Those of us who’ve been around for a while well remember the great Dougee Zeno belting out from behind her baby grand Cole Porter’s titillating torch song, Love for Sale, during both the 1977 World Premiere of Red Hot and Cole at Hanover Tavern and the subsequent 1987 revival at our historic November Theatre (known then as the Empire).
Those with memories even sharper may recall the legendary, Tony-nominated chanteuse Elisabeth Welch plaintively warbling that same tune from that same November/Empire stage during her 1990 cabaret performance that reopened the theatre following Phase I of our restoration. Lest we forget, it was the late, great Ms. Welch who created quite the scandal when she first introduced Love for Sale to Broadway audiences in Cole Porter’s 1930-31 production of The New Yorkers. Thereafter it become one of her three signature songs.
Well … this blog post has nothing to do with any of those fond and precious memories.
This blog post intends to send a little Richmond love to Jonathan Sale, a young actor who began his career here at Virginia Rep and is now knocking ‘em dead eight shows a week appearing opposite Broadway icon Carol Lawrence (the original Maria in West Side Story) in the smash Off Broadway comedy hit, Handle with Care, written by UVA Drama Dept. alum (and Emmy nominee) Jason Odell Williams.
Jonathan ably co-starred in Virginia Rep’s productions of Stand Up Tragedy and Marvin’s Room (both performed in our Theatre Gym) and Romeo and Juliet (staged in the historic November). In the Stand Up photo below, Jonathan is the dashing young man seated second from the right, with one forearm resting on his knee. Others in that photo include (standing left to right) cast members Rick Brandt, Richard Travis, Rusty Wilson, the late Tye Heckman, sound designer John Anderson, stage manager ?, and director John Moon, and (seated left to right) cast members ?, ?, Ben Hersey, Jonathan Sale, and ?.
Two free tickets to the Virginia Rep show of your choice (and my heartfelt appreciation) to anyone who can fill in any of the question marks.
Those of you who weren’t here for those shows from the mid-90s may know Jonathan’s work nonetheless. After graduating from the University of Richmond with a double major in theatre and Spanish, Jonathan headed to San Francisco where he earned his MFA in Acting from the prestigious professional theatre grad program at American Conservatory Theatre. He moved to NYC, married his beautiful wife, actress Heather Dilly, in 2003, and for the last decade has been building an impressive career Off Broadway and in television and film, finding work as both an actor and director.
You can watch several great clips from Jonathan’s reel, including a classic Holiday Inn Express commercial in which he demonstrates the rap skills he first honed portraying an NYC street kid in Stand Up Tragedy, an Arby’s commercial with a non-speaking Jim Parsons, and a Law and Order episode with none other than our recent Atticus Finch, Adrian Rieder.
I caught up with Jonathan recently to ask what it felt like to be starring in an Off Broadway hit opposite one of the legendary actresses of American theatre. Here’s what he had to say:
“The Handle with Care experience has been fantastic. It was actually my first audition after the birth of my son, Grayson, and it took a year and a half of readings, travel and fundraising for the show finally to come to fruition. Grayson is 20 months old now and I’ve been doing Handle with Care in one form or another for basically his entire life!
I saw that the casting notice called for someone over 6 feet tall to play opposite our statuesque leading lady, Charlotte Cohn, and that the play takes place in Goodview, Virginia. I noted that they needed someone who could do both comedy and drama and I felt like the role was meant for me. So I pursued it pretty hard and was lucky enough to land it.
Carol Lawrence is a phenomenon. She’s 82 years old, but she has the energy of a 22 year old. She bounces and hops and taps and sings her way through rehearsals and performances. She is like a fish in water on the stage as well as in interviews and press events. She’s also an amazing chef and often starts sentences with phrases like, “Oh, when I knew Dean…” and “Elvis was a sweet boy,” referring to guys like Dean Martin and Elvis Presley by their first names without even thinking about it. Not name dropping, just sharing a life story like you or I would talk about Ford or Gordon.
My time with Virginia Rep was so formative, so important to my path as an actor. Those productions hold up very, very well compared to many of the New York and regional productions I’ve done since. The talent, the professionalism, the production values were all top notch. The Romeo and Juliet I did with you guys is still the most handsomely produced R & J I’ve been in, and I’ve done that show four times! Marvin’s Room and Stand Up Tragedy might be two of the top six or seven shows I’ve ever done. So good. I remember looking up to folks like Irene Ziegler and Dawn Westbrook and John Moon so much. And I still run into guys like Ben Hersey and Duke Lafoon at commercial auditions all the time. Small world.”
