Richard Dreyfuss Likes Finding Work Off Beaten Path (i.e., TheaterWorks)

But, slumped comfortably in an upholstered chair in a rehearsal room at Hartford’s TheaterWorks on Pearl Street, where he’ll perform in Mark St. Germain‘s play “Relativity” Oct. 7 through Nov. 20, Dreyfuss doesn’t seem fazed by paths not taken. He obviously has a love for theater that’s found off the beaten path.

When asked if he prefers the regional theater realm to Broadway, Dreyfuss waves an arm around himself. Here he is. The show may well move on to New York, though nothing has been confirmed. Hartford has it now. The TheaterWorks run of “Relativity” was just extended by a week, and is selling out quickly.

When TheaterWorks approached Richard Dreyfuss to play Albert Einstein in the theater’s season-opening production of “Relativity,” little did they know that Dreyfuss had recently read Walter Isaacson’s biography “Einstein: His Life and Universe.” Nor did they know that Dreyfuss had written an unproduced screenplay about the renowned physicist.



Finding The Spectacle

Will “Relativity” be as physically demanding as some of his Shakespearean roles?

“Well, I wrestle her,” Dreyfuss deadpans about castmate Christa Scott-Reed, who plays Margaret Harding in the play. He extends the joke with hilarious imagined descriptions of other violent altercations.

In truth, “Relativity” spars with words rather than fists. Einstein, while wrestling in his mind with matters of time and space, is forced by an unexpected visitor to confront a difficult personal decision from his past.

Despite the number of chairs apparent in the small office setting of the play, “Relativity” sounds like quite a lively piece. Dreyfuss will wield a violin, for instance.

The spirited encounter in the play is in keeping with previous Mark St. Germain works such as “Freud’s Last Session,” “Camping With Henry and Tom” and “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” Those shows also uncovered uncomfortable yet illuminating episodes in the lives of celebrated public figures.

“First of all, it’s all true,” says Dreyfuss of “Relativity.” “Hopefully, we’ll find a way to hit the audience right in the mouth. It has to be the verbal equivalent of ‘The Lion King.’ You have to have some spectacle or it’s not interesting.”

Dreyfuss ruminates a lot on the power of the spoken word and the value of thoughtful leadership. Thirty years ago, he co-founded the still-active and highly influential L.A. Theatre Works (unrelated to the similarly named Hartford company), which produces popular radio versions of classic plays. Dreyfuss has performed in numerous broadcasts with L.A. Theatre Works including the Arthur Miller dramas “The Crucible” and “The Price.”

The actor rhapsodizes about Orson Welles and how he brought a special style to his “Mercury Theatre on the Air” radio shows of the late 1930s. He speaks animatedly of the great potential he still sees in radio drama. “I want to reinvent radio theater,” he proclaims.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

A Tale of One Play in Two Cities, a post by Tammy Ryan

See below for the beginning of Tammy Ryan‘s post on HowlRound, of LOST BOY FOUND IN WHOLE FOODS:

In March 2016, I traveled from my home base in Pittsburgh to see two productions of my play Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, first at the Portland Stage Company, a LORT theatre in Maine, and then in May, at the Omaha Community Playhouse, the largest civic theatre in Nebraska. Both companies are prominent theatres in their predominantly white cities where large populations of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants are arriving and resettling in increasing numbers. Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods is about Christine, a white woman who meets Gabriel, a Sudanese refugee in Pittsburgh in 2004 and invites him to live with her. The play began as an exploration of the difficulty in helping others, and one woman’s response to the refugee crisis exploding in southern Sudan. In the years since the play’s world premiere, our awareness of the world refugee crisis has expanded. Having the chance to see these two productions and witness the response from a diverse collision of audiences within months of each other, helped me see how my play had evolved in this new context, playing in these two ostensibly different but in many ways quintessentially American cities.

Gabriel (Tyrone Davis, Jr.) and Christine (Mhari Sandoval) in Lost Boy Found at Whole Foods at Portland Stage Company. Photo by Aaron Flacke.

The Lost Boys of Sudan
In the early ’90s, during the Second Sudanese Civil War, Arab fighters in the north were burning and destroying villages in the south, resulting in an exodus of young boys escaping into the bush. The boys, ranging in age from four to eighteen years old, gathered in the tens of thousands, trekking across Africa where they faced starvation, attacks by wild animals, and bombings before reaching refugee camps in Kenya, where they lived on a bowl of grain a day for ten years. In 2001, 3,600 boys from Kakuma were resettled in cities across the United States, including Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Syracuse, St. Louis, Portland, Omaha, and Pittsburgh. After 9/11, this resettlement program was halted. In spring of 2003, I was invited to participate in a project with Catholic Charities and Playback Theatre working with a group of young men from Sudan; the resulting play entitled, Long Journey Home, gave voice to their experiences coming to this country. At the time I was as clueless as most Americans as to what they’d survived, but I was profoundly moved by their resilience, courage, faith, and sense of purpose.

