once like for women of that time. Baby Doll may have started out in the cinema, but it was meant for the theatre. It is a superb play that is brought to life by extremely talented actors.”

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In the post-show Q&A with the cast, perhaps the most important question was asked by a blushing young female student when our handsome, beefy leading man, Daniel Bess, met the group: 

Question: “How many times a week do you work out?”

Answer: “Three.”

See? A life in the theatre can be enhancing in so many ways …

Young people today are the theatre audiences — and theatre makers — of tomorrow. The Fountain maintains its ongoing dedication to staying connected to young audiences and broadening its reach to high school and college students regionwide. With school budgets being cut for arts education everywhere, the Fountain offers an important role in arts learning.  

This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making the life-enhancing experience of live theatre accessible to young people and students throughout Southern California.  

More Info on Theatre as a Learning Tool 

Invited guests enjoy exclusive VIP performance of “Baby Doll” at the Fountain Theatre

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Dick Motika, Caron Gonzales, Jerrie Whitfield, Edward Gonzales

Sometimes, when you have something special, you just want to share it. That was the feeling last night, when Fountain Board members Dick Motika, Jerrie Whitfield, Dorothy Wolpert and her husband, Stanley Wolpert, invited their friends and colleagues to a special-added private performance of Baby Doll at the Fountain. The VIP guests enjoyed their own exclusive performance and then chatted with the company in a catered reception upstairs in our charming cafe.

It was a relaxed evening of nice food, good wine, stimulating conversation and a riveting production of a steamy, powerful play. The invited guests relished meeting the actors after the performance. Many gathered outside on the balcony to savor the Hollywood night air.

In attendance were Adam Mortanian, Ashley Bowman, Audrey Stein, Bonnie and Arthur Nijst, Brian Getnick, Cala Bowdra, Dale and Don Franzen, Dan Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Ed and Caron Gonzales, Gary and Rebecca Drucker, James Benge, Jane and Howard Matz, Jessica and Demetrius Martinez, Kathy and Jack Smith, Krista and Ron Sanders, Lisa Nevins and Kent Caldwell-Meek, Mark and Leah Drooks, Natalie Bergeson, Paul Moskowitz, Ruth and Bonnie and Stuart Wolpert, Ryan and Margaret Cutrona, Sheri Leiwand, Shoshana Bannett, Steve Thomas, Thelma and Elliot Samulon. 

Our heartfelt thanks to Dick, Jerrie, Dorothy and Stanley for hosting this very special evening.

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Baby Doll is now extended to Oct 30th. MORE INFO/GET TICKETS    

Finding actor John Prosky was worth the search for ‘Baby Doll’ at Fountain Theatre

 

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John Prosky and Lindsay LaVanchy in ‘Baby Doll’ 

When director Simon Levy was casting our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll back in April, finding the right actor to play Archie Lee Meighan was a challenge. Levy sifted through hundreds of submissions and auditioned dozens of actors yet he struggled to spot what he was looking for. He needed an actor who could authentically evoke the crude, raw good ol’ boy Southern brutality of the cotton gin owner yet also reveal the character’s fear and vulnerability. Finding that actor seemed impossible. 

Then, one afternoon, actor Daniel Bess, already cast in the play, made a suggestion. Did Simon know John Prosky? Daniel’s friend and fellow-member at Antaeus Theatre Company? A meeting was scheduled. And from the first moment that Prosky began his audition it was clear to Levy and everyone present that the hunt for Archie Lee Meighan was over.

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John Prosky

“I’m strangely drawn to Archie’s desperation,” Prosky now says. “It’s not always easy or fun to play but I get that part of Archie Lee on a visceral level.  I’m certainly no racist, or a cuckold nor am I married to a 20 year old  — although my wife does look so much younger than me that it is sometimes assumed.  But Archie’s place on “the edge” is something I commune with at this point in my life.  Not completely sure why but I sometimes feel like I’m going to loose everything.  Maybe it’s just because I have so much to lose.”

