Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Debut Time at SCR: Cast For "The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois" May Be New, But Known

THE CAST:  William Apps, Connor Barrett, Virginia Veale and Christina Elmore
It’s always exciting to welcome new actors to the South Coast Repertory “family.” That’s the case with four actors who all are making their SCR debut in Adam Rapp’s new work, The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois. But you may recognize them from other places—television, film and stage. Meet the cast for Purple Lights.

William Apps (Ellis) is making his SCR debut. He is a professional actor based in New York City. His theatre credits include True West at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Bad and the Better at Playwrights Horizons, Hallway Trilogy at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Happy in the Poorhouse at PS 122, Ghosts in the Cottonwoods at Theater 80 St. Marks. His film credits include Regretting Fish (Cadillac Films).

Connor Barrett
(Barrett) is making his SCR debut. He previously worked with Adam Rapp off-Broadway, regionally and internationally on two of Rapp’s other plays: Finer Noble Gases at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre; Bush Theater, London; and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where the production won the Fringe First Award; and The Metal Children at Vineyard Theatre, NYC. Most recently, Barrett played Saul Kimmer in Adam Rapp’s production of the Sam Shepard play True West at Actors Theatre of Louisville. His other regional credits include the Geva Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center and Williamstown Theatre Festival. His other New York credits include the Summer Play Festival and the New York Fringe Festival. His film and television credits include “You’re Whole” (Adult Swim), “Parks and Recreation,” “CSI: NY,” “Harry’s Law,” Razzle Dazzle (Funny or Die), “Rita Rocks,” “Do Not Disturb,” “The Jury” and “Guiding Light.” Barrett received his BFA from Northwestern University and his MFA from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program.

Christina Elmore (Monique) is making her SCR debut. She is a recent graduate of American Conservatory Theater’s MFA program, where her favorite roles included Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Olga in Three Sisters, and Woman in Will Eno’s The Flu Season. Her regional credits include Belle in ACT’s A Christmas Carol, Marianne in Sacramento Theater Company’s Tartuffe and writer/ensemble member in the Guthrie Theater’s Going Live, part of the Guthrie Experience for actors in training. Now based in Los Angeles, she can be seen in last year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning film, Fruitvale Station and as regular a on TNT’s new series, “The Last Ship,” which premieres on June 22.

Virginia Veale
(Catherine) is making her SCR debut. She is a Juilliard School graduate and recipient of the 2012 John Houseman Award for showing excellence in the classics. She appeared most recently in Five Very Pretty Girls (New York Theatre Workshop), Barefoot in the Park (Bucks County Playhouse), My Children! My Africa! and All My Sons. Her recent film credits include Harmony Hill, Hotline and Awkward Moments. Veale is the co-founder of the breakout sketch series “Don’t Talk In The Kitchen.” The series’ most recent episode was awarded as one of the top 25 videos of 2013 by Funny Or Die.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Inside "Five Mile Lake" with Daniella Topol and Rachel Bonds

Five Mile Lake Playwright Rachel Bonds and Director Daniella Topol
Five Mile Lake examines two sets of people from small town life: The people who have left home and the others who stayed. The lakeside town has a distinct hold over the characters and as the play unfolds, they come face to face with the paths they’ve chosen in life. Director Daniella Topol and playwright Rachel Bonds discuss their inspirations when approaching the play, the effects of leaving home and the relationships between the characters.

As a director, what sparked your interest when approaching Five Mile Lake?

Daniella Topol: I love the way Five Mile Lake captures the depth and complexity of human relationships and intimacy with honesty and humor. The characters speak in casual and familiar ways, but carry longing and grief underneath. This darkness slowly burbles up in surprising and moving ways. Rachel's dialogue has a particular rhythm and it is thrilling to orchestrate this musicality while calibrating the emotional terrain. The rehearsal process has been joyful, muscular, exhausting, moving and surprising. And the actors have been fearless in navigating the complexity of this emotional terrain.

