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.

Praise for Sean Cawelti’s Puppets in the Pasadena Playhouse Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in Pasadena: Secrets of a radically reconceived Audrey II

“Strange.” “Weird.” “Exotic little beauty.” “Like something from another world.”

These are ways in which the plant of “Little Shop of Horrors” is initially described by its characters. They’re perplexed by its presence, its mysterious origins, its unidentifiable genus. But the botanical fascination is so enticing that it boosts the business of a skid row flower shop — and convinces its caretaker to commit a bit of murder in exchange for fame and fortune.

Countless stagings of the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical have remained visually devout to the sprout that debuted off-off-Broadway in 1982. Based on the 1960 Roger Corman cult classic and popularized by Frank Oz’s 1986 musical film, the Faustian fable has been mounted again and again with a green, podlike growth resembling a Venus flytrap and a bountiful head of lettuce.

The 1986 film starred Rick Moranis opposite a pod-like creature, often re-created onstage.
(Warner Bros. / Shutterstock)

“The classic look can be nostalgic but also predictable,” said Mike Donahue, who directed the Pasadena Playhouse production set to close Sunday. “All of the language that’s in the piece is about how the plant stands out, how it catches people’s eyes immediately when people are walking by. There’s gotta be something about it that, in this drab and depressed and bleak world, just pops.” Advertisement

The Playhouse questioned those optical expectations and answered with a radical redesign of the plant, Audrey II, nicknamed Twoey. Housed in a large tomato can, its flower is a fantastic fuchsia hue, the five appendage-like tendrils glistening and sparkling. When closed, a bud of polka dot petals resembles a head with lips. It opens into a lily with a playful yellow tongue. This Twoey is indeed a new sight for those onstage and in the audience, and now that the run is ending, her secrets are being revealed in new photos presented exclusively here.

“I wanted to make something that seems alien and extraterrestrial but also that gives an emotional reaction — you can’t help but smile,” said Sean Cawelti, who led the show’s puppet design, direction and choreography. “And when the plant opens its petals for the first time and reveals what’s inside, it’s not inherently scary but surprisingly whimsical and magical.”

Twoey (also known as Audrey II), the carnivorous plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
With a new look and strategic puppetry, Twoey comes off as friendly and adorable to Seymour and the audience.
(Courtesy of Pasadena Playhouse)

Fear is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind during the song “Grow for Me.” A first version of Twoey — which “faints” via remote control — is swiftly swapped for a rod puppet plant with hard-to-spot cables controlled by three puppeteers under a metal table.

Read the full review by Ashley Lee from the LA Times here.