Rose Desena: Q & A Mark Belnick
Sight Unseen By Pulitzer Winner Opens in LA
A new take on the Donald Margulies play “Sight Unseen,” is opening in Los Angeles on March 14th at the Lounge Theatre. This OBIE Award winner, for “Best New American Play,” will be presented by Wasatch Theatrical Ventures which is a company that has gained a reputation for staging the works of great American playwrights. More good news, the ticket price is only $25. This allows access to a whole new generation of theater-goers who might otherwise miss seeing professional productions of works by some of America’s finest writers.
Cast with entrée for our culturally diverse community in mind, the ensemble includes African American actress Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris in the lead role of Patricia. Directed by Nicole Domiguez, the production is described as a sexy and culturally diverse take on a play that also won an Outer Critics Circle Award for “Best Off-Broadway Play.”
The story spins around American artist Jonathan Waxman, as superstar, when he travels abroad to attend a celebrated opening of his work at a prominent London Gallery. The hazardous and humorous entanglement begins when, upon his arrival in England, he visits his former lover and muse in a village where she now lives with her British husband. After seeing an early painting that hangs in her house, he realizes that he must now recapture the inspiration and purity he once felt when he first painted it. Jonathan begins to flail in a somewhat toxic triangle as he defends his work, his relationships, and even himself against sexism, while feeling himself to be a target of anti-Semitism.
Donald Margulies, who has received a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is known for his thought provoking writing and it’s a treat to see that audiences will have a chance to catch this one for such a reasonable ticket price. We spoke to Mark Belnick, one of the producers with Wasatch Theatrical Ventures, regarding their contribution to the Los Angeles theatre, his take on this play, and the very real possibility that these types of productions will no longer be possible in this city.
Can you talk a little bit about your company’s mission to bring great American theatre to Los Angeles audiences for a reasonable price?
WTV’s mission brings the work of great American playwrights to the smaller theaters in Los Angeles (99 seats and under) and offers low-ticket prices to enable the widest possible audience involvement. Presented with high quality production values, we engage some of the best actors, directors, producers, and designers that the area has to offer. But, we charge far less than we pay out. We lose a significant amount of money on every production-more than ¾ of what we put into them! We don’t set out to lose money, but the fact of life is that there is no way to produce plays at the high level we demand without making a higher level of investment into the project. Our “compensation” is the artistic satisfaction we get from mounting these great American plays. We think that WTV occupies a niche few other LA based company’s fill: presenting American-penned plays.
Why did you pick this particular play?
It is a multi-award winner, already a contemporary classic, written by one of America’s greatest modern playwrights. It explores issues through humor and drama, fundamental relationship issues and unanswerable questions regarding the role of the artist, the sadness of lost love, the nature of marriage, and even the questions of anti-Semitism. In addition, Margulies manages to touch on the legacy of the holocaust, and even speculates on the location of the human soul at the end of the 20th century.
Did you set out to cast “non-traditionally” for the role of Patricia, played by African American actress Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris? If so, why?
Our director, Nicole Dominguez, believed from the start that a racially diverse cast would enrich the play, adding even more depth to the issues that Margulies explores. I think audiences will see that Nicole was right.
What do you hope that audiences will take away from the experience of seeing this production?
More questions than answers, about the matters that affect us all, a thought provoking experience. Of course, we hope they will also take away that feeling of exhilaration after having enjoyed an evening of gripping American theatre.
How do you see the future of theatre in this country, and do you think it can attract a younger generation to embrace it again?
If companies like WTV continue operating in Los Angeles, then the future for small theatre is bright. If, on the other hand, proposals such as the one currently on the table from Actors’ Equity are adopted, what is already financially infeasible for most of us will probably become impossible for all of us. WTV sincerely hopes that there will be a workable solution so that these smaller theatre companies can be saved. The younger generation will embrace theatre if they can afford to participate in it, simple as that. Proposals that would require theaters to jack up their prices-if the companies could even afford to take the humongous risk-would be destructive for the actors, designers, directors, producers, and audiences in Los Angeles. This includes a whole new generation of students and young people who have never seen these wonderful plays.
SIGHT UNSEEN opens Saturday, March 14th and runs 8pm on Friday and Saturdays, 7pm on Sundays through April 26, 2015 (no performances April 3rd – 5th). The Lounge Theatre is located at 6201 Santa Monica Blvd Los Angeles, CA, with ample street parking. Tickets are $25. Reservations: (323) 960-4412 or online at www.plays411.com/unseen