Tuesday, January 29, 2019

2019 Interview with Heather Chesley

Director Heather Chesley is about to open a rare revival of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina at Actors Co-op on Febrary 8. In our conversation, she talks in depth about the play and why it is rarely seen.

Why did Actors Co-op select Anna Karenina? Is it because it is so rarely if ever done?

This show is about two people who struggle to understand their place in the universe, their connection to other people & their purpose in life.  Both Anna Karenina and Konstantin Levin are in a crisis of faith. They are critical of social norms and class systems, yet they both take advantage of their place in it. At times, they make their own rules, in order to justify their actions; and those actions send them into a moral spiral and self made solitary confinement. They doubt God's existence and are rejected at points by the church. This story forces Anna and Levin to work hard at living truthfully. They sacrifice so much, and the outcome for both is drastically different.  

I think this story holds a mirror up to the human experience. It is a back and forth of faith and doubt.  It seems perfect for Actors Co-op in that way.

What challenges do you face directing this piece? 

In Tolstoy's novel, Anna & Levin meet one time. At first look, Leo Tolstoy created two seemingly separate stories. Upon closer look, the decisions those two  people make in their separate journeys, forever link them together. It is a gorgeous illustration of the deep and sometimes unconscious connection between human beings.

Helen Edmundson turned this story on its ear. We open our play in "another place". Levin comes upon Anna Karenina, she is visiting or re-living moments in her life. She asks him, "What are you doing here? This is my story."  and he responds, "Its seems it is mine." Both characters see into each other's memories and experience the effects their choices have on each other. In this play, Levin & Anna serve as judge, jury, conscience, friend & confident to one another. They both seek to understand why their stories are connected.

The play brings each character's subtext to the stage. Their thoughts are sometimes put in action, as if they are calling these moments to mind. At one point, one character breaks the fourth wall directly to address our audience. The world of this play functions  on a supernatural level. I love that- it is what drew me to the piece, and it is definitely a challenge to bring that to life.

Are you a great Tolstoy fan? For what reasons?

I am a new Tolstoy fan!  Helen Edmunson's adaptation is what brought me back to Tolstoy. I read Anna Karenina when I was fifteen, but I think I was not able, or I was uninterested, in looking at the story beyond Anna's love triangle. Fifteen year old Heather was angry that Anna was forced into marriage so young. I was mortified that she was outcast for falling in love and I was angry at society for forcing her into her deep depression. 

That said-when I read the play, I thought "Who- is this Levin guy?"  It makes me laugh to think of it now. I really didn't remember. 

I was so excited by Edmundson's telling of the story. So there I was coming back to the novel, twenty-five years later and I admit, I fell in love with Levin. Levin participated in the world Anna is "condemned" by and he chooses to reject it. He seeks a simpler way of life. And while he does not get everything he wants, he seeks to better himself, to better understand the people in his world. 

When you let yourself read up on Leo Tolstoy and the questions he struggled with, it is easy to see him in Levin's story. I think it is safe to say, Edmundson and Levin have made me a Tolstoy fan.

What is the message of the play? Does it resonate in today's world?

I think this play tells us that the decisions we make, small and large have an effect on the world around us. What we do causes a ripple effect on the world at large.

The play shows us the good, bad and ugly of human nature.  It looks deep into depression, and yet remains hopeful. It reminds us, while in times of great darkness, we are connected; at times of great hope, we are also connected. Perhaps if we can continue to reach out to one another, we might find our place and our purpose.

Historically Anna was a novel first. When was it adapted for the stage? Why do you think it is hardly ever performed?

The novel is this gorgeous nine hundred page window into 19th Century Russia. There is so much detail in Leo Tolstoy's story telling. I imagine it an incredible challenge to adapt this story to the stage. What details do you let go of? How do you stay true to Tolstoy's world?

Edmundson adapted this play in 1992. While Tolstoy's voice is anchoring this play, the relationship between Levin & Anna is entirely Edmundson's. It moves quickly as if we are on a ride going through moments in their lives. 

The play doesn't finish the novel. We end before the book.  We end with more questions than we began with- my favorite kind of storytelling.

