Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 Interview with John Frank Levey

Casting director John Frank Levey is the director of the Road Theatre Company's current production of Lake Anne at their second theatre space on Magnolia in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony. He has directed many shows over a 45 year period; in fact, Levey had the NEA Directors Fellowship in 1980 at the Mark Taper Forum here in Los Angeles.

Who are your favorite playwrights and what are some of the plays you have directed before Lake Anne?

I grew up on Albee, Pinter and Ionesco in the 60s. Some of  the plays I have directed include Waiting for Godot, Death of a Salesman and Zoo Story.

As director of Lake Anne, what were your greatest challenges in staging the play?

Because of the projections the stage got very shallow so keeping good angles of movement was difficult but those same projected images added so much to the production that it was worth it.

For you, what is the key message (or messages) in the play?

Having known Marthe Gold for four-plus decades, it is a pleasure to join with the village that is the Road Theatre in giving her this world premiere production of her play, Lake Anne. Sadly, there is often a gap, a gulf with regard to loving between what we think, what we say, what we genuinely feel, what we intend, and what we actually do. For me, Lake Anne is a play about love, and that gap, that gulf, that chasm, that empty space between intention and result. Even as I love you badly, I love you with all my heart.

Compared to other plays you've directed, how does this size up?

Lake Anne is a dark and nuanced piece and for all of us finding the balance between that darkness and the character's humanity was hard work. living in the world of Lake Anne for the duration of the rehearsal period and the run takes a level of commitment from the actors that is demanding.

How was it like directing this cast?

A complete pleasure we had fun and worked well as a unit for which I am grateful and proud.

Talk a little about the Road Theatre Company and your association with it.

Sam (Anderson) was my entry point and I have known and respected him as an actor for a long time. Working with Marthe and Sam on the script was a pleasure. He is great with the written word and insightful in many ways. I had never met Taylor when this process began and in the early meetings she was so quiet that I didn't get much of a sense of her. Honestly I am quite sure we would not have made it to the finish line without her. She made it fun when it was difficult and I've never felt so supported and appreciated by a artistic director ever. The rest of the family of the Road has been wonderful as well.

Visit Lake Anne through November 9:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

2013 Interview with Nicole Parker

Actress Nicole Parker is onstage two more weekends as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl in Fullerton, through September 22 and in Redondo through September 29.

How does it feel playing the classic Fanny Brice, knowing full well that Streisand put her original stamp on it at the start?

Well, it's a legendary role because a legendary person made it legendary. There is no way around it! That will never change. So it's a tremendous honor to get to play this part, and I don't take it lightly. But then in order to actually play the part I have to forget all that because it doesn't help to remind yourself you're not Streisand. So I accept it, and never think about it again, honestly. The only thing I can control is how I tell the story. That's all that's left. So that's what I focus on. Bringing my own personality to the role in order to tell a story. If I think about all the other stuff I'll go crazy. CraziER.

You are brilliant with physical comedy. I think you added more of this than any other actress I have seen play Fanny, and I like that. Where did you learn your technique? Did it start before MADtv? Did that show help to hone it?

Thank you, that's so nice! MADtv certainly helped, I learned so much about comedy from that show. I learned about every aspect: timing, writing, character development, physical comedy, improv etc. But I would say my initial interest in physical comedy began with Fawlty Towers. It is a British sitcom that was super short-lived, with John Cleese. And it will teach you everything you want to know about comedy. And at the center is Cleese, that wonderful gigantic tall man and he does hilarious things with his body that are all character-driven. That's what I was drawn to. I wore out those videotapes when I was seven years old and honestly can trace so many choices back to those episodes! So go watch them, everybody!  The other person I learned from firsthand was Martin Short. I did  Fame Becomes Me on Broadway with him, and he is a brilliant physical comedian. But I'd never seen someone break down a bit of business quite like him. He'll spend an hour on one moment--working out the timing, the look, because he's so smart, and knows exactly how and when something needs to happen. And then of course on stage it looks effortless. That kind of education was invaluable! I knew I wanted to make my Fanny physical, because in watching the little footage that's publicly available of Fanny Brice, I noticed she made very funny, specific, physical choices. She has a number in a movie where she's dressed as a swan, ("It's Gorgeous To Be Graceful") and she does this crazy skip that I love. I try to do a bit of it in "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" as a tip of the hat to her. Also, adding physical comedy is just another way to pepper the scenes with moments that aren't on the page. I feel like a lot of this role is filling in the spaces with humor and personality. 