Coming from a small town yourself, did you find inspiration from your own personal experiences while writing Five Mile Lake?

Rachel Bonds: Yes. I'm from a tiny, very beautiful place in Tennessee. It was a lovely place to grow up, in many ways, but ultimately it wasn't a place I could stay. I still find it strange that sometimes I feel more at home in Brooklyn now. Though I feel the pull back to that tiny place at times, which is probably linked to nostalgia, to missing childhood and my dad and the woods behind our house.

In Five Mile Lake, the characters all seem to be dealing with the choices they’ve made and the paths their lives are set on. How do you believe this translates into the relationships between the characters?

Topol: In the first scene, Mary asks Jamie if he ever feels claustrophobic. He doesn't, he answers, because he lives on a giant lake, which is big enough for him. This causes Mary to roll her eyes and proclaim that they are very different people. This question of similarity and difference continues to appear throughout the play as an important and resonant theme. The characters who find themselves grappling with similar existential questions share an intimacy and understanding.

Bonds: All the characters are facing the choices they've made—they're all at separate "crossroads" moments. The characters are looking back at what they've done and what they're proud of—and ahead to the various roads they've paved. And now there is this question, now, of "was this the right road to take?" So, then there's this new conflict between the characters, as some want to move ahead, some want to turn back, some want to take a different road entirely and some are stuck in place—unable to really go forward or back. And so tension is created between them.

The play looks at two sets of people, those who have stayed and those who have left. How do you think leaving your hometown affects you as a person?

Topol: I grew up outside of Washington, D.C. and first left home to go to Carnegie Mellon to study theatre. Ironically, both of my parents grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Carnegie Mellon as well (not in the theatre program). So, by going away to school, I was actually connecting more deeply to my parents' roots. This taught me that leaving home can sometime mean that you are actually coming home. My next big move was to go to New York City where I still live today. NYC has expanded my worldview and my understanding of humanity and myself. But I return to where I grew up quite often and feel that it gives me great comfort to have close relationships with family members and old friends who still live there.

Bonds: I don't spend much time thinking that I should have stayed in the place I grew up—I couldn't personally have really grown as a person or a writer if I had. But I do miss it. I do feel the pull back there sometimes, even though I know my home is really in the city now. I think leaving has made me feel brave and guilty and melancholy—and it's given me something to write about.

Hear them talk more about the play in this video.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

"Rest" Touches Hearts

There was a soft glow in the air following the world premiere of Rest, playwright Sam Hunter’s powerful play with its seamless blend of sadness and humor.

According to Andy Johnson, honorary producer with his wife, Olivia, "First in The Whale and now in Rest, Sam Hunter always manages to find that thin line between the dark and the light sides of our humanity.  We're honored to be a part of sharing his talents with our SCR audiences."

As they gathered on a candlelit Ela’s Terrace, with its white, snowy look reminescent of the play’s setting, First Nighters and their guests congratulated the playwright, Director Martin Benson, the actors and designers for unforgettable evening of theatre.

In the days since First Night, critics and audiences alike have agreed, with the Los Angeles Times calling Hunter “a welcome theatrical voice from the American West,” adding that Benson “elicits terrific ensemble work from his cast.”

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Ties That [Sometimes] Bind

Lake People

The world premiere of Five Mile Lake marks the return to South Coast Repertory of director Daniella Topol, who made her SCR debut directing Catherine Trieschmann’s How the World Began in 2011. Topol’s association with SCR artistic director Marc Masterson dates all the way back to their shared time at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, where she was associate producing director.  Since those early days she has made a national reputation for herself as a director of new work, having staged the premieres of plays by such esteemed writers as Rajiv Joseph, Sheila Callaghan and Carla Ching (all of whom also have strong SCR connections).

