“We Can’t Remain Silent” – Interview with Stephen Sachs

A conversation with The Fountain Theatre’s Stephen Sachs

Since starting The Fountain Theatre in 1990, Debra Lawlor and Stephen Sachs have put on new plays that challenge perceptions. Los Angeles’ Fountain is also a founding member of the National New Play Network (NNPN), a network of theatres around the country committed to the development of new plays. As part of NNPN’s rolling world-premieres program, they are the first of five theatres to produce, Building the Wall, written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan.

The play is set in 2019, when President Trump has built the southern border  wall and the rounding-up and detention of millions of immigrants is in full swing. The play follows a  writer interviewing the supervisor of a private prison as the supervisor awaits sentencing for carrying out the federal policy that has escalated to extreme levels. During the Fountain’s rehearsals the co-artistic director, Stephen Sachs, took time to sit down with me to talk about the need to take action as theatre artists at this time.

Stage Directions: Tell me about the Fountain Theatre?

Stephen Sachs: We create work that reflects the cultural diversity of the country, and social and political issues affecting our community.

Tell us how Building the Wall came to be at the Fountain.

I’ve known [playwright] Robert Schenkkan for 30 years. We were both members of Ensemble Theatre Studio when he was a fellow actor. During the 2016 election season, we were determined for the Fountain Theatre to make a political statement, to do something to inspire social action. Then Robert sent me a draft of Building the Wall. He had written it in just one week—he did it in a blaze of white heat! It was very raw and I was just blown away by it. It was terrifying, and we knew immediately that we had to do it.

Theatre audiences in general tend to skew left, and you’re here in Hollywood… aren’t you “preaching to the choir” with a piece like this?

There is that challenge of potentially preaching to the choir, but I must trust the diversity of our audience. We can’t remain silent. As an artist, I think some of the greatest theatre has come out of social and political upheaval, of unjust and dangerous times. Theatre must be the moral conscience of this country, and to me, there is no higher calling than for theatres like ours to do works like this.

What are you hoping to do with this production? 

I am hoping to move the audience with this experience. They will be seeing a play that is a warning of the horrors that could come under this new administration. My hope is that it triggers them into action. It’s not enough to just say how upsetting and depressing the times are—we need to be inspired into action that is positive. There needs to be a movement forward.

And for those who happen to be Trump supporters?

What Robert has done is written about a Trump supporter who has followed the party line, and implemented the program. It’s about a person who has rounded up and detained immigrants, who has been part of a program that spirals out of control. This is that man who says he was just following orders. Sometimes the most horrific acts are committed by the simplest, most normal people. This play holds a mirror up to ourselves, and shows us what direction we could be moving with all this. To emphasize this, we’re moving the seating so that the production is three-quarters in the round. Audience members will be looking across the stage at each other during the production. I think that’s powerful.

Why is it important to produce this play now?

We want to give the theatre community the opportunity to give creative voice to what is happening now–what Trump means, what he’s already doing. So many people in theatres everywhere are wringing their hands, asking, “What can we do?” We can sign petitions and march as citizens as we should, but what can we do as a theatre community? This play offers the theatre artist and their audience something…

A call to arms so to speak – 


So this play fits the mission of the Fountain.

 Very much. Theatre can change people, and I want people to leave the Fountain and somehow see the world differently. I want them to be able to look into the soul of a human being and see a greater sense of truth. Theatre for us is a higher calling, and if what we’ve done enabled audience members to see a greater sense of truth, then we’ve done our job.

Read the full article from Stage Directions here.

“Two Degrees” by Tira Palmquist at the Jones Theatre parallels climate change, a life’s meltdown

Kathleen McCall and Jason Delane in “Two Degrees” at the Jones Theatre. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

The day “Two Degrees” had its world premiere, Denver experienced a record-breaking temperature of 80 degrees. You might have thought that Mother Nature could not have offered a more apt lead-in for a review of a play about a climate scientist who’s been drafted by a college friend, now a high-ranking senator, to appear before a Senate committee. Yes, the balmy weather was a bit unnerving (if pleasing) but the Denver Center’s production of Tira Palmquist’s play proves to be far more than an issue outing.