The characters and their manners of course are fascinating to behold. Do you find Tolstoy in any way similar to Chekhov? One was a novelist, the other a playwright, but I mean in terms of the universality of the people they explore.

Well, Tolstoy and Chekhov had a personal relationship. They were friends. Some say that Tolstoy treated Chekhov like a son, but he was very critical of Chekhov's plays! I think Tolstoy would tell you, he was nothing like Chekhov. 

From "Memories" in the The Book of Life, Peter Gnedich recalls Chekhov's account of his relationship with Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy said to Chekhov,

“A playwright should take the theater-goer by the hand, and lead him in the direction he wants him to go. And where can I follow your character? To the couch in the living-room and back—because your character has no other place to go.”

I admit, I think Tolstoy is unfair to Chekhov, but I see his point. Tolstoy wanted to tell stories that went beyond the home front, that put Russian society, not just the individual, in conflict. He had questions about Fate and the universe and God he wanted to ask.  

Both men are wonderful writers of course. They write characters that love, win and lose.  In that way, both writers bring us very real characters, very relatable people. 

They also write characters that hide quite a bit. From an artist's perspective, it is always fun to uncover the subtext.

What is the audience takeaway in your opinion?

I hope the audience leaves intrigued by our connection to one another. Our decisions, the way we talk, the way we support, or do not support each other, effects the world we live in and the people who live in it.

Add anything you wish about the cast and working on the project.

This cast is just the best group of people. This design team too-a dream team! This play exists in 19th Century Russia, but it also exists somewhere out of our understanding. On a show like this, all you can ask for is collaboration, and a whole lot of trust. Actors Co-op has always been a place full of people who want to work and "play" together. We are working on a difficult show that goes to a lot of dark places- but boy have the rehearsals been full of laughs. I'm grateful for the team's willingness to take risks, and enjoy taking them.

for more info and tix, go to:


2019 Interview with Emrhys Cooper

Former BWW Award winner Emrhys Cooper opens up about his latest projects. Always a man on the go, delving into athletics, modeling, dancing and having fun, his work usually aims to please. As an actor he is equally adept at comedy and drama. From the photos, it all looks terribly exciting.

(photo credit: Ryan Orange)

What brings you back to LA this winter? I believe I read you are doing a film. Tell our readers all about it.

I’m shooting a horror film called Dreamcatcher a sort of modern day “Scream”.

Jacob Johnston wrote the script and will helm the film as his first directorial feature. It’s an ensemble piece that follows a group who plan to avenge the mysterious death of their friend at a Music Festival, only to end up stalked by the same assailant.

I am having the time of my life on this project. I couldn’t have asked for a better cast and crew.
It was just announced in Deadline.

A short film you did Trophy Boy is about to receive a TV adaptation. Tell us about that in detail.

We’re so proud to be working alongside the prestigious Dynamic Television to bring this series to life.

Just announced https://worldscreen.com/tvdrama/short-film-trophy-boy-set-for-tv-adaptation/

The series Trophy Boy delves deep into the salacious world of four social media “stars”—where the audience quickly learns that all that glitters is not gold. Everybody can be bought, but at what cost?

It’s a psychological exposé of a group of friends who appear to be famous on social media but are actually going on journeys of self—either self-improvement or self-destruction. The characters live duplicitous lives, one carefully curated and ring-lit online, and the other a pale comparison, rooted in the harsh lighting of reality.

Trophy Boy is a gritty dramedy in the real life style of HBO’s Girls meets Entourage, with a dark poetic vision in the vein of Steven Soderberg’s The Girlfriend Experience, about four colorful friends and their lives and trials in New York City.

Truthfully, these four are pinching pennies and trading currency in online likes and followers—
which they soon find out is a fickle dollar.

Behind the smoke and mirrors of online fabulousness lies a darker truth. The characters will go to any length to attain fame and notoriety—even if they have to trade their bodies to get there.

Strangely enough since you left LA a couple of years back, your film career seems to have picked up greatly. Why do you suppose with your move to New York that this has happened? Is there actually more film work generated in New York than in LA?