Corey Brill
Nate Mooney
Rebecca Mozo
Nicole Shalhoub
Brian Slaten
The cast she has assembled for Five Mile Lake includes both SCR veterans and newcomers to the company. Rebecca Mozo (Mary) appeared earlier this season in 4000 Miles on the Segerstrom Stage, after previous roles in The Parisian Woman, In the Next Room or the vibrator play, The Heiress and Doubt, a parable, among others.  Corey Brill (Rufus) returns to SCR after playing a fetus in Noah Haidle’s Smokefall and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

Nate Mooney (Jamie), Nicole Shalhoub (Peta) and Brian Slaten (Danny) are all making their SCR debuts in Five Mile Lake. Mooney began his theatre career with Actors Theatre of Louisville and Williamstown Theatre Festival, and more recently has made frequent television appearances in such shows as “Breaking Bad,” “Criminal Minds” and “The Riches.”  Shalhoub has appeared in numerous productions off-Broadway and at such major regional theatres as the Goodman, Berkeley Repertory, Hartford Stage and Yale Repertory, among others.  Slaten has appeared locally at the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse and The Antaeus Company, and his acting credits also include many roles in television and film.
Rachel Bonds’ Five Mile Lake may be thought of as a family play, but unlike most examples of that genre—which has dominated American drama since the great foundational plays of Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams—Five Mile Lake includes no parental characters and (perhaps partly as a result of that) no rafter-rattling emotional displays. Still, the influence of absent mothers and fathers has much to do with the dynamics that play out among the two pairs of siblings on whom this gentle story hinges.

As the play opens, we discover Jamie and Mary—who work together in a bakery in a small Pennsylvania town—engaged in the kind of banter we imagine they’ve exchanged every day for years. We can also feel that something is going on beneath the banter for both of them. Jamie’s affectionate teasing has a puppyish, attention-seeking quality, suggesting he may feel more than camaraderie for his attractive coworker. But Mary’s clipped responses offer little in the way of encouragement; something is clearly eating at her. Is it the fact that her brother, a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan, still hasn’t found a job and is forced to rely on her for room and board? Or might there be more to it than that?

Before any hidden truths can come to light, Jamie and Mary’s ordinary day is suddenly turned upside-down by the arrival of Jamie’s older brother, Rufus. Rufus, whom Jamie hasn’t seen in well over a year, has unexpectedly driven down from New York—with his girlfriend, Peta, in tow—to spend a few days in his hometown. He has stopped by the bakery to pick up the keys to the old lake house the brothers inherited from their grandfather. But Rufus’s planned getaway meets a setback when he learns that Jamie now lives in the lake house and is spending his free time renovating it from top to bottom.

This means the brothers must spend a lot more “quality time” together than either of them had bargained for. During their long night of drinking beside the lake, we begin to understand the ties that bind them together, as well as some of the factors that have brought on a passive estrangement between them. 

At the heart of that estrangement is the fact that Jamie is a “stayer” and Rufus is a “leaver.” Jamie has never had any desire to stray far from the small town in which the brothers grew up; he welcomes the sanctuary of home and family, and nowadays restoring the old lake house has become his consuming passion. Rufus, on the other hand, never liked the town, the lake or the lake house, and couldn’t get away fast enough when he came of age. Now he’s pursuing his PhD in the big city, and failing to return his brother’s calls or to stay in touch with his mother, who asks Jamie about Rufus every time Jamie drives her to one of her frequent doctor’s appointments. Neither brother understands the choices the other has made:  but at the same time neither is fully content with the life he has made for himself. As they move beyond anecdotes and pleasantries, under the influence of the whisky and the cold night air, deeply buried resentments and insecurities bubble to the surface.

The next day Mary is visited at the bakery by her brother, Danny, who announces that he has been offered a job. Rufus drops in, looking for Jamie, and his unnerving reunion with his old friend, Danny, makes it clear why Mary would welcome the possibility of freeing herself from the obligation to care for her brother. Like Rufus, she has never liked her life in this small town, but family responsibilities have kept her tied down. Now Rufus’s surprise return—combined with Danny’s job prospect—presents her with a possible avenue of escape, which opens up when she and Rufus have a heart-searching conversation and discover just how much they have in common.