Prosky indeed has many blessings. He is married and a father. His son just started 8th grade.  In addition to a busy acting career, he teaches. Like Archie Lee in Baby Doll, he sometimes worries that what he values most might all be taken from him. “I sometimes have this fear that I will fuck it all up or it will all somehow slide into oblivion,” he admits. “The good actor’s first job is to bring himself to the work and that part of Archie Lee I get.”

Not every aspect of Archie Lee came easy. 

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“His physical abuse of Baby Doll I find a stretch for me” he concedes. “And the shotgun. I hate guns.  I am always using a gun in something I’m acting in but this is my first shotgun.  And a shotgun in the hands of a white male in Mississippi in the 1950s should look as comfortable as an iphone in the hands of a hipster today. So that took some work.”

The Fountain Theatre production — and Prosky’s performance — has earned widespread critical acclaim. But it’s the audience response that pleases him most.

“It’s the reason theater is my first love,” he says. “That immediate communication of actor as storyteller is the whole point of theater and so much more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done on film or TV. “

And his first-time experience working at the Fountain Theatre? 

“The Fountain and this production have made me feel respected, welcomed, supported, challenged and fulfilled.  Very few theaters can do all that.”

Baby Doll has been extended to October 30.  More Info/Get Tickets   

‘Baby Doll’ reveals how far we’ve come and how little has changed

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John Prosky as Archie Lee in ‘Baby Doll’.

by Stephen Sachs

When the movie Baby Doll was released in 1956, it was the film’s sexuality that drew all the attention.

Time magazine called it “possibly the dirtiest American picture ever legally exhibited,” and the film was condemned for lewdness by the Legion of Decency.

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Cardinal Spellman

The week before Christmas, Cardinal Francis Spellman, New York’s rigid archbishop at the time, pronounced from the pulpit. “Dearly beloved in Christ, I have a statement to make. I am anguished to learn of a motion picture that has been responsibly judged to be evil in concept and which is certain to exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it. The revolting theme of this picture, Baby Doll, and the brazen advertising promoting it constitute a contemptuous defiance of the natural law.” Essentially, he admonished, it was a sin for any Catholic to see the film.

Today, mainstream movies depict sexuality in ways that make Baby Doll look quaint. But in 1956, when the red-hot charge of “un-Americanism” was being branded on anyone or any idea deemed remotely threatening, Baby Doll was more than a movie. To many, it was a threat.

For me, the deeper, more insidious threat dramatized in Baby Doll is not about sex. Yes, Baby Doll is sexy and steamy and seductive.  Yet more than that, Baby Doll is sadly relevant to the systemic racism and anti-immigration paranoia still seething in our nation today.

It’s easy to now snicker at Spellman’s condemnation that Baby Doll was “immoral” and “evil” in 1956.  But that same righteous judgement of sex and morality is echoed in the right-wing ideology of Christian Conservatives today. Throughout sections of our country, views of sex have not changed much since 1956. Neither have opinions on race or immigration.  Turn on Fox News and witness the rise of the dangerous, white supremacist, anti-immigrant views of the Alt-Right.

In Baby Doll, Archie Lee is a Southern white male, a middle-aged, cotton gin owner whose business is failing. He is financially drowning, struggling to stay afloat. Archie Lee is a traditionalist, set in Old Southern Ways , baffled and overwhelmed by the shattering realization that what has made his family and his land flourish for generations is now no longer working. His once-stately mansion and plantation is, literally, falling apart around him. Decomposing. He is afraid. And he is angry.

Today, Archie Lee would be a Donald Trump supporter.

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John Prosky (Archie Lee) and Daniel Bess (Silva) in ‘Baby Doll’.

Enter Silva Vacarro.  The Italian who now runs the cotton gin across the way. Silva Vacarro is an immigrant.