You've played Elphaba in Wicked. That's another big, big role, which, like Fanny, requires a lot of stamina 8 times a week. How would you compare the challenges of playing both and the music? Is Jule Styne's score easier to perform than Stephen Schwartz's?

They are so, so different. Both are challenging I would say. Elphaba lives in a bit more of a pop world, where as the Funny Girl Score is rooted in the torch song era of Broadway, two completely wonderful styles of musical theater, but so very different to sing. Fanny just lives in a different place in my voice than Elphaba. I will say that Elphaba is wonderful training for a role like Fanny. The endurance you have to have for Wicked is pretty extensive, so I'm very glad I have experience knowing how to pace myself for three hours. And both scores require you to have power, and backup reserves of it! Funny Girl naturally sounds more old-fashioned, which it should--music from another time and place. It really transports you to hear it, so vocally it requires it's own technique to achieve that sound. It would be strange if I rocked the "Defying Gravity"-style "Ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh!" the the end of "Don't Rain on My Parade," although the cast has made it clear that they would really enjoy this one night : )

I would say the workload is very similar, but it's the material that makes the parts so different. With Fanny, yes, I'm on stage almost the entire time, change costumes every two minutes, and sing exactly 41 songs, but there are several scenes that are fun and silly. It makes a very big difference to be able to have moments on stage where you're playing with an audience, or other actors on stage, and engaging in a comedic moment. It affects the experience and makes the ride more light. Elphaba on the other hand, kind of has a rough go of it from the start. I mean, the poor girl has a MOUNTAIN to climb. She's not very happy for much of the show, even when she's kissing a guy, cause it's her best friend's guy! she has a lot of angst. With all the being green, flying, crying, running, and being a renegade, it takes an emotional toll on you 8 times a week. It's interesting how Elphie gets under your skin and can really affect you. Even though it's incredibly rewarding to be Elphie!  So I'd say that's the difference!

I would like to go on record and say I think Fanny and Elphie would be friends. But every once in awhile Elphie would have to say to Fanny,"Shhh...just...Shh. Please be quiet."

Who are your idols? Your favorite actors? On stage or film.

I have a bunch: Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mel Brooks, the ENTIRE cast of Tootsie and Fawlty Towers, Stephen Sondheim, Emma Thompson, Judy Kuhn, Martin Short. I promise I didn't just google "Celebrities" for this answer. I just have been influenced by a lot of different people!

What role would you love to tackle next? Any one in particular that you are yearning to play? 

Oh my! I have weird ones, cause I started out as a high soprano, so some of my dream roles are super impossible because I'm not an ingenue! I'd love to play Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, my all time favorite musical. Or Magnolia in Showboat, and Amalia in She Loves Me. See what I mean? But of course someday I'd love to play Dot in Sunday in the Park. I've done Into the Woods twice, would happily do it again. There's Mrs. Lovett, and Mame: all the broads. I basically won't work again until I'm fifty, apparently.

How has it been working with Michael Matthews, this cast and 3-D Theatricals?

