Marilyn Fox in LA Stage Times

Here is a great piece on Marilyn Fox and the PRT. Enjoy!

Marilyn Fox Leads 25th Season at Pacific Resident Theatre

by Gary Ballard | June 29, 2011

“I try to pick plays [that] I’d want somebody I love – to watch,” declares Marilyn Fox, artistic director of Pacific Resident Theatre, addressing her method of selecting material to present on her stage. Barrie: Back to Back is currently running on PRT’s main stage.

Fox is on the move, with all the attention and overlapping of tasks that her responsibilities running a theater company regularly entail. When she murmurs in an aside, “Do you have a straw?” she then hastens to explain in this phone interview, “I’m driving as we speak. I’ve just picked up my sister Marcy whose car broke down, and she bought me an iced coffee.”

Questioned about her sister’s involvement in theater, she replies, “No, Marcy majored in psychology at UCLA so she didn’t catch the [theatrical] bug from me. In fact I probably caught it from her because she got me interested in Shakespeare and writing as a girl.”

That interest defines, labels and guides Fox to this day, motivating her in a constant search for illuminating drama and rewarding her with a sense of accomplishments. She says, “I’m proud PRT is celebrating our 25th anniversary season this year. Being an actual theatrical company of [close to] 100 members is a gift proclaiming both our longevity and our growth. We have a rare situation because we have two venues – our main stage for our season and our co-op space for our developmental works, where we cannot say no to an actor who wants to get in there and work on bringing a script to fruition. Actors hear that ‘no’ far too often in their careers. With that space in our company they won’t hear it. Once they book the space, they’re free to explore the story and format they want. And they can work a long period of time tinkering with it to get it to their specifications.

“That’s how Julia came about. Vince Melocchi is a 20-year company member who wrote a hit for us a few years ago called Lions. He developed Julia from the freedom of experimenting with it in our second space. It too became a hit.”

A bit of an understatement there. Julia traveled to New York from PRT by request. Fox tells how: “Elysabeth Kleinhans owns the 59E59 Theaters in New York as part of her Kleinhans Theatrical Foundation where she has three stages to fill. She actually came out here to see our production of Becky’s New Car for a possible transfer to her facilities. She liked it okay but became more intrigued with Julia and felt it would play well for her audiences. She invited us to bring the show there as part of [59E59’s] Americas Off Broadway Theater Festival. It turned out to be a comparable space to ours. Our stage is a bit deeper but not as wide. Theirs is wider but not as deep. The audience size is almost the same. As a result I think the show worked a little better in their space, because their audience had the intimacy to conjure the illusion of sitting inside the coffee shop where the story takes place. I think that made them more invested in the story. I saw the performances deepen and the play itself grow to new levels. All in all it was beneficial to our members, because they treated us with the utmost respect and it was financially equitable.”

When questioned about the oft-repeated East Coast/West Coast rivalry or jealousy, Fox answers, “It didn’t happen. I think it’s either been widely exaggerated in the past or it’s now a true part of the past and not the present. We have so much theater in LA that it’s undeniable. The biggest difference between us, I think, is in New York, theater is an industry. Here it’s not. Here it’s much closer to pure passion. But Elysabeth’s team treated us so well I’m looking forward to establishing a further relationship with them and hope we can take more of our productions there.”

No stranger to extended runs and the transfer of plays from one venue to another or across state lines, Fox praises one particular production as the premiere platform propelling her to pursue the performing arts with passion. “In 1993 we worked on [Clifford] Odets’ Awake and Sing! in our workshop space. I played Bessie Berger, the mother, even though I was only in my 30s. At that time Odets was not being done-any of his plays-that often. I think we helped change that. Also at that time we couldn’t open the play on our main stage, but I was madly in love with it, so the director Elina de Santos and I convinced Ron Sossi to let us stage it at the Odyssey. It ran for a year. It went Equity. [Fox won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle lead performance award] We spent four years taking it around the country. It was eventually done at Lincoln Center without us, but I consider Elina and myself as producers in effect, if not in fact, because we brought it to their attention. Now who knows? Maybe it was just happenstance. Still I like to believe our production woke them to the play’s merits.”

Any conversation with Fox inevitably leads to a lively-and loving-discussion of Gar Campbell, who taught a Monday night acting class at PRT with Fox for 20 years and who died at 64 in 2007. Campbell was one of the founders of the legendary LA avant-garde troupe, the Company Theater, in 1967, but according to Fox, “Gar hadn’t planned on a theater career at all. He studied math and science and graduated with the intention of becoming an engineer with no desire or interest in pursuing anything theatrical. That changed when a pretty girl wanted him to audition for the part of John, the Witch Boy, in Dark of the Moon. He got the part. The rest of us got a fantastic theater guy who had a totally scientific left brain approach to solving problems which came in quite handy for the stage. He could flay a script like a sushi chef. I was lucky enough to spend 27 years with him. He was one of the greatest theater men there ever was and was totally an LA theater man. He had the opportunity more than once to relocate his talents to another city for greater [monetary] compensation but never did. To this day I think we honor his memory by trying to cook up a scrumptious stage feast and telling our audience ‘come look at this’.”