An artist should always live where they feel most inspired. LA had started to feel drab and moving to NYC lit up my imagination,. The irony is not lost on me that the films picked up after leaving Hollywood,. In the end I feel like New York is a good place for me at the moment.

I am also lucky to have found a wonderful team who have really believed in me and pushed my career.

What other successes have you experienced in New York? Any offers of theatre work?

I set up my own production company EmCo Entertainment and I have been busy writing & directing my own projects. I haven’t had a moment to do any theatre, but I am dying to get back on stage and find the right project.

I have been thinking a lot about Oscar Wilde. Later, hopefully I will manifest some time for his writing in my life.

You received a BWW Award a few years ago as an Outstanding Newcomer., based on your work in a local production of Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Did the play affect your career? If so, how?

I was really surprised and humbled by how the audience responded to that sociopathic role LOL. Playing Sloane definitely helped open some doors, as three weeks after we finished, I booked a role of Desperate Housewives, I think it helped that the creator of the show Marc Cherry came to watch.

Tell us more about your production company and other projects that await you in 2019.
(photo credit: Gavin Beasley)

I am super proud of the work EmCo has already achieved. The first project Trophy Boy premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and is now being turned into a TV show. Up coming projects include Nosferatu, a dark comedy set against the dark world of self help.

At EmCo Entertainment we produce film, TV, theatre and original online content that is both highly entertaining and contains a thought-provoking message for the audience.We believe that the digital currency for the 21st Century is the ability to capture and hold people’s attention. This criterion is the blueprint for all our creative ventures.We are a New York based team of industry experts who offer a top quality, full-package approach to any production need. We collaborate effectively with all our clients to bring their innovative ideas to a global marketplace.

Anything you wish to add?

Please watch my short film Trophy Boy, and spread the word:)


and to follow Emrhys, visit:

Twitter/Facebook @emrhyscooper

My production company that I founded last year

My official website 

Monday, January 28, 2019

2019 Interview - Playwright Art Shulman

Art Shulman has produced many full-length plays including The Rabbi’s Mission; The Rabbi & The Shiksa; The Yentas Wear Red Hats; I Got Troubles; Doubting Thomas; I’m Not Just A Comic Genius; Rebecca’s GambleNot One More Foot Of Land!; BagelsBoxcar & EugeniaSex Is Good For You!; Old Broads Can’t Dunk; God, Bring Me A Miracle; The $4 Million Giveaway; Misconceptions; Joe Carbone’s JobSeptember 10; Career Day; and the Xmas musical, Trolls Stole The North Pole. Additionally, he’s written many one-act plays, too numerous to list here.

Interview with WHOOPSIE-DOOPSIE! Playwright/Director Art Shulman

Written by Steve Peterson

When and where did you first become interested in writing for the stage?

1994.  I had written some monologues and an actor friend of mine in an acting group suggested mounting it as a play.

What was the first play you wrote and what was it about? Was it produced, and if so when and where?  What did you take away or learn from that experience?

JOE CARBONE’S JOB. It is about the owner of a chicken slaughterhouse who feels guilty about killing chickens, so he goes to work at a coffeehouse to meet people and find information about what other occupations people have, and what they like about it. It was produced in 1994. I learned from that that I was a pretty good playwright.

Which of your plays do you consider your best or a favorite, and why?

This is like asking a parent which is his favorite child. So I can’t give you one. I write in a lot of different styles. Some different plays include my best box office hit – THE RABBI & THE SHIKSA. My courtroom drama, REBECCA’S GAMBLE is very unusual. My historical drama, NOT ONE MORE FOOT OF LAND! Has been called by one reviewer as ‘very important.’ My Xmas musical, TROLLS STOLE THE NORTH POLE (I wrote the book and lyrics, not the music). And of course, my current WHOOPSIE-DOOPSIE is way different from almost all other plays.

Tell us a bit about Whoopsie-Doopsie! 