Michael is amazing. All I wanted was someone who would let me play and experiment, and he gave me exactly that. He asks great questions, and he doesn't let you off easy, he wants you to know the answers for yourself. I could have done three more weeks at least of scene work with him because he just keeps adding layers and layers. Most of the time a scene session began with him asking me,"Are you ready to play?," which, as an improviser, I really appreciated. He had a clear vision of how to tell this story, and approached it with a very calm and easy hand. There was no pressure, it felt as if this show was ours--almost like a brand new show. He was also super collaborative about making some structural changes in Act II to further serve the story. I trust him completely and hope that we work together again!!!!! The cast is dreamy. Josh Adamson, my Nicky Arnstein, is the most charming, talented, and supportive leading man a gal could ask for. We get along so well and it just made the process a blast. And everyone else is just as wonderful: from the hysterical poker ladies, to our fabulous Ziegfeld, to the AMAZING ensemble that stops the show with their tap number. The cast is very special. It's been a very positive and supportive experience from start to finish, which is clearly a reflection of 3-D and the environment that they're cultivating. They're great! 

Only two weekends left to see the amazing Nicole Parker as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. In Fullerton at the Plummer Auditorium September 20-22 and then in Redondo Beach at the Performing Arts Center September 27-29.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

2013 Interview with Larry Eisenberg by guest journalist Steve Peterson

You’ve been with The Group Rep for quite a while.   How did you first get involved with the company?  What keeps you excited about The Group?

In 1990 Bonnie Snyder who was a member of the company called me to play Richard III for a Monday night project she was directing. It was a good experience and I ran into several GRT members whom I had known and worked with over the years.  Then, after a conversation with Lonny, I decided to join.  They were auditioning for Room Service and I ended up playing Sasha, the Russian waiter which was great fun and a terrific experience.  I acted in a number of shows and wrote and directed an original project called Nautilus.  I left in 1994 to enter the MFA directing program at CalArts.  I was gone for almost ten years but remained close to Lonny and the company, visiting often.  One of those visits was for the 1999 renaming of the company as the Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre.  In 2003 I joined again and have been with them ever since.

 There is a connection with the naming of The Group and the famous Group Theatre in New York.   How did the name for The Group Rep come about?

It was a deliberate tribute to that original company.  Lonny had been mentored by Elia Kazan who was one of the original members of the Group Theatre.  Kazan brought Lonny to California for a role in “East of Eden” opposite James Dean.  Lonny had also been a close associate of Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York and through him, learned about the early days of the Group.  It was Strasberg, Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford who created the Group.  Lonny felt that the original Group was the birthplace of modern American acting and the place where Stanslavski’s methods were first introduced.  In addition to Strasberg, Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner, and Bobby Lewis were among the original members.  These were the people who went on to teach acting the way Lonny had learned it and therefore, the original Group represented an ideal for Lonny; it was one that he wanted to honor and to use as an example of the kind of work and environment he wanted to create.

 Is there one particular moment that you treasure or stands out in your mind in regards to working with Lonny Chapman?

Quite a few…I acted with Lonny in several shows but by far, my favorite was as Kit Carson in William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life opposite Lonny’s Joe.  Most of my scenes were just me and him sitting together telling each other outlandish stories and drinking beer.  It was a particular treat because The Time of Your Life had been a big part of Lonny’s life, and William Saroyan was one of Lonny’s favorite playwrights.  Lonny loved to tell the story about how when he played Tom in a revival of the play presented at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, Saroyan would sometimes walk onto the stage in the middle of a performance, sit at the bar and drink whiskey while watching the actors perform the play around him.

By the end of 2006 Lonny was starting to get very frail.  I directed a play called Chaim’s Love Song by Marvin Chernoff and despite Lonny’s declining health, he managed to come and see it eight times.  I can’t tell you how moved I was and how happy it made me that he would go to all that trouble.  He was no longer able to drive and had to get rides with people to the theatre, but there he would be rooting us on and encouraging us.

As it turned out, Chaim’s Love Song was the last play Lonny ever saw at The Group Rep.

Was there a particular reason that Awake and Sing was chosen for The Group Rep’s 40th Season? 

The reason is simple.  Awake and Sing remains the signature piece created by the Group Theatre and we want to honor that past as we move into the future.