Along her journey through the PRT ranks, Fox not only rose to become artistic director of the company but also gained renown for her hands-on directorial chores as well. She was nominated by the LADCC for directing both Golden Boy and Playboy of the Western World and won the group’s directing award for Ondine in 1993 and last year’s The Browning Version, in addition to picking up another performance award from the Circle for her lead role of Lady Torrance in Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending. She also won the LA Weekly Career Achievement Award in 2004.

So which brings her the greatest satisfaction, acting or directing? “Both are quite special,” she maintains. “As a director it’s an honor to guide a group of actors through a field sowed with the seeds of a great playwright’s mind. But the difference for me is I have such a love of acting it becomes an even greater honor to be the person to vibrate the words of a notable soul, to become the conduit through which his ideas can flow. It’s more than an honor when I pull it off successfully. It’s a miracle I can feel circulating through my very being.”

Right now Fox is guiding rather than vibrating as she shares directorial duties with Dana Dewes on Barrie: Back to Back, a bill of two one-acts by J. M. Barrie, including The Old Lady Shows Her Medals and Rosalind, which serves as the second show of PRT’s 25th season. This production came about because, as Fox explains, “I’ve wanted to do an evening of Barrie for a very long time. I always find myself shocked by the honesty in his writing. His work comes to us like a present in a pretty package, almost like a child would get at a birthday party, but when you open the present, you find it has a secret hidden inside and then another secret inside that one and on and on like Chinese boxes nested inside one another. These two plays mirror each other with a core of similarities where something is denied and another character has to get past that denial. I’m deliberately speaking in generalizations, because I don’t want to give away the secrets Barrie worked to create.”

Sir James Matthew Barrie stood tall in the literary world despite topping the scales at only 5’1″ or 5’3½”, according to different sources. As a novelist he shared a contemporary readership with Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. He had personal friendships with George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. He enjoyed a long correspondence with Robert Louis Stevenson although the two never met in person. He and Arthur Conan Doyle co-authored an opera entitled Jane Annie, or The Good Conduct Prize. He was knighted during the reign of King George V. He recited stories to the Duke of York’s young daughters,who became Princess Margaret and the present Queen Elizabeth II. But after all the name-dropping has faded into the yellowing pages of history, J. M. Barrie is remembered today as the creator of the character Peter Pan and the play that bears the same name.

Fox, who has done her homework, shares her thoughts on what made the writer tick. “All the great authors in history are incomparable. You can’t begin to compare any of them with each other because each one brings a unique way of looking at the world to his craft of writing. Barrie, for example, talks about things other people don’t talk about. He was one of 10 children. When his older brother David died in an accident when Barrie was only six years old, Barrie’s mother became inconsolable over the loss. He started to dress in David’s clothing and copy his mannerisms and speech. His plays were later filled with the theme of the child who never grows up. They expressed the love and longing for a mother, the fear of aging, the ecstasy of being in spiritual flight, the allure of staying forever young. They were witty, intelligent and funny, but at their core each play carried a little nugget from the soul. They affect me in the profoundest way in that I don’t consider myself a woman. I think I’m really an old girl.

Kevin Railsback and Lesley Fera in “Rosalind”
“He wrote his play Rosalind as a tribute to his wife, the actress Mary Ansell, who retired from the stage after they married in 1894. Barrie later divorced her on the grounds of infidelity in 1909. H. G. Wells tried to encourage the couple to stay together.”

Dewes, the other director of Barrie: Back to Back, began her acting/singing career at age five in Atlantic City variety shows. After Dewes directed The Valiant for PRT’s co-op space, she served as assistant director of Fata Morgana and worked as associate director on last year’s The Browning Version, so this marks her third collaboration with Fox, who says, “I can’t take credit for Dana. She was a long-time student of Gar’s. Her success comes on a direct line from Gar’s teaching through all her hard work for PRT.”

Concerning the process of determining what steps she will engage to take a play from page to stage, Fox elaborates, “We pick material that’s calling to be done. We deliver to an audience what needs to be delivered. The main thing that needs to strike me is its authenticity. I read a lot of wonderfully intelligent scripts with a beginning, a middle and an end, but they’re not imprinted with the playwright in them. I don’t feel he was impelled to write it. I don’t care whether it was just written yesterday or 100 years ago. I don’t want just a clever idea. I want it to come out of the entrails of the writer with a human element or a deep intelligence that has to fight its way out of that person’s life. If not, it feels hollow to me. When I’m reading something or watching something, I want to remember that we’re human. I want that element to touch me that makes me remember it.”

Beckoning with Barrie: Back to Back, Marilyn Fox is betting baguettes to bulldozers that Pacific Resident Theatre will win bravos once again.
nt Theatre will win bravos once again.

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