Then and now, Jonathan was and is a great guy. We miss him. And we’re especially proud of and happy for his success. Hopefully, we’ll be able to lure him back to one of our Virginia stages sometime in the near future.
If you’d like to know more about Jonathan, you can visit him on his website: www.JonathanSale.tv. Or if you’re in NYC between now and his show’s closing on March 9, drop by to see him in Handle with Care. And take him a little love from Virginia.
When you see Tartuffe—and I sincerely hope you won’t allow yourself to miss it—you’ll notice that six of the ten actors on stage are new to Virginia Rep’s Signature Season. Esteemed veterans (and audience favorites) Joe Pabst and Debra Wagoner anchor the cast, ably supported by returning stalwarts Andy Boothby and Mollie Ort. Two actors who have worked with us only in a Cadence production, Ryan Bechard (Sons of the Prophet) and Alexander Sapp (Good People) bring their exceptional talents now to our mainstage, and the remaining four actors (Eva DeVirgilis, Amaree Cluff, Brad Fraizer and Nick Hampson) are working with us for the first time.
Amaree and Brad are the first two actors to join our ranks from the new partnership we have been developing quietly over the last 18 months with the MFA Acting Program in the Department of Drama at UVA. Amaree and Brad appear as the young lovers, Mariane and Valère. I could not be more pleased and excited by their work. When you see the show, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Not only do they turn in rollicking performances that will have you rolling in the aisles, they also contributed a trained, relaxed energy, confidence and creative fire to the rehearsal process that helped all of us, myself as much as anyone, remain open to a fresh and vibrant realization of this 350-year old classic.
When you see Other Desert Cities, the brilliant new play that will be the next offering in our Signature Season, you’ll be dazzled by two more of our new UVA partners, Sandi Carroll and Mike Long. Brad and Sandi already had their AEA cards prior to entering the MFA Acting Program at UVA; Amaree and Mike are earning their cards through their work at Virginia Rep.
Our good friends at UVA describe their exceptional MFA Acting Program as follows:
“Every two years the Department of Drama is pleased to invite eight talented actors to join our program and begin a two-year journey of concentrated, continuous study. Our approach to training offers an actor a range and depth of classroom and on-stage experience aimed at establishing and maintaining a fluid, integrated acting process. We value technique and seek to work with actors who are interested in building a strong vocal/physical foundation and have a self-motivated interest in making connections between courses. We believe an actor should be smart—our goal is to foster informed, articulate, and versatile artists through cultivating an advanced understanding of theater history, literature, and performance theory as tools for practical character research. We also believe an actor should be playful. Whether creating a new work, exploring a line of verse, or a realizing a director’s concept, we encourage actors to be imaginative and inventive.
Our actors practice theater as a collaborative art, looking for parallels to and connections with the work of playwrights, directors, dramaturges, and designers. Past collaborations have included workshops with actors and lighting designers (exploring light and storytelling), class sessions with costume designers (exploring movement and period styles), seminars with playwrights (contributing to script development) and partnerships with directors in the creation of devised works.
We ask our actors to consider who they are as artists–what guides an original and personal point of view in the world, and how one communicates this vision through the characters and compositions they create. We encourage an actor to produce original work vitally connected to community concerns. In addition, graduate students in the Department of Drama serve as teachers, mentors and role models to our undergraduate students. The program offers an on-going integration between academic work and professional experience. Students will participate in new play development and/or productions at Virginia Repertory Theatre in Richmond, VA, and Heritage Theatre Festival, Charlottesville, VA.
Diversity of experience is encouraged through a balanced focus in both traditional and innovative practices. Our mission is to prepare advanced students to work in today’s theatre through providing excellent training and meaningful interaction with resident faculty and guest artists and fostering creative collaboration in course work and productions. Because our work is grounded in the idea that the arts are a vital component of society, we encourage artists and audiences to look to theatre as a means to engage, question, and seek truth. For inspiration in this endeavor, we remember one of Thomas Jefferson’s founding principles for the university: ‘This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.’”
