Above top, left to right: Joe Mantegna, Cloris Leachman and Jean Smart; bottom: Wendie Malick, Amy Madigan and Lisa Bonet provide the star power in a new play reading of Recipe on August 26
A Night Under the Stars, featuring Cloris Leachman, Amy Madigan, Wendie Malick, Jean Smart, Lisa Bonet, with Joe Mantegna narrating, will present a benefit performance of a new play reading entitled Recipe, by Michael Gene Sullivan on Sunday, August 26.
What people may not know is that new play development has been a part of the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicums classical theatre operations for the past 10 years.
Weve been supporting new playwrights and new plays through Botanicum Seedlings: A Development Series for Playwrights and have presented readings of more than 100 new plays. At least 20 have gone on to be published, win awards and receive major productions across the country.
Still, new plays are not what our theatre is known for. So when amazing actors (and longtime Theatricum friends) Amy Madigan and Wendie Malick offered to perform in a special benefit play reading, we all assumed that the play theyd be reading would be by a writer who was, well, dead.
That all changed when the Seedlings reading committee found a play called Recipe. This surprising comedy follows the exploits of The Morning Glory Baking Circle for Revolutionary Self Defense, women of a certain age who are talented chefs and self-styled revolutionaries, e.g., Black Panthers with a little Betty Crocker thrown in. We definitely wanted to help develop this play through Seedlings.
At the same time, it was so fun and provocative and potentially such a treat for Theatricums politically savvy audiences that we wondered whether we could serve up a little bit more. Artistic Director Ellen Geer took a chance, and sent the un-produced script to our very generous celebrity pals.
Turned out it was a recipe the ladies could not resist.
The women involved have all been loving the script, says Ellen. In addition to Amy and Wendie, weve now got Cloris Leachman, Jean Smart and Lisa Bonet involved. Any actress would be thrilled to play these rich, delicious roles. And Joe Mantegna will narrate the only man in the bunch!
For the Seedlings reading this past June, directed by Santa Monica Reps Jen Bloom, Ellen jumped in to perform the role of Ruth, a crusty, old-school radical and daughter of a Communist.
I fell in love with all the characters,Ellen continues. And I could definitely relate to them. When females decide to change things, they do it in remarkable ways. They dont need to be noticed, or touted; they just do it. [Playwright] Mr. Sullivan understands this quality in women. He never loses the truth or humor in a situation.
Michael Gene Sullivan, an award-winning actor, writer and director whos a resident playwright for the critically acclaimed San Francisco Mime Troupe, knew he was gambling when he sent his play to Theatricum. But hed also done his research and saw that the theatre is beginning to stage more modern plays, such as this years The Women of Lockerbie and the upcoming Cherry Docs.
Recipe is a political farce, he said. And with its history of activism and hilarity, I thought Theatricum would be a perfect fit!
Sullivan found out about Botanicum Seedlings and approached the program for development consideration.
Id had a few readings of the play in the Bay Area, with actors Ive known for years, he said. But I wanted to hear from new actors regarding the dialogue. As a man writing a play for mid-career women I wanted to make sure the actors felt I had written in the right voices.
Ellen, along with mid-career (so much nicer a word than veteran, isn't it?) actors Barbara Tarbuck, Virginia Morris and Melora Marshall, had no problems at all with his dialogue, or anything else about this smart and funny piece while rehearsing the play for the June developmental reading.
As the luck of a busy playwright would have it, Michael wasnt able to attend any of these rehearsals. He was preparing to open the SF Mime Troupe show, which he wrote and directed (For The Greater Good, or The Last Election), and just managed to fly down for the reading itself.
Since I only had a brief conversation with the director, I was a bit apprehensive, he admitted. Would the actors understand my particular brand of farce? Would the politics be too extreme? Would the whole thing become a sarcastic undermining of progressivism? But it was great! The director and the actors were brilliant, the audience laughed at the right places during the show, and asked the right questions afterwards.
My job in running Seedlings is to make sure that writers get what they need in the development process. I could not be more pleased that our hard work over the last 10 years is recognized by the Theatricum as an integral part of its organization. The theatre is making a valid investment by keeping new plays alive.
As a playwright, Ill be honest. Hearing another writer gush about what weve done puts me on the ceiling. Thats what its all about, as far as Im concerned: making playwrights happy and helping them reach the next level with their work.
So, really, Michael, isnt there something youre still looking for? It only could have gone better if it had inspired an immediate revolution. But then, we do want to leave something for the next reading, he replied.
I guess well see what happens on August 26. With this kind of star power behind Recipe and fueled by gourmet desserts well, thats always a possibility.
Cloris Leachman, Amy Madigan, Wendie Malick, Jean Smart and Lisa Bonet headline A Night Under the Stars, a staged reading narrated by Joe Mantegna of Michael Gene Sullivan's Recipe on Sunday, August 26.
A dessert reception in the gardens begins at 6:30 p.m.; the reading begins at 8 p.m. at Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga.
Tickets, including desserts, are $100. For reservations call (310) 455-3723 or visit www.theatricum.com. All proceeds benefit the theatres performances, new play development and education programs.