After the project completed, a Whole Foods store opened in my neighborhood. The first day I walked in I saw a young Sudanese “team member,” feeding a papaya to a middle-aged white woman in the midst of the produce section surrounded by the abundance found in American grocery stores. The irony of that moment: the stories I knew he carried and that I assumed, this woman might not know, would become the basis for the play I would write. For the next seven years, I immersed myself in everything I could learn about the Sudan, the “lost boys,” the Dinka tribe, their stories, history, and culture, and began to imagine the story of the play. By 2008 I had a first draft, in 2009 it was developed at the New Harmony Project and in 2010, Premiere Stages and Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey co-produced the world premiere. In 2012 Lost Boy won the ATCA’s Francesca Primus Prize. Three years later, I got a call from Anita Stewart, artistic director of the Portland Stage Company that she wanted to produce it. Around the same time, the Omaha Community Playhouse did a reading, which led to their production. The timing was right; each theatre was looking for a play like this. Stewart wanted to connect with the growing African populations in Portland, when the actor who played Gabriel in New Jersey, Warner Miller, recommended it to her and dramaturg Heather Helinsky had given it to Ellen Struve, then literary manager at OCP for the same reason. But it wasn’t until I had my boots on the ground in both of these places, that I understood “in my belly,” (as the Dinka would say) why it was inevitable that these theatres produced Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods this year.

From Portland to Omaha
After arriving in Portland, a chatty taxicab driver took me on a tour, pointing out the harbor, the restaurants, the New England architecture. As we passed the Maine Historical Society on Congress Street, I asked him what the bunches of multi-colored objects hanging from the fence were: “Lobster buoys,” he said. What he didn’t mention was that it was part of an exhibit by University of Southern Maine, artist-in-residence, Natasha Mayers working withthe Portland Public Schools, to paint seventy lobster buoys with the colors of flags representing seventy different countries the “New Mainers” hailed from. Walking around downtown, I sensed a tension that exists despite this welcome. The Old Mainers, many who’d lived there for generations find themselves sharing their city with a growing population of New Mainers: people who’d fled their faraway home countries, who are trying to adapt to this country and learn a new language, find a job, get an education, start a new life. At the theatre on opening night, a mainly white subscriber audience filled the seats, but there were also groups of New Mainers joining them, expectant, excited, and a little nervous.

Read the full article from HowlRound by Tammy Ryan, here.

Sony Music Masterworks and Broadway Records Will Release The Wiz Live! Soundtrack

David Alan Grier, Shanice Williams, Ne-Yo, and Elijah Kelley star in NBC’s The Wiz Live!

Sony Music Masterworks and Broadway Records will release the original soundtrack recording of NBC’s upcoming television broadcast of The Wiz Live! The album will released via all digital service providers on December 11, with CDs hitting shelves December 18.

Shanice Williams leads the company of The Wiz Live! as Dorothy, alongside Queen Latifah (The Wiz), Mary J. Blige (Evillene), David Alan Grier (Cowardly Lion), Ne-Yo (Tin Man), Elijah Kelley (Scarecrow), Uzo Aduba (Glinda), Amber Riley (Addaperle), Common (Bouncer), and Stephanie Mills (Aunt Em).

The Wiz, a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic Wizard of Oz stories, opened on Broadway in 1975 and won seven Tonys including Best Musical and Best Score. A 1978 film version starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. It was last seen in New York in a New York City Center Encores! Summer Stars revival in 2009, with a cast led by Ashanti, Orlando Jones, and Tony winner LaChanze.

Tony winner Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun) will stage the live production, which is based on Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown‘s Tony-winning stage version. Four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots) will contribute new material to Brown’s book. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron serve as executive producers, with Universal Television producing.

The live television broadcast of The Wiz serves as the precursor to a Broadway revival, coproduced by Cirque du Soleil’s new stage theatrical division, in the 2016-17 Broadway season. The telecast follows The Sound of Music and Peter Pan in NBC’s annual series of live musical presentations.

Article by David Gordon from Theatre Mania.

Mark St. Germain Will Be One of the Most Produced Dramatists in the 2015-16 Season

American Theatre published a list of the top 20 most produced dramatists for the 2015-16 season, based on surveys of 386 theaters and 2,159 productions.  Mark St. Germain was ranked 9th.  The list is below:

1. Ayad Akhtar, 21 productions.

2. Tennessee Williams, 17.

3. Rick Elice, 17.

4. August Wilson, 16.

5. Sarah Ruhl, 15.

6. Arthur Miller, 15.

7. John Patrick Shanley, 13.

8. Lauren Gunderson, 13.

9. Mark St. Germain, 10.

10. Dominique Morisseau, 10.

11. Eugene O’Neill, 10.

12. Ken Ludwig, 9.

13. Christopher Durang, 9.

14. Tom Stoppard, 9.

15. Christopher Sergel, 9.

16. Aaron Posner, 9.

17. Jonathan Tolins, 9.

18. Laura Eason, 9.

19. Steve Yockey, 9.

20. Anne Washburn, 8.

Read the full article from the Washington Post here.