Virginia Rep is proud to be embarking on this new partnership with UVA. All parties believe wholeheartedly that this strategic collaboration will be a win/win/win/win/win for UVA, Virginia Rep, the MFA Acting students, our Richmond audience, and American professional theatre.
If you or someone you know may be interested in this terrific graduate program, please contact Colleen Kelly at UVA Dept. of Drama (email@example.com) immediately for more information.
In 1980, Theatre IV (one of the two nonprofit companies that merged in 2012 to form Virginia Repertory Theatre) produced its first adult audience season. We were in the second half of our fifth year of operations, and we decided that if we were going to work towards our goal of becoming a regional theatre of national standing, we had better get started. And so we rented the Westover movie theatre on Forest Hill Avenue (about 500 seats, now known as New Canaan Baptist Church), built a wooden stage in front of the movie screen, equipped the stage with black fabric “legs” and some very basic stage lighting, and produced a three show season consisting of The Diary of Anne Frank, A Raisin in the Sun, and The Philadelphia Story—perhaps a little too predictably something for everyone.
The season was a success, and our aspirations soared. The following year we rented the recently closed Loew’s movie theatre in downtown Richmond (about 1,800 seats, now known as Carpenter Theatre at CenterStage). We produced a three-show season consisting of West Side Story, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and Born Yesterday. This second season also was a success, and we were on our way. The following year we would rent the Empire Theatre (about 600 seats, now known as the November Theatre), and purchase the same building four years later in 1986.
Prior to that first season in 1980, we had produced two adult audience productions in our first three months of operation: Where’s Charley? and The Glass Menagerie. Both of those shows succeeded artistically, but financially they were flops. We learned early on that when we produced plays for children and families, we sold enough tickets to cover our expenses. And so from Oct of 1975 until January of 1980, we focused strictly on children’s theatre, both mainstage and touring, and built our financial foundation before returning to plays for adult audiences in the spring of ’80.
Our production of A Raisin in the Sun was co-produced with Virginia Union University, and directed by Amini Johari, the director of VUU’s theatre program. Raisin starred Kweli Leapart and Tony Cosby, two wonderful actors with whom we’d have long and productive relationships. Amini is now known as Johari Amini. She is an acclaimed educator and director in Maryland; a recent biography can be found here.
A Raisin in the Sun was our first foray into African American theatre, and Amini, Kweli and Tony were very gracious and forgiving teachers. Phil Whiteway, Managing Director then and now, played Karl Lindner, the only white character in the show. Lindner seems like a nice enough man at first. He says he represents a kind of “welcoming committee” from Clybourne Park, the predominantly white neighborhood where the black family in Raisin, the Youngers, is planning to move. Lindner implies that if people of different races would just sit down and talk to each other, a lot of problems could be resolved.
Of course, in Raisin, Lindner has no desire to “welcome” the Youngers at all. His idea of resolving the “problem” of a black family moving into the neighborhood is to try to bribe the family into selling their new home back to the white neighborhood association.
This week, Cadence Theatre, in partnership with Virginia Rep, will be opening Clybourne Park, a brilliant new play by Bruce Norris, in our Theatre Gym studio space (81 seats, located in Virginia Rep Center next door to the November). Clybourne Park was written in 2010 in response to Lorraine Hansberry’s classic Raisin in the Sun. The play was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play.
Act I of Clybourne Park takes place in 1959, during the same time period as A Raisin in the Sun. The character of Karl Lindner appears in Clybourne, only this time he is trying to convince his white neighbors not to sell their home to the black Youngers. As we know from Raisin, his attempt is doomed to failure.
Act II of Clybourne takes place in the same house 50 years later. During that half century, Clybourne Park has become an all-black neighborhood, and the issue now is not integration but gentrification. A white couple seeking to buy and replace the house are being forced to negotiate local housing regulations with a black couple representing a neighborhood association. The discussion of housing codes soon degenerates into one of racial issues, and we quickly realize that everything has changed and nothing has changed.
Clybourne Park is directed by Keri Wormald (August: Osage County) and features an outstanding cast including David Bridgewater, Andrew Firda, McLean Jesse, Katie McCall, Thomas Nowlin, Steve Perigard and Tyra Robinson. Scenic Design is by Phil Hayes, Lighting Design by Andrew Bonniwell, Costume Design by Lynn West, Props by Sarah Stepahin, Scenic Painting by Terrie Powers, Dialect Coaching by Janet Rodgers and Set Dressing by Irene Ziegler.