 What is the play about?

It’s interesting that Odets’ original title was I’ve Got the Blues.  On its face the play is about a second generation Jewish American family struggling through the depression in New York during the 1930s.  Three generations of the Berger Family are stuck together in this Bronx apartment.  They are dominated by mother Bessie who has no patience for daydreams or weakness.  Each of the children faces hardship, bitterness and struggle.  After work-shopping the script with Harold Clurman, Odets changed the name to Awake and Sing!  So essentially, the play is a celebration of the human spirit and a call for living life with joy.  “Life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills.” 

The play has numerous themes.  As the play’s director, is there any particular theme or themes that you are focused on?

Well, some people have called it a socialist play.  I pretty much disagree and see it more as a family drama; perhaps even comedy/drama.  But it does explore the conflict between individual expression and serving the greater good.  Social consciousness and responsibility are major “topics” discussed and argued over by our characters.  The two children, Ralph and Hennie, each are struggling to find their personal independence, but are challenged by responsibility to family and the rest of society.  One question the play asks is should the individual sacrifice him/herself for the greater good.  Odets does not proselytize.  He takes no position, just presents the arguments beautifully and poetically.  In the end, the brother and sister choose two totally different paths.  He commits to laboring for the greater good and she chooses to follow her dreams.  I imagine that Ralph will one day go to law school and eventually become active with labor unions or with civil rights.  Hennie may end on a pleasure boat sailing to Havana. 

 What do you want the audience to experience or take away from having seen this production of Awake and Sing?

That life is not easy, and everyone does their best they can with the tools they have.  We must not let our lives stagnate by “singing the blues.”  It’s much better to Awake and Sing and grab life by the throat.

 What’s up next for you as a director, as an actor? 

There’s a production of Arthur Miller’s The Price that I’m hoping to do at another theatre next year.  I also suppose it’s time to start thinking about our 41st Season.

The Group Rep presents
Written by Clifford Odets
Directed by Larry Eisenberg
Produced by Drina Durazo for the Group Rep
Runs:  September 20 – November 3, 2013
Plays:  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
             Sundays at 2pm
             Talk-back Sundays with the Cast after the show - October 6th & October 27th
Where:  Lonny Chapman Theatre   10900 Burbank Blvd.  North Hollywood 91601
Reservations: or (818) 763-5990
Tickets:  $15 - $22 (Admission: $22; Senior/Student: $17; Group 10+: $15)
                Friday Night Ladies Night – Tix ½ price for ladies
Tickets/Information: or (818) 763-5990
Parking:  Ample street parking on Burbank Blvd. and on Cleon Ave. south of the Burbank Blvd.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

2013 Interview with Marthe Rachel Gold

Playwright/doctor Marthe Rachel Gold's play Lake Anne is being produced by The Road Theatre Company and is about to open at the new theatre at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony on Magnolia in NoHo on September 20. In our chat, Gold offers us a sneak peek at the play and its background.

   Tell me briefly about Lake Anne, its plot and characters.

 As the play opens, Joe, a principal dancer for a world class dance company visits his aunt and some-time mentor Anne, a widowed former prima ballerina who long ago retreated to the country to care for her mentally disabled son, Will.  Broke, and threatened with the loss of her family home, Anne is in the process of finding money to save her house through the sale of her lake to a successful New York actress.  Anne also has important decisions to make about Will’s care that could change both her life and his and is encouraged to do so by Emily, her sister-in-law and Joe’s mother, a practical woman who is looking to help Anne find sensible solutions to her problems.  Over the course of a long evening, Joe paints a picture for Anne of a vanished life to which she begins to believe she might return.  But there are obstacles…   

What was your specific goal in writing it? How did your idea generate - through a workshop, a personal experience...?