This play is based on a novel I wrote about a young man, Billy, whose girlfriend got pregnant. The story alternates between elements of how he and she deal with the pregnancy, and events that happen to Billy each year from age two to the current seventeen. The novel was originally called THE BILLY CHRONICLES. It had a couple of staged readings, but lay dormant for many years when I decided to pick it up again when Zombie Joe, the operator of his own theater, asked me if I had anything he could produce at his theater. It is a wacky, quirky, fast-paced, outrageous play with eight actors, six of whom play multiple roles. The staging is very unusual, with the set basically consisting only of a number of cubes and a few screens.

WHOOPSIE-DOOPSIE! was recently performed  at ZJU in NoHo.  Is this the same play or have you re-written or revised it in some way?

It is basically the same play, with the changes having to do with some additional dialogue and two new scenes. The staging is different since we have a lot more stage space in this production than in the one performed at ZJU.

What do you want the audience take away having seen the plays?  What might they remember?

That it is a funny, comic piece while presenting both sides of the pro-choice vs. pro-life issue.

What’s up next for you - - directing/producing/acting? 

Over the past few years I’ve acted in a few of my plays. In my last four productions, including this one, I’ve directed only. And a director, in a way, gets to play all the roles. During this period I’ve continued writing and have come up with a number of new one-act plays, and am developing my next production, THE MAVERICK PROFESSOR, which I hope to produce later this year. I usually executive produce my own plays. An exception was the earlier production WHOOPSIE-DOOPSIE! at ZJU.

WHOOPSIE-DOOPSIE!  February 2 – March 3.  Saturdays 2:00 pm, Sundays 7:00 pm. Talk-backs after Saturday matinees February 9 and February 23.  Tickets: $20. Students/Seniors with ID: $17.  Tickets & information: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990.  AC/Heat. The Upstairs is not wheelchair accessible. Upstairs at the Group Rep, second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601.

2019 interview with Sam Anderson

The Road Theatre on Lankershim is proud to present the world premiere of Death House by Jason Karasev that first bowed as a staged reading in August of 2017 at the Road's Summer Playwrights Festival. It's a scintillating look at prisons and the death sentence as told through the struggles of an inmate on death row, the prison chaplain attending to her and the new pastor. Each week through March 10 we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team. This week we shine the light on The Road's co- artistic director/ veteran award-winning actor Sam Anderson.

What character do you play in Death House?

In Death House, I play George, a longtime prison chaplain on Death Row, coming to his last day on a job that has taken an enormous toll on his life and psychological well being. In this final day, he trains his young, eager replacement whose agenda is the polar opposite of mine. The argument, the violence and the catharsis between us, inspired by our encounter with an unusual prisoner, forms the central themes and action of the play.

What is challenging you as an actor?

What’s challenging about this role, and the reason I took it, is what challenges all actors dealing with the human condition: the duality of the dark and the light, the stances we take on the surface fighting the 
wellspring of profound and complicated emotions buried deep. This playwright gives no easy answers, but he challenges us to get through the hell of ourselves into a moment or two of genuine grace. It’s an e-ticket ride, requiring truth in every moment. Those roles scare me and I go after them every single time.

Tell us about your cast and director.

It is an honor to work with both Verity (Branco) and Chase (Cargill). I have utmost respect for them and I trust them through some dangerous work. All this was guided by our director Michael Peretzian, challenging us to not take obvious choices, but to go for the truth, and this came hand in hand with generous conversations with playwright Jason Karasev, who is also an actor and understands from the inside out.

What do you hope audiences will take away?

We have met some stunning reactions to the show, with audiences saying they’re taken on a frightening, complicated and ultimately moving and human ride ... my favorite kind of theatre, and what the Road looks for in choosing 
our seasons. This one is very very special to me, both professionally and personally.

Death House plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through March 10 at the historic Lankershim Arts Center at 5108 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. Arrive early to ensure street parking.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

2019 Interview with Actress Dianne Fraser

Actress/producer Dianne Fraser is a well known and much beloved gal  in and around the LA cabaret scene. She is executive producer of the popular An Evening of Classic Broadway that performs five/six times a year at Rockwell Table and Stage. She recently sat down for a look back at 2018 and to discuss her plans for 2019 ... for the show and for her own career as actress/singer.