As the play continues to unfold, we learn that Rufus’s penchant for leaving hasn’t gone away since he left home. Back at the lake house his girlfriend, Peta, is feeling abandoned in more ways than one, and is beginning to wonder just what kind of foundation their relationship is built on. When she unburdens herself to Jamie—a man she has just met for the first time—the network of emotional fault lines among these five characters comes into sharper focus.

Rachel Bonds is a relatively new arrival to the American theatre scene, but she already shows a well developed appreciation for the complexities and nuances of character, the potency of subtext and the rich dramatic value to be mined from ordinary lives. A New York Times review of an earlier Bonds play praises the “sublime tone” of her work, an acknowledgement that atmosphere and a sense of hidden-ness are as important to her plays as character, story and dialogue.

Although its fault lines hold a great deal of unrelieved tension, Five Mile Lake will not culminate in a world-altering earthquake. Its tremors are smaller, subtler, further beneath the surface—but no less unsettling in the truths they reveal about the complicated psychology of human relationships.

Read an interview with playwright Rachel Bonds

Read another interview with Rachel Bonds

Read The New York Times review of Bonds’ earlier play, Michael and Edie

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Following the Actors As They Follow Their Dreams

Julia Hochner, right, in the 1997 Youth Players production of In Your Dreamz
Julia Hochner
As students from SCR’s Theatre Conservatory pursue acting careers, it’s fun to go back with them to see where it all began.  So much fun that we have initiated a series to run periodically—following serious acting students into the world of stage, screen and television.

Actors like Julia Hochner, who is currently making her professional debut in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at Florida’s Gulfshore Playhouse.  Hochner was barely 10 years old when she first came to SCR.  At that point, she had appeared in a few plays in elementary school, which she remembers as “learning lines and knowing where to stand.”

Hochner learned much more during her six years in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory. 

“Initially, the program gave me self-confidence and an outlet for expression,” she says.  “And because SCR was separate from my life at school (with its social pressures and rules) I could really be myself.”

At 10 years of age, Hochner wasn’t aware that the confidence she gained and the freedom that allowed her to be herself was what the program was all about!

After they become more confident, make new friends and learn about theatre, some students decide to take their experience to the next step—and audition for the Players ensemble groups.  And although she didn’t actively make up her mind to pursue an acting career until later, apparently the seed was planted at SCR because Hochner was among the students who took that extra step.  She auditioned and was accepted into the Teen Players, where she appeared in two productions, In Your Dreamz and Generation Why?

She went on to act in high school shows and earned her BA in drama from the University of Washington before moving to New York—and settling in Brooklyn.  She has appeared off-off Broadway in shows including The Fat Man’s Daughter at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, Phases at Cabrini Repertory Theatre and Tape at Night Lights Theatre.

Hochner with actor Benedict Mazurek in Phases by Rachel Carey at
Cabrini Repertory Theatre.
In All My Sons, which runs through April 19, Hochner plays Lydia Lubey, the Keller family’s bubbly next door neighbor.  It’s role she has prepared for by understanding how the character serves the play as a whole. 

“Lydia is such a contrast to the Keller’s tragic story.  Through her laughter and lightheartedness, she gives us a sense of the kind of happiness the Kellers will never have.  I find that very powerful, and of course, heartbreaking.”

Hochner always was a performer at heart, putting on plays in her grandmother’s living room, but, she says, “It was at SCR when I began a deeper, fuller exploration of acting, and I haven’t stopped!”  And, by the way, when she returns to California, Hochner often returns to SCR.  On her most recent trip, she took her parents to see 4,000 Miles.

Learn more about acting classes at SCR and enroll today!