In Tennesee Williams’ early years, there was a significant immigrant population in the Delta—notably Syrians, Chinese, and Italians. Italian farmers first came to America through the port of New Orleans and worked in cotton and sugar cane fields. Many suffered from the same system of discrimination that kept African Americans in poverty long after slavery was abolished. From the south of Italy, Sicilians immigrated to the Delta, settling in towns where they established new businesses of their own, in competition with local farmers. These hardworking people inspired multiple characters in Williams’ plays, including Silva Vacarro in Baby Doll.

To the white male Archie Lee, Silva Vacarro is the immigrant outsider who has come to this country to steal what Archie Lee has worked so hard all his life to preserve. The immigrant is the invader, hellbent to corrupt Archie Lee’s American Dream into a nightmare. The immigrant is the problem. Sound familiar? Listen to the anti-immigrant ranting at any Donald Trump rally. Illegal aliens are vilified as murderers, drug dealers and rapists.

In Baby Doll, the dark immigrant is also a sexual threat.  Silva Vacarro targets Archie Lee’s young bride, Baby Doll, who has refused to consummate her marriage to her husband until she turns twenty in two days. This, of course, dramatizes the classic fear of the bigoted white male in America: the dark man stealing his woman. In Baby Doll, the dark man seducing the blonde virgin white girl is every racist white man’s nightmare come true.

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Lindsay LaVanchy and John Prosky

But Archie Lee has recourse. He has “friends” who know how to take care of dirty outsiders like Silva.

I! Got position! Yeah, yeah, I got position! Here in this county! Where I was bo’n an’ brought up! I hold a respected position, lifelong! –member of the— Yes sir, on my side‘re friends, longstandin’ bus’ness associates, an’ social! See what I mean? You ain’t got that advantage, have you, mister? Huh, mister? Ain’t you a dago, or something? Excuse me, I mean Eyetalian or something, here in Tiger Tail County?

Archie Lee’s “friends” who know how to take care of people like Silva is an obvious reference to the Klu Klux Klan.

Silva aligns himself with black workers and asserts his right to work and succeed as an immigrant in this country. He’s here to stay. He’s not going anywhere.

I’m a dark man and a Catholic in a county of Protestant blondes —disliked, distrusted, despised. You call me ‘dago’ and ‘wop’ like you call your workers ‘nigger,’ because of a difference in blood. But I came here with a purpose. You can’t freeze me out or burn me out. I’ll do what I came to do.

No one in Baby Doll — not even the well-seeming Silva — is wholly good. Each, in their own way, are manipulative, vindictive, selfish, in some cases mean. But none of are purely evil either. They are complex human characters struggling in a drama of social, sexual, and cultural politics taking place in a specific state in our country in a specific time in our history.

But racism and anti-immigration phobia in this country are timeless. Deeply planted and tilled into the soil of our nation’s history. They are the worms and repellent insects in our national garden that survive in the dark fetid soil under rocks.  Always there, hiding in plain sight, just below the surface. Plays like Baby Doll — and the terrifying propaganda of the current election campaign — turn the rock over and expose the distasteful vermin underneath — and, because we are all citizens of this country, remind us that they are ourselves.

When Baby Doll builds to its explosive conclusion, with the defeated Archie Lee hollering in anguish and being carted off to jail, it seems to be Williams’ intent to demonstrate that the era of Archie Lee is, if not over, at least changing. One of the last lines he says to the Sheriff as he is hauled away, is “I’m a white man. You can’t do this to me!”

Today, sixty years later, as the ethnic and cultural complexion of our country’s population continues to evolve into more widespread diversity, I want to hope that our tolerance will evolve with it. We shall see.

I was first eager to produce the west coast premiere of this new stage adaptation of Baby Doll — the first approved by the Williams Estate — because it offered the rare opportunity to present a “new” Tennessee Williams play never seen by our audiences.

I knew it would be sensual and poetic. I was surprised by how timely and relevant it would be.

Stephen Sachs is the co-founding Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

Baby Doll has been extended to Oct 30th.