Sum up, if you would, the progress of An Evening of Classic Broadway in 2018.

An Evening of Classic Broadway hit its stride in 2018. Brad Ellis and I celebrated a milestone with out 25th performance and have been selling out the room. In fact, our December show sold so well in advance that Rockwell asked us to add another performance. The second performance was full too. That one was especially fun for me because, the first real cabaret show I attended was Andrea Marcovicci’s. We even referenced her in one of the parody songs in my solo show. She attended a Classic Broadway evening and liked the show so much that she asked to sing with us. I got to sing a duet with her, the Queen of Cabaret, in both December shows  – just thrilling for me! We’ve been highly critically praised and the strong word of mouth has really built our audience. The show received several Awards/Award Nominations in 2018, including your Eddon Award, A Robby Award nom and a BWW.com nomination for Special Theatre Event. We’ve also been approached by some regular attendees about the possibility of their buying out the room for a special event presentation of our show.

As producer, your work is neverending, but you are also an actress and singer. Has the show advanced your career? If so, in what ways?

My aspirations as a performer are targeted: I hope to one day have a featured role in a Broadway musical. Toward that end, performing regularly in our show (and others around town) is helping me hone my craft and work on a variety of material.

Tell us in detail about your work in theatre especially in musicals.

I have appeared in numerous musicals, in summer stock and regional theatre, in such shows as The Boys From Syracuse, Tintypes, The Music Man, She Loves Me, The Pirates of Penzance, The Baker’s Wife, Kiss Me, Kate, Hello, Dolly! and Once Upon a Mattress. Broadway is my ultimate goal.

How do you see yourself? I see you as a very fine character actress. Your choice of material in An Evening of Classic Broadway has gotten better and better as you explore characters that are age-appropriate. You do not try to do girlish parts and that is brave and realistic, as you would not be cast that way.

I see myself mostly as a comedic musical theatre character actress, though I am also suited for some leading lady roles, like the title character in The Drowsy Chaperone and Desirée in A Little Night Music.

Who has provided you with inspiration? Do you have a role model in the business or in your personal life?          

Stephen Schwartz has been a role model, inspiration and friend. I have worked with him as a producer on two of his shows, a regional production of the revised Baker’s Wife and a commercial production of the revised Working. I’m always impressed by his ability to flag something that could be better and offer an ingenious note. And there is no end to his kindness and generosity. Brad Ellis is another spark of positive influence for me. I have learned so much from him about musicality and lyric interpretation. In my personal life, it’s my husband, Jeff Cohn. He is a talented writer who often contributes spectacular special lyrics to songs we are doing. He is also the most supportive and smartest person I know. 

What established roles tickle your fancy the most? Why these choices?

At the top of my list is Frau Blucher from one of my all-time favorite musicals, Young Frankenstein. I love doing comedy and she has some outrageous comic turns in the show. Though not comedic, Heidi in Dear Evan Hansen is also high on my list. As the mom of two kids, I so relate to the struggles her character faces. I’d include Mme. Hortense in Zorba, another beloved show of mine. I lived in France during college and am often drawn to French characters. Plus she has some wonderful songs. I had the great pleasure recently of seeing The Prom on Broadway and the role of DeeDee Allen in that show (the Beth Leavel role) is one for me.

What's on tap for you at the beginning of 2019? Acting wise, singing wise...and as a producer?

Brad Ellis and I will be doing more Classic Broadway evenings in 2019. We have such fun with the show and the caliber of performer we get to sing with us has reached new heights. One of the most rewarding aspects of doing the show, in addition to the warm accolades we receive from audience members, is how much these singers love working on new material and/or new arrangements, and participating in these evenings. Each show is always a win-win for everyone involved.

Final thoughts?