The play opens onto a dimly lit set to the sounds of mutually gratifying sex. Emma (Kathleen McCall) and Clay (Jason Delane) met in a D.C. hotel bar and made their way to her room. Each knows next to nothing about the other. That’s Emma’s rule. We learn why soon enough when Clay goes to the bathroom to get dressed and another man, a memory, walks into the room. This is husband Jeffrey (Robert Montano). While Emma was taking ice core measurements in Greenland, an unfathomable personal disaster took place back home in Boulder.

Kathleen McCall and Robert Montano in "Two Degrees" at the Jones Theatre. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom for the DCPA
Kathleen McCall and Robert Montano in “Two Degrees” at the Jones Theatre. (AdamsVisCom for the DCPA)

The play gets its title from the notion that, according to some scientists, 2 degrees Celsius is the threshold that, once exceeded, will lead to us to irreversible environmental upheaval. For Emma, the margin of disaster turned out to be more mundane: Someone had too many drinks and there was a crash on a Colorado road.

It is no easy task maneuvering the cataclysmic. The play’s twofold approach is impressively fluid as it moves between Emma’s past and her present, between her grief and the planet’s forewarned misery. The thaw that Emma researches threatens the way humankind lives. But the one she is experiencing epitomizes the benumbing and melting that humans go through after disastrous personal loss.

As the men in Emma’s life, Montano keeps gainfully busy portraying Jeffrey as well as Eric, Senator Allen’s exacting chief of staff, and Malik, an extreme weather carpenter at the Greenland station. His impressive triple duty is more than economical: it underscores Emma’s fragility. “Not now, Jeffrey,” she says sharply to his apparition more than once. “Not now!” But the other men, looking like variations of her husband, gnaw at her.

Emma is a tricky character to inhabit. As comfortable as she may be on the ice or in the home that she and Jeffrey share, she finds herself less sure-footed on D.C.’s slippery terrain. McCall is at her best capturing the character’s anxious energy, her defensive prickliness. It’s Emma’s frosted interior that occasionally begs for a more still approach.

Sen. Allen (Kim Staunton) and Eric represent the sausage-making aspects of governance: the horse-trading, the pragmatism. Staunton imbues Sen. Allen with a easy confidence. Of course, she can work a room. Still, a slip of the tongue during a wine-fueled visit with Emma could have forced the play into too much interpersonal drama. Instead, Staunton’s get-things-done portrayal underscores just how hard-nosed she’s become since their college days. Credit, too, director Christy Montour-Larson’s deft trust in the play’s ideas and emotions and the audience’s appreciation of the subtle movements between the expansive and the taut.

Kathleen McCall and Jason Delane in "Two Degrees" at the Jones Theatre at the DCPA. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom for the DCPA
Kathleen McCall and Jason Delane in “Two Degrees” at the Jones Theatre at the DCPA. (AdamsVisCom for the DCPA)

The sleek, evocative set (by Robert Mark Morgan) suggests the icy minimalism of Greenland as well as the very different chill of Washington, D.C. Charles MacLeod’s lighting — along with projections by Topher Blair — tease the set’s panes of glass and ice. You heard right, ice. The understated sound of dripping underscores the play’s global anxieties but also hints at the drip, drip, drip of emotional torment.

Read the full article from The Know here.

Mark St. Germain Adapting John Updike HAMLET Prequel for the Stage; Reading Set for Orlando!

Orlando Shakespeare Theater (Orlando Shakes) in Partnership with UCF continues to expand its mission to bring thought-provoking new theatrical works to Central Florida through a commission with playwright Mark St. Germain to write an adaptation of John Updike’s bestselling novel, Gertrude and Claudius.

A staged reading of the play will be featured at the Theater’s annual play festival, PlayFest 2017 presented by Harriett’s Charitable Trust, and is scheduled to receive a world premiere in 2019 as part of Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s 30th season.

