Stephen Sachs

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“Heart Song” Stomps its Way onto the Fountain stage with Litte Enthusiasm

Published June 1, 2013 by mickala

Sitting down in the Fountain Theatre brings expectations. It is a stellar theatre that puts on high quality shows. Their current production holds even more anticipation with direction by Shirley Jo Finney (In the Red and Brown Water) and a script by Stephen Sachs (Cyrano). Though it is at times humorous and features some great dancing, Heart Song, fails to deliver that fully rounded, wow quality that the Fountain is known for.

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Heart Song brings us Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), an older Jewish New Yorker,  who is depressed, lost and mourning the death of her mother. What first comes off of as sarcastic wit and charm from the heavily accented Dunlap, soon becomes annoying and a bit pathetic. The play follows Rochelle as she is dragged to a Flamenco dancing class by her Japanese-American masseuse Tina (Tamlyn Tomita). Rochelle moans and groans the entire way there and throughout the class, refusing to try to dance and continuously insisting that she is too fat and old. We wait with anticipation for the moment where Rochelle sees the light, embraces the fierce, vibrant beats of Flamenco and releases her woes and negativity, however that moment never comes. Though she is constantly encouraged by her flamboyant, invigorating dance teacher Katarina* (Maria Bermudez, who also choreographed the play), Rochelle continues to resist and at one point flees the class all together, never to return during the remainder of the play.

The acting in this play is what you cling to. Dunlap throws herself into the highly emotional berating Rochelle. Bermudez is also powerful, and brings a wonderful ferocity with her dance moves and attitude as the vivacious dance teacher. Overall the acting and the dancing are the only true strong points of Heart Song.

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What this play lacks is focus and a true plot. We learn of Rochelle’s troubles and her disability to listen to anyones advise or to even empathize with their problems. We then learn of the hurt and pain in Tina’s past by her mother and father’s experience of meeting in a Japanese American Internment camp. We also learn of Daloris’ (Juanita Jennings) trouble as a breast cancer survivor, who tries to pick Rochelle up with her encouraging, life-affirming words and how Flamenco changed her life, yet Rochelle never seems to get it. At least not until the last five minutes of the play. For some reason, between the time the lights went down and up again between the last two scenes, what everyone in the cast had been trying to tell her for two hours had finally sunk in. What it actually had to do with Flamenco dancing, is not clear.

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There is no question that Sachs is a talented writer. He has an interesting core concept that a hurting, defeated woman has her life changed by Flamenco dancing. However that is not this play. What this play is exactly about is hard to tell. Yet, it is the Fountain Theatre, so though they might not have had a great script to work from, the choreography, lighting, stage design and casting is stellar. Unfortunately this “Heart Song” has no true melody.

** The role of Katarina will be played by Denise Blasor starting June 15th.

Heart Song runs Thursdays- Sundays until July 14th.

Athol Fugard’s “The Blue Iris” Leaves Unanswered Questions Hanging in the Air

Published August 31, 2012 by mickala

Sitting amongst the rubble of burnt, misunderstood memories, we venture into Athol Fugard’s newest creation, The Blue IrisThe Fountain Theatre has yet again mounted a visually stunning production that is carried by superb acting and producing talent. Where The Blue Iris draws a blank is unfortunately in the writing. The play is a story of a forlorn old farmer who has lost his wife in a traumatic fire, or was it in a heart attack caused by the fire? Unfortunately many questions like this one may arise for audience members after seeing the play.

Fugard no doubt has talent; during his 80 years on this planet he has contributed many great pieces to the theater world. Perhaps this play is too fresh and not quite yet fine tuned, but something seems missing. We meet Rieta Plaasman (Julanne Chidi Hill) and her boss Robert Hannay (Morlan Higgins), who are rummaging through the rubble of their beloved burnt home. Robert is desperately searching for the answer as to why his late wife Sally (Jacqueline Schultz) is haunting the remains of their house. While Rieta does her best to pack up what is salvageable and convince Robert to leave their past behind them.

After thirty minutes of talking about Sally and her beloved drawings of wild flowers, a chill ran down my spine as Schultz appeared in an upstage doorway dressed in an all white night gown. I truly felt as if I was seeing a ghost and that moment alone makes the whole night worth seeing.

After that breathtaking moment the play seems to lose all air it had like a helium balloon slowly deflating. Any suspense that had been built up with unanswered questions and unknown feelings, goes out the window when Robert and Rieta pack up and leave. No real conclusion is drawn, perhaps a lesson is learned but what particular lesson it is seems unclear.

What makes the first half of this play intriguing at all are the actors. Chidi Hill’s Rieta is played to heart wrenching perfection from her mannerisms to her impressive South African accent. She interprets the illusive text to the best that it can be and shows a strong array of emotions. Watching Chidi Hill work through the material is fascinating to a show stealing level. Which can become a problem for Higgins, since Chidi Hill is staged so far from him in most of their scenes. The set is beautifully tragic and sprawling as it ranges from the burnt down front room of the house and an outdoor section located directly next to the house. Robert spends most of his time running around frantically searching for Sally. While Rieta desperately tries to restore normalcy with a proper dinner prepared on a fire range outdoors. Because these two are barley ever next to each other, it almost feels as if you are watching a tennis match, trying to absorb the emotions of both actors.

            Perhaps I am just not familiar enough with Fugard’s work to understand the deeper meaning to this rather odd piece. To me it seems as if there is a lovely structure to a story somewhere in the text, yet it is never quite filled in. It is almost as if a few pages got left out somewhere and the key to what makes everything come together is simply missing. Either way, though the play is flawed, the Fountain Theatre has done it’s normal feat by presenting a beautifully staged, lighted and acted production of this new work. Through the Direction of Stephen Sachs, they have made this questionable piece as entertaining and moving as it could possibly be. One thing is for sure, a trip to the Fountain will never leave you with a bitter tang of disappointment, but on this occasion it will probably leave you with a few unanswered questions.

“Cyrano” a Modern Love Story Premieres at The Fountain Theatre

Published May 11, 2012 by mickala

Communication is one of the most important aspects of human existence. Communication is a simple or perhaps not so simple way of responding and feeling in a way in which others can share, feel and respond. We usually think of communication as spoken word, however with the surge of technology surrounding us there are now immensely more ways to communicate with each other that far reach beyond the abilities of the spoken word. The Fountain Theatre is currently presenting a new rendition of the classic Cyrano De Bergerac with their collaboration with the Deaf West Theatre. Stephen Sach’s Cyrano is a modern interpretation of the classic tale, in which Cyrano (Troy Kotsur) is not hindered by his unpleasing looks but by his inability to hear. He falls in love with a hearing woman named Roxy (Erinn Anova), who of course is infatuated with Cyrano’s brother Chris (Paul Raci), who in this case is an aging rocker with a limited vocabulary.

Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova
Photo by Ed Krieger

Sach has written a heart wrenching love story that incorporates technology and how it can tear down barriers that may have been impossible to cross before. Throughout the play characters communicate with each other through emails, text messages, Facebook, etc. With exquisite Technical Direction by Scott Tuomey and Set Design by Jeff McLaughlin the stage is beautifully put together with diversity that can easily change from a bar to a rooftop to an apartment almost instantly. They make use of several television monitors that line the back of the stage to portray set backgrounds as well relay text messages to audiences and provide captions for any section of the play that does not include American Sign Language (ASL).

Much of this play is told through ASL and this could be a barrier between the actors who are trying to portray the story and the hearing audience who do not know ASL However, as one of those particular audience members I can tell you that is not the case. Deaf West Theatre has been around for 21 years and they obviously have mastered how to present an ASL play. The use of technology was beautifully done and it fit right in to the theme of the play.  They also take it further by making great use of iphone applications such as maps to tracks Cyrano on his long walks.

None of this technology and translation would mean anything if the message of the play was not presented so passionately by Kotsur. A well-established ASL actor Kotsur brings out the pain of Cyrano’s situation through his signing. One might think that the lack of being able to use words in different tones and levels with different accents may take away from one’s acting, but in this case it absolutely does not. Kotsur signs with utter despair after he has pushed his brother Chris right into Roxy’s arms. The last scene will clutch at your heart as you watch Cyrano try so desperately to express his pain while for the first time during the play he has found himself at a loss for words.

Perhaps Kotsur is at a different level then some of the other cast, perhaps the character of Cyrano provides so much more to be presented then the others, but Kotsur is the definite star of this production. Anova’s Roxy seems one-dimensional but perhaps that is her plight, she loves Cyrano’s words and poetry, but is not all that intellectual herself. Raci’s Chris is hilarious as well as heart breaking and his sung rock solo in the second half is one of the best parts of the play.

Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci
Photo by Ed Krieger

Stephen Sach’s Cyrano is a different experience if you have never seen a Deaf West production before, however it is one worth experiencing. It is a beautiful tale of love and the boundaries it faces in a world where boundaries are being broken every day.

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