I’m always looking for ideas and material to develop as a producer, specifically things that have roles in them that I might play. It’s an exciting time to be active in the worlds of cabaret and theatre in Los Angeles and beyond.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Actress/director Barbara Brownell has numerous credits as an actress. Broadway: Play it Again, Sam and The Ballad of Johnny Pot.  King Lear at the Actor’s Studio, NY.  Touring: Oklahoma, On a Clear Day.  Regional: Zing!, Barefoot in the Park, Star Spangled Girl.  L.A.: Happy Birthday Wanda June, Dylan, A Case of Libel, Early Cabaret, Chicago, Dull Pain. She won the 2017 Broadway World award for Best Leading Actress in a play, LA . T.V. shows include Mad Men, Big Love, Night Court (3), Grey’s Anatomy, Monk, L.A. Law, Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore, and recurring on Webster and MASH.  Films include Behind the Candelabra, Going Home, Hearts of the West, Someone to Watch Over Me, Ants, Mark of the Witch, and The Master. 

In this interview, Brownell discusses acting and directing Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star at The Group Rep, set to open this Friday January 25.

When and where did you first become interested in being on stage?

Probably when I was cast as Goldilocks in kindergarten in Bound Brook, New Jersey! My first focus, however, was dancing. In high school, I auditioned for Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour and got on the show with a ballet from Giselle.  (Unfortunately, I lost to a contortionist.)  When I told my high school counselor that I hoped to work on Broadway sometime or maybe become a Radio City Rockette, she told me that was a one in a million chance, and that I should set my sights on something more realistic…perhaps I should think about being a social worker. I thought, to heck with that, I’m going to New York. 

What was your first professional role on stage or screen, and what did you learn from that experience?

My first professional job was at the Gristmill Musical Playhouse in Andover, New Jersey. I earned my equity card there in summer stock, hired primarily as a dancer and singer. But when I got the chance to play Mazeppa in Gypsy, whose gimmick is playing the bugle while stripping, I fell in love with acting. Dancers don’t usually get laughs. Mazeppa was a hoot. Knowing that a dancer’s career is often short lived, I was determined from that point on to pursue acting, and I moved to New York. 

Is there a professional job that you are most proud of that stood out as a benchmark in your career?

There is nothing like being on Broadway and I have to say that doing Play It Again, Sam at the Broadhurst Theatre for a year with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton was a dream come true.  But the production that really catapulted my career was an Off-Broadway show called the Ballad of Johnny Pot with Betty Buckley. I played Desiree which allowed me to dance and sing the blues and play a strumpet with a heart of gold. That show got me a choice of any agent in New York, a movie with Robert Mitchum, and a TV series, “The David Frost Review.” 

Tell us about the McLure plays and what attracted you to them as a director?

When I first read James McLure’s two one acts, Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star, I was immediately drawn to the wit, humanity, and emotional depth of his work. While these two plays can certainly be presented individually, they are also insightful companion pieces that resonate with one another, and I feel playing them together only enhances their power. They’re each set in Maynard, Texas in the late 1970s. Two characters in each play have spouses in the other. The timelines are similar but are not meant to suggest they occur on the same day. Although they are unabashedly gendered pieces (all female in Laundry, all male in Lone Star) what they share is a strong testament to the value of familial ties, loyalty, and friendship, and the universal healing power of true companionship and, above all, humor, to blunt the pain of heartache and loss. 

What do you want the audience to take away from having seen the plays? What might they remember?

That often the best thing we can do for each other is simply listen and be there for one another.  Friendship helps us all through the toughest of times.  And humor is the ultimate elixir. 

What’s up next for you?

I had originally planned to put together an entire evening by women (tapping our feminine power from the tech booth to the stage—songs, monologues, stand-up, etc) to accompany the production of Laundry and Bourbon.  But the chance to do both plays and work with the talented men in Lone Star put the ladies’ night on hold, for now.  I’ve also been tinkering with a one woman show idea, triggered by the recent discovery that the man who raised me was not my true father after all, which has caused me to ponder the nature/nurture phenomenon in a brand new light.  One happy consequence is that I’ve found and fallen in love with a whole new family I never knew existed. 

The Group Rep is proud to open their 45th Season with two James McLure one-act comedies, LAUNDRY AND BOURBON and LONE STAR, directed by Barbara Brownell, produced by Lloyd Pedersen. January 25 – March 3. Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 pm, Sundays 2:00 pm. General Admission: $25. Students/Seniors with ID: $20. Groups 10+: $15. Buy tickets and information: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601. 

Interview with Director Michael Peretzian

The Road Theatre on Lankershim is proud to present the world premiere of Death House by Jason Karasev that first bowed as a staged reading in August of 2017 at the Road's Summer Playwrights Festival. It's a scintillating look at prisons and the death sentence as told through the struggles of an inmate on death row, the prison chaplain attending to her and the new pastor. Each week through March 10 we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team. This week we shine the light on Death House's director Michael Peretzian.

What challenges do you face as director?


What do you think is the message of the play?


Tell us about your cast and playwright.


Death House plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through March 10 at the historic Lankershim Arts Center at 5108 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. Arrive early to ensure street parking.

Monday, January 14, 2019

2018 Interview with Playwright Jason Karasev

The Road Theatre on Lankershim is proud to present the world premiere of Death House by Jason Karasev that first bowed as a staged reading in August of 2017 at the Road's Summer Playwrights Festival. It's a scintillating look at prisons and the death sentence as told through the struggles of an inmate on death row, the prison chaplain attending to her and the new pastor. Each week through March 10 we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team. This week, with the play set to open on Friday January 18, we shine the light on Death House's playwright Jason Karasev.

What was yur inspiration for creating Death House?

Upon viewing Into The Abyss, a documentary by one of my favorite filmmakers Werner Herzog, I was fascinated by the journey of an individual who was interviewed, in brief, within the film. Although he was not the primary focus of the documentary, this individual, a former “Death House Chaplain,” ignited an initial question that would become the impetus for writing Death House. I began very crudely, asking myself, “Who would want to do this job?” The job, as it were, entails sitting with an inmate during their last 6 hours of life, within a slightly nicer facility than their primary cell; this space is called the Death House (aptly named for its nearness to the execution chamber about 10-15 feet outside of the room). This Chaplain helps to facilitate the famous last meal, and potentially a shower, change of clothes, journaling, counseling, etc., before helping to walk the inmate to their execution and assisting in the execution process itself (the activities and the room vary from state to state, and prison to prison). Seeing the great regret this Chaplain had in retrospect of his career created the central dramatic lynchpin for my play: What would it be like if we could speak to our younger selves; to confront regrets and mistakes, while struggling to understand our own selves through that lens? This sparked the dynamics for the rest of play, which I will not give away, but will address in a general manner in terms of some of the themes I hoped to touch upon.

Tell our readers about these themes.

I wanted to force my characters, and audience, to wrestle with many of the questions we choose to ignore every day: What is justice, who deserves redemption, how do we deal with tragedy, and can we truly grow and change as individuals and as a collective? I also hoped to exemplify that, although we may feel we are moving through a disparate world, we are more connected and more in need of one and other than we could ever imagine. Even for those who have not had someone run through our justice system, or specifically on Death Row, the Death House serves as a microcosm for the fine line we walk together as humans; a place where we must all face our inner demons and decide how we will proceed, both for ourselves and future generations we may influence. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from experiencing the play?

The play asks those with differing perspectives, backgrounds, and struggles to come face-to-face with one another and live, if only for a moment, in someone else’s shoes. Given the anger and discord that has been in the air the last few years in the United States, and globally, I feel there is no better time for us to get to the core of these struggles. To truly pause and assess the undeniable things that bind us all: the fragility of life and the universality of death.

Death House plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through March 10 at the historic Lankershim Arts Center at 5108 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. Arrive early to ensure street parking.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

2019 Interview with James Barbour

Award-winning actor/singer James Barbour is an LA onstage favorite. His charming personality, good looks and magnificent voice are all reasons to rush ro buy a ticket to 1776 opening Friday January 11 at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Barbour took time from his busy schedule to chat about his involvement with the show and others in his remarkable career thus far.

What role are you playing in 1776? Have you played him before?

I’m playing Edward Rutledge.  This is the third time I’m playing this role but the fourth time I’ve done the show. The first time I did the show, I played Jefferson.

Tell our readers about your acting challenges in playing this role.

In my mind 1776 has one of the best books of a musical ever written and all of the characters have incredible depth. Rutledge is no exception. I don’t look at it so much as a challenge in the regular sense, but more an effort to find increased nuance and meaning within the character. Even now after having playing the role over countless performances I’m gaining new insights with each passing day. 
Why is 1776 compared to Hamilton in your opinion?

Simply put they both deal with journey toward American Independence, Alexander Hamilton, however, is not mentioned in 1776 which is interesting.
I saw the original 1776 and will always remember it not only for the performances and the music but because it made our wants and needs as citizens the top priority. Do you think these ideals will ever be met judging by our current administration?

I think ideals are often that…ideals.  Merriam Webster defines Ideal: as “A standard of perfection." I suppose the question should be: Is an ideal attainable?  Even our founding father’s with their goal of true Independence fell far short of “perfection.”  After the signing of the Declaration women were still denied the right to vote, could not go to college and once married they lost their autonomy. Slavery remained a constant with something like 41 members of the Continental Congress owning slaves including Thomas Jefferson himself. One stark contrast between then and now is that the men who served in the Continental Congress did so freely. They were not paid and it was not their “job”.  Most of the men who signed the Declaration lost everything they had during the Revolutionary War, their lands, their families and some even their lives. In the end even though the “ideal” of freedom and a war in the name of Independence left many without that very right, do we ask if the founding fathers did enough?  What if they hadn’t acted? Hadn’t taken a stand?  Had’t communicated and set aside their differences to reach a common goal?  And how do those actions relate to today? I think we’ve lost the ability to communicate as a whole. We are one people living on this earth, each of us with different lives, different viewpoints and different realities. Would that we could talk to each other, understand each other and live harmoniously despite our differences in an effort to better our world.
Tell us about your director and cast members.

What an incredible group of people!  This is the fourth time I’ve worked with our director, Glenn Casale, and the second time we’ve done 1776 together. There is an understanding we have not only as director to actor but as friend to friend. It’s pure joy to work with him. The cast…wow.  Again, many I’ve worked with before in various productions, some I’ve known for years and some I’ve just met on this adventure. Truly a remarkable team has been assembled.  
Who in your mind is the most influential composer of our time? Why?

Interesting question. I think influence depends upon the listener. Coming from the era in which I hail, I hearken to composers who have stood the test of time and who have also crossed genres successfully. George Gershwin is the name that immediately comes to mind. He crossed so many genres and continues to have an impact even now.  When I think of our current world, Lin-Manuel Miranda is undoubtedly taking the industry by storm.  He’s broken new ground, pushed aside “norms” to build what amounts to a creative movement of the highest order.   Just think of the sheer numbers of people who have been influenced by his music, know of his work and the countless new theatre goers who have Hamilton as their first theatrical experience. It’s truly remarkable to watch the rocket ride he is on, and what’s more, he takes us all with him, audience and performers alike with him.  
What's been happening for you onstage as of late? I saw you in Les Mis. After that?

After Les Mis I had the honor to spend nearly the next three years playing The Phantom on Broadway.  Aside form my own one man shows currently in development, 'The Ghosts Of The Majestic' and 'Bring Me Giants', I’m also executive directing a new show called “Good Enough” which stars Ted McGrath and we are in pre-production for the feature film version of “Good Enough” which should start filming this summer. One fun note, I’m also appearing in concert at La Mirada on May 18th so I’m looking forward to that as well.
What is your favorite role to date and is there one you are longing to play in the future? Why this choice?

Always a tough question.  I truly find something in each and every role I’ve ever done. It’s truly hard to pin it down to just one.
Anything you wish to add about the show, La Mirada Theatre & McCoy Rigby?

Working at La Mirada and with McCoy/Rigby is like being with family.  All during my run of Phantom I would chat with Tom McCoy about what he had on the burner.  I jump at any chance I have to “come home” to La Mirada and McCoy/Rigby.  
1776 plays from January 11 through the 31st. For tickets, call: (714) 994-6310 | (562) 944-9801
Email: boxoffice@lamiradatheatre.com or In Person: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts at 14900 La Mirada Blvd. La Mirada, CA 90638