Gertrude and Claudius is a New York Times and Washington Post best seller and has received national and global acclaim.

Read the full article from Broadway World here!

Works by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, and More Slated for International Human Rights Art Festival

Playwright Mashuq Deen (New Dramatists Fellow 2022) brings the story of his own transgender journey as a member of a traditional South Asian family and Playwright Catherine Filloux, winner of more than 40 awards for playwriting, activism and peace work, brings her latest work to the stage at New York City’s first arts-advocacy festival of its kind, the International Human Rights Art Festival.

Presented by The Institute of Prophetic Activist Art, co-sponsored and housed at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie St, NYC), the Festival will take place March 3-5, 2017. Tickets are Free-$25 and are now available online with full schedule and participant information at www.dixonplace.org.

All works are advocacy-based, and treat a specific issue of concern — of even more concern now, with the recent political transfer of power!

Deen and Filloux are joined by the award-winning collective Superhero Clubhouse, Grammy-nominated Alika Hope and the Ray of Hope Project, long-time NYC spoken word collective Poetic People Power, Ari Gold, America’s first openly gay popstar and winner of numerous national awards.

The International Human Rights Art Festival unites over 70 artists in Arts Advocacy producing more than 40 events. The Festival will use passionate, tough, unforgiving beauty to create social energy to catalyze collective action on social concerns, promote equality for racial, ethnic and religious groups, advocate for specific policy change in issues such as climate change, LGBT and disability laws, religious tolerance and other issues. Additionally, it will use workshops, discussions and other hands-on activities to inspire nearly 2000 audience members (including child participants in the “kidsfest”) to learn how to use their own creative agency to advocate for positive policy changes and realize their power and capacity for greater civic engagement.

Draw the Circle by Mashuq Deen

New Dramatists Fellow (2022) Mashuq Deen presents his hilarious and deeply moving story of conservative Muslim mother at her wits end, a Muslim father who likes to tell jokes, and a queer American woman trying to make a good impression on her Indian in-laws. One immigrant family must come to terms with a child who defies their most basic expectations of what it means to have a daughter… and one woman will redefine the limits of unconditional love. This unique show compassionately brings to life the often ignored struggle that a family goes through when their child transitions from one gender to another.

Saturday, March 4, at 7:00 pm

Read the full article from Broadway World here.

Oren Safdie’s MR. GOLDBERG GOES TO TEL AVIV Up Next at Infinitheatre

Every year Infinitheatre touts Quebec’s finest playwrights in their season and Oren Safdie‘s Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv is no exception. Safdie is a four-time New York Times Critics’ Pick playwright who brought Infinitheatre the controversial hit Unseamly in 2014, a nervy play that dealt with sexual harassment in the garment industry.

Even bolder, Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv is a fast-paced poignant farce that jumps headlong into a jaw-rattling ride through the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, where allegiances constantly shift, religion is irreverent, and politics is a matter of survival.

Mr. Goldberg tells the story of an award-winning, Jewish Canadian gay author named Tony Goldberg, played by critically acclaimed performer David Gale, who arrives in Tel Aviv to deliver a blistering attack on the Israeli government to the country’s left leaning literate. But before he leaves his hotel room, the conflict in the Middle East comes to him.

Mr. Goldberg is not only a hilarious joy ride on the back of an inveterate conflict, it is a play that reaches out to everyone with one message.

As Safdie puts it, “if you think you can understand the complexities of the situation in the Middle East and make a judgement from reading a few articles or watching a couple of documentaries, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”

Read the full article from Broadway World here.


Infinitheatre presents:
Jan. 30th- Feb 19th, Tues-Sat. at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm
At St. James Theatre, 265 Rue Saint-Jacques, Montreal, QC H2Y 1M6
Tickets: Regular: $25, Students/Seniors: $20, Groups: $17, Infinitheatre 6Packs available (6 tickets for $100), all tickets +tax.
Box Office: 514 987-1774 ext. 104; Box-Office@Infinitheatre.com or www.Infinitheatre.com