I rarely have one specific goal for anything I do, and Lake Anne is no exception.  As with most writers, I expect, the story and characters emerge from a range of experiences and people who lead me to craft its story.  Some of the elements here:  When I was in training in medicine I was profoundly unsettled by a mother of an adult son who had Down Syndrome and was in critical need of cardiac surgery.  The mother did not want her son to undergo that operation because she was afraid that the operation would be a success, that he would then outlive her, and she feared that without her, he would be institutionalized and his life would be hellish.  So the idea of agency and when agency is lost in a cognitively limited individual is something that is a question I am thinking about in Lake Anne.  In writing this play I also set out to try to understand what makes a character tragic.  I have tried to discover that in writing Anne’s role.  On a lighter note, I am a swimmer, and while I was working on Lake Anne, I learned that “my” pond located in upstate New York was actually on a neighbor’s property.  So there is a bit of grieving about the loss of a pond (not a lake) within the play.  Finally, I want to say that I am not now and never have been a prima ballerina.  I realized during medical school that that path was unlikely to stay open.

What do you wish to accomplish? What would you like audiences to take away with them?

I wanted to create a strong woman character who audiences might not like, but whose actions they could understand in the context of the ambitions she held, and the responsibilities she felt obligated to take on.  I wanted to talk about the sacrifices we all make to help children and partners, and what they both cost us and give us.

Who inspired your writing the most? Is there a mentor or writer, playwright who stands out above all others for you?

I can’t answer that because my writing sensibilities are shaped as much by the literature I read as by the plays.  I am drawn to subtext and that is harder to accomplish in playwriting than in literature where one can place clues along the way without sticking them into dialogue.  In fiction I am a huge fan of authors like Alice Munro, William Trevor, John Banville.  In theater, I have been drawn to O’Neill, Miller, Williams, Pinter, Beckett, Chekov, but who hasn’t?  I have written one dark comedy that I hope would remind someone of Martin McDonough, but I doubt that it would.

In my young days I was an actor and I was excited by less traditionally structured plays – groups like the Living Theater and the Open Theater were riveting to me.  I grew up in NYC and was taken to see the classics early along, so I found these non-linear, spectacle-laden and movement driven plays emotionally wrenching in ways that were new to me.  I see some of that now in the work of Simon McBurney and the Complicite Theater and it still draws me.  I never imagined that when I came to writing for the stage that I would be as traditional as I have turned out.  Ah well.

With respect to mentors – I didn’t come through an MFA program so I’ve had workshops along the way.  The playwrights Leslie Lee and Keith Bunin and the dramaturg Maxine Kern have all been great and sensitive responders to my work.  And then there’s John Levey and Sam Anderson, more about them in the next question.

How did the Road become involved in producing your play? Is it a pleasant experience thus far?

My work with the Road has been extraordinarily pleasant and extraordinarily nourishing.  First you have to know that John Levey (Lake Anne’s director) and I go back a long ways.  In college I was an actor at the University of Rochester Summer Theater, and John was a director there.  (Despite that), we have stayed close friends these many years, and when I began to write for the stage several years ago, I sent my work to him to see what he thought.  He has been an early fan and it was he who arranged a reading of my play, Marsh Light, out here in LA.  It was the first time I heard my work read aloud professionally and it was a wonderful experience.  Since then, he has directed staged readings of two other plays, as well a production of Marsh Light.  He also sent plays of mine around to a couple of individuals at theaters in LA who he thought might be interested in them.  The Road was one.  Sam Anderson, Taylor Bryce, and Scott Smith were kind enough to read several of my plays, and developed an interest in my work.  At the time Lake Anne was least finished and they suggested that I work with the Road in its development.  We did a staged reading here 3 years ago, and then in fits and starts Sam (with input from other members of the Road’s Company) and I have engaged in conversations about the script.  I have found these interactions to be wonderful and they have been instrumental in adding nuance and depth to the play.  I have been deeply impressed by the commitment and creativity that members of the Road Theater have brought to bringing Lake Anne to life.

For more info and to purchase tix, go to: