Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY, by Stephen Sachs, Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

BWW Review: Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

The multi-award-winning Fountain Theatre in Hollywood creates, develops and produces new plays and re-imagined classics expressing the diverse social issues and cultures of Los Angeles and the nation, giving artistic voice to the voiceless. Now presenting the world premiere of HUMAN INTEREST STORY, a timely new play written and directed by Stephen Sachs (Arrival & Departure, Citizen: An American Lyric, Bakersfield Mist), centering on homelessness, celebrity worship and truth in American journalism which reminds us that the line between where you are now and sleeping in your car is much thinner than you think. And like city traffic congestion, the homeless population in Los Angeles has grown to epic proportions and will only get worse, with even more tents and campers lining streets in every neighborhood to house those with nowhere else to live and no financial means to change their circumstances. But for those who want out, shouldn’t there always be a way to do so by just taking a chance when the opportunity arises?

BWW Review: Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

According to Sachs, the play is about how contrary and opposing impulses can hide in the same human being, and was initially inspired by the 1941 Frank Capra classic film Meet John Doe, in which Gary Cooper plays a homeless man (then called a “hobo”), who is hired by newspaper writer Barbara Stanwick and transformed into a national celebrity she names John Doe. “What if the story were told today in the fast-moving world of social media with homelessness, fake news, and political corruption in our daily news feeds, when “a newspaper columnist, in the course of writing a human interest story on another individual, is forced to confront truths about himself?” he explains.

BWW Review: Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

HUMAN INTEREST STORY is about more than homelessness, taking us beyond the circumstances of those on the streets and allowing us to remember how truth – in our press, in ourselves and the world – sets us free. Set in the fast-moving world of news media, with locations bought to life through video projections brilliantly created by and incorporated into Matthew G. Hill’s scenic design, the play chronicles the journey of newspaper columnist Andy Kramer (Rob Nagle), who, after being suddenly laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes The City Chronicle, which is suffering the fate of most print publications, struggling for readers and ad revenue to stay afloat in our changing times.

BWW Review: Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

Realizing he is one step away from losing his livelihood as well as his home, Andy fabricates a letter to run as his last column in retaliation for the layoff, hoping to garner the recognition he has longed to achieve while exposing the lies and corruption which forced his hand. The letter he creates from an imaginary homeless woman he names “Jane Doe” announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world, and soon goes viral. Andy then finds himself forced to hire a homeless woman in the park (Tanya Alexander) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane.

BWW Review: Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

But this Jane Doe is a former teacher and writer, wise beyond her current living circumstances which were forced upon her due to teacher layoffs and her own poor financial planning. When “her” letter is published, Jane becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited when she speaks up for homeless women on the streets everywhere.

BWW Review: Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

But what happens when she begins to speak her real truth rather than spout the words forced upon her by the new newspaper publisher Harold Cain (James Harper), who sees in Jane a way to raise funds to support his run for mayor? It’s an examination of social media power in an era of ever-present fake news and the overwhelming need of the public to create celebrities to follow.

BWW Review: Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

Richard Azurdia, Aleisha Force, Matt Kirkwood, and Tarina Pouney authentically portray many supporting characters including TV new reporters and event interviewers who twist Jane’s story to gain more viewers or to support their own causes. And when media investigators discover Jane Doe’s real identity, her popularity drops and the media attacks begin, forcing Jane back into the woods as she awaits the upcoming and fateful 4th of July. Will she take her own life for an identity she assumed to protect Andy Kramer’s lie, or is it possible to turn your life around simply by telling the truth?

BWW Review: Timely New Play HUMAN INTEREST STORY Focuses on Homelessness, Celebrity Worship and Truth in American Journalism

Along with the cast, the incredibly insight playwright/director Stephen Sachs, scenic and video designer Matthew G. Hill, and costume designer Shon LeBlanc, kudos go to the rest of the impressive creative team including lighting designer Jennifer Edwards; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne; video hair and makeup designer Diahann McCrary; prop master Michael Allen Angel; production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, and the assistant stage manager is Nura Ferdowsi. Simon Levy, James Bennett and Deborah Culver produce for The Fountain Theatre, with executive producer Karen Kondazian.

HUMAN INTEREST STORY runs through April 5, 2020 with performances on Fridaysat8 p.m.; Saturdaysat 2 p.m.and8 p.m.; Sundaysat2 p.m.; and Mondaysat8 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue(at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Read the full article from Broadway World LA by Shari Barrett here.

From Devastation, the Miraculous is Born: ‘Alabaster’ by Audrey Cefaly at Kitchen Dog Theater

Alabaster by Audrey Cefaly, Kitchen Dog Theater’s current offering, is enjoying a record-breaking 11-theatre run as part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere program. After experiencing the production opening weekend, I understand the play’s popularity.

Alice (a photographer) is constructing an essay of women whose trauma is evinced by visible scars. This project has brought her to June’s small, somewhat ramshackle farm in Alabaster, Alabama. June looks to be in her 40’s. She is surly, and bellicose, asking Alice very personal questions and relentlessly goading her. To the point that Alice is ready to leave. June lost her entire family (including a child) when a tornado came and took them, as they were trying to reach the storm cellar. Perhaps her ferocity is a defense, or a way to fight inescapable pain. June paints exceptional primitive paintings, on boards salvaged from the calamity. She talks to goats, and they reply. One night, a storm triggers her memories of the incident. In the midst of her hysteria, Alice rushes to her, and a romantic connection is initiated.

(L-R): Kristi Funk Dana (June) & Chase Crossno (Alice) Photo: Jordan Fraker

In some ways, Audrey Cefaly’s Alabaster reminds me of Steve Yockey’s The Thrush and the Woodpecker, another play that weds the catastrophic to the miraculous. Or at least, a kind of visionary breakthrough. Let’s take the goats: Weezy (the daughter) and Bib (the mother). Weezy begins the play chatting with us, so possibly, Cefaly means us to believe that they actually do speak. But even if June is delusional, sometimes crisis foments sea change. Who’s to say this phenomenon doesn’t make complete sense, for a woman trying to make some kind of life, after profound personal damage? When misery is your daily bread, maybe a spontaneous connection with another woman, enigmatic guidance from a goat, are just what the doctor (or God) ordered. Safe to say He owes her something.

Kristi Funk Dana is fearless in her portrayal of June, expressing rage and despair with authenticity. Chase Crossno’s Alice brings a more gracious, vulnerable energy to the chemistry. Lana K. Hoover’s Bib, the elderly, crotchety mama goat evokes the loved one whose time to pass is imminent. She will break your heart. Tina Parker’s Weezy, the daughter goat plays a crucial in the narrative, confronting June and calling her out when she conceals her deeper motives, even from herself. She pushes June into facing her scarier truths. Director Clare Shaffer is in intuitive and intrepid when she deep dives into Alabaster’s strange, difficult, often terrifying content. Shaffer’s exploration is masterful and vigilant, knowing when to go further and how to turn on a dime.

Playwright Audrey Cefaly | Photo courtesy of the playwright

Cefaly navigates the minefield of extreme emotional and spiritual pain, without ever asking us to pity June or distance ourselves. June’s turmoil is made canny and accessible to us, and yet we sense the effulgence, as well as excruciation. Though June’s haggard appearance reveals her arduous, prolonged struggle, Alice sees her radiance, and we do too. Cefaly never backs off of June’s raw ordeal, her groping for answers to make her life simply bearable. She takes us to a place both profane and sacred. Merciless yet gracious. Violent yet tender. Tumultuous yet flippant. Perhaps it’s the balance of zen koans: polarized extremes. I only know it’s one of the most electrifying dramas I’ve ever seen.

Kitchen Dog Theater presents: Alabaster, playing February 20th-March 8th, 2020.
2600 North Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180, Dallas, Texas 75207.
For tickets, visit www.kitchendogtheater.org or call the Box Office at 214-953-1055.

Article by Christopher Soden from Dallas Art Beat here.

Jacqueline Goldfinger, a Hot Philly Playwright — and a Really Big Stork

Meet a hot Philly playwright — and a really big stork

Philadelphia playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger was pregnant with her twins when a prenatal test came back with a little bit of an odd result. Everyone’s fine now — the twins are 7 — but the episode, along with the research Goldfinger did at the time, eventually gave birth to her new play, Babel.

It’s having its Philadelphia premiere Feb. 13 through March 8 at Theatre Exile.

Babel tells the story of two couples, one a lesbian couple, one a straight couple, who receive the results of prenatal tests and then wrestle with decisions.

They do get some assistance from a “talking stork who wants to be a stand-up comedian,” Goldfinger said. “He gives his insight because he has carried so many babies.”

Anita Holland and Frank Nardi Jr. as the stork in Jacqueline Goldfinger's "Babel," playing at Theatre Exile from Feb. 13-March 8.
Courtesy of Theatre Exile Anita Holland and Frank Nardi Jr. as the stork in Jacqueline Goldfinger’s “Babel,” playing at Theatre Exile from Feb. 13-March 8.

Goldfinger’s play gets into the ethics of reproductive technology, which can be uncharted territory here in the U.S. “It’s scary,” she said. In Europe, there are already protocols about what is ethical, but not so here. “We’re going to be the testing grounds for many of these new technologies.”

“That’s what’s wonderful about theater,” said Goldfinger, a rising star nationally. “We can take these huge terrifying ideas and put them into active stories that make you laugh and also make you think.”

Read the full article from The Philadelphia Inquirer by Jane M. Von Bergen here.

Ryan Quinn to Direct DAD’S SEASON TICKETS (Nov. 13-Jan. 17) at Milwaukee Repertory Theater

“From oft forgotten or unheard sides of history, to powerfully resonant stories of today, this season in particular looks at life from myriad perspectives, and allows our audiences the opportunity to view the world through a different lens,” artistic director Mark Clements said in a statement.

The season will open with My Way: A Musical Tribune to Frank Sinatra (Sept. 11-Nov. 8), created by David Grapes and Todd Olson with a book by Olson. Directed by Kelley Faulkner, the musical will feature the greatest hits from Sinatra’s five-decade career.

Next up will be Titanic the Musical (Sept. 15-Oct. 25), with a book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, a musical retelling of the stories of those aboard the fateful ship. Clements will direct.

Following will be the co-world premiere of Meghan Brown’s The Tasters (Sept. 22-Nov. 1). Tasters have the important job of protecting high-ranking government officials from assassination attempts by serving as food tasters. The system is thrown off when one taster goes on a hunger strike. Laura Braza will direct.

The season will continue with an adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express (Nov. 10-Dec. 13), adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig. Detective Hercule Poirot must battle the clock to solve a murder on a train full of suspects who all have a motive and an alibi.

Next will be a musical comedy from Matt Zembrowski, Dad’s Season Tickets (Nov. 13-Jan. 17). Directed by Ryan Quinn, the musical asks the simple question: Who will inherit Frank’s prized season ticket at Lambeau Field?

See the full season lineup here.

Playing God: Jacqueline Goldfinger Talks About Her Newest Play

Commissioned by National New Play Network, Jacqueline Goldfinger’s BABEL comes to Theatre Exile in a couple weeks as part of a rolling world premiere with five other theaters across the country. The winner of the Smith Prize for Political Theater, the latest play by one of Philadelphia’s best-regarded playwrights tackles the moral questions behind modern eugenics and asks how far we will go when playing God? Phindie talked to Jackie about the themes and inspirations behind her new work.

Phindie: What inspired BABEL?

Jacqueline Goldfinger: When I was pregnant with the twins, we had some odd test results and had to do additional testing. While, thankfully, the kids turned out to be fine, the additional testing opened our eyes to the wide, and sometimes shady, world of reproductive technologies. I thought, this would make a great play! And then I had twins. And I spent the next five years raising twins. So it wasn’t until they began kindergarten that I was able to sit down, research properly, and write the play.

Phindie: Why is it called BABEL?

Jacqueline Goldfinger: The title BABEL is taken from the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel; where humans tried to climb close to God in order to rule the world. Spoiler Alert: The attempt failed. The tower and the people climbing came crashing down. And God split the community into factions that eventually began warring with each other. Much like the Tower of Babel, reproductive technology is reaching towards God by trying to control everything from hair and the color to attempting to sequence and define genes. What will happen as we reach? Will will rise? Will we fall? Who will we allow to play God to future generations?

Phindie: How challenging was it to explore moral questions around eugenics within a narrative play?

Jacqueline Goldfinger: There are so many moral and ethical questions around eugenics that I needed to narrow the scope of the conversation in order to create a compelling story that engaged with, but was not overwhelmed by, the intellectual issues at hand. So, I narrowed the conversation to one procedure that will be available in the future, which is in utero genetic testing. By narrowing the scope of the eugenics conversation, I could really have two pregnant couples wrestling with the specifics of genetic testing results for their babies—and also dive into the bigger questions, like, even if you know what each gene can do, you don’t know what it will do, which will predominate. What do we do with folks who have a predisposition to, say, extreme violence? Do we regulate how they live, just to be safe, to make sure they can’t hurt anyone? But what if they wouldn’t hurt anyone? Can we judge and regulate people’s behavior based on what might happen?

The play doesn’t necessarily answer all of these big questions, although we do follow a complete story with the couples. But the play does encourage the audience to think about these questions for themselves – because we are going to face them, sooner rather than later.

Babel Theatre Exile

Actors Frank Nardi, Jr. and Bi Jean Ngo in rehearsal for the production of BABEL at Theatre Exile.

Phindie: BABEL is being produced across the country and won the Smith Prize for Political Theater. How do you, personally, judge success as a playwright?

Jacqueline Goldfinger: My metric for judging success as a playwright is, do I reach the audience? Do I make them laugh, cry, think, hope, dream… in all the right places? With this play, folks seem to be enjoying the balance between comedy—like, ya’ know, a six foot talking stork who wants to be a stand-up comedian—and the harder, serious questions of the play.

Phindie: What would you like the audience to take from seeing the play?

Jacqueline Goldfinger: First, I hope they are entertained. While the play does tackle serious issues, it also embraces love, hope, dreams, and laughter. Second, I hope that they go home talking about the quandaries posed by reproductive technologies which could, very easily, stray down the unenlightened path of the tragedy of eugenic testing in the past.

Phindie: Thanks Jackie!

BABEL runs February 13 to March 8, 2020, at Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th Street. It’s produced at Theatre Exile as a part of a National New Play Network rolling world premiere, with dates at Unicorn Theatre (Missouri), Good Company Theatre (Utah), Contemporary American Theater Festival (West Virginia), Passage Theatre Company (New Jersey), Florida Studio Theatre, and one other venue TBA.

Article by Christopher Munden for Phindie, Independent Coverage of Philadelphia Theatre and Arts