Please join us for this yet another great contemporary play from the Cadence / Virginia Rep partnership.
To better understand Tartuffe, the hilarious French comedy that opens Friday at our historic November Theatre, it’s good to know a little about how this great play fits into world history. Don’t get me wrong, you can come and just laugh and go home happy. But the more you understand, the more I think you’ll be able to fully enjoy what many consider to be one of the finest comedies ever written.
During the 72-year reign of King Louis XIV (the Sun King), France led Europe in political and cultural development. Previously, England had held claim to this renown under the 45-year reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth had strong ties to Shakespeare. Louis XIV had strong ties to Molière, who was born in 1622 only six years after Shakespeare’s untimely death at age 52.
Molière (a stage name used by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature. Among his universally acknowledged masterworks are The School for Wives (1662), Tartuffe (1664-ours is a 350th Anniversary production), The Misanthrope (1666), The Miser (1668), The Bourgeois Gentleman (1671), The Learned Ladies (1672), and The Imaginary Invalid (1673).
Virginia Rep has twice produced Scapino! (1985 and 2005), a 1971 English translation of Molière’s The Trickery of Scapin (1671), adapted by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale. Our 2005 production of Scapino! showcased the comic genius of Scott Wichmann in the title role. To catch Scott’s comic genius today, pay a visit to Olympus on My Mind, now playing at Hanover Tavern.
During his too brief lifetime, Molière was somewhat the wild man of French theatre. His plays both scandalized and delighted his audience. The great French playwright who preceded Molière was Pierre Corneille, who, in early comedies like Mélite, departed from the French farce tradition by reflecting the elevated language and manners of fashionable Parisian society. Corneille described his stylized comedy as “une peinture de la conversation des honnêtes gens” (“a painting of the conversation of the gentry”). Molière took a much more down-to-earth approach with his plays. In our staging of Tartuffe, the young lovers (Mariane and Valère) are stand-ins for Corneille’s heightened romantics, while the saucy maid (Doreen) is a creation that is 100% Molière.
Many of Molière’s riotous comedies reflect on serious themes, and sometimes his daring got him into trouble. There were certainly masses of people who loved Molière during his lifetime. But he also earned his enemies, and several of his enemies were very high powered men, including several of France’s most highly placed priests.
Molière was performing as the titular hypochondriac in The Imaginary Invalid, his final play, when he collapsed on stage, revived long enough to complete his performance, and died at age 49 hours later of pulmonary tuberculosis, possibly contracted when he was confined to debtors prison as a young man. Molière was refused last rites by two neighboring priests, and he was not allowed to be buried in sacred ground. The playwright’s widow asked the King for a royal pardon allowing her husband to be granted a “normal” funeral. The King quietly agreed, and the greatest French dramatist of his time was buried after dark in that part of the cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants.
Why? Because Molière, the first great playwright of the Enlightenment, dared to write Tartuffe, a comedy that encouraged his audience to ask questions about the authority granted to church leaders who at that time controlled approximately 20% of the French economy. The highest ranking bishops lived like kings in the lap of luxury, while their parishioners (the desperately poor masses that Victor Hugo would later refer to as Les Miserables) paid exorbitant, mandatory “tithes” that funded the priests’ extravagant lifestyle.
In Tartuffe, most of the characters know from the start that behind his pious posturing, the spiritual advisor Tartuffe is a fraud. They cannot understand how Orgon and Madame Pernelle, the two wealthy heads of the family, can’t see through his conning ways. In Tartuffe, Molière attempted to issue a wake-up call to his growing, enthusiastic audience, asking them to consider whether they really thought it was appropriate for men of the cloth to live like kings when so many of their parishioners lived in poverty. The Bishop of Paris thought, correctly I suspect, that Molière had modeled Tartuffe’s love of money after similar traits demonstrated by the Bishop himself. After Tartuffe debuted before the King at Versailles, the clergy convinced Louis to ban the comedy for five years. During that entire time, Molière worked on rewrites, finally convincing the King to allow the play to be performed by writing a final scene that makes the King himself the last minute hero of the play.
We’re having a wonderful time honoring the classicism of Tartuffe while at the same time approaching it as a wild and fresh new work. We hope you’ll join us for this world classic, and add your laughter to the mix.