Antaeus closes its inaugural season with THE AUTUMN GARDEN 10/22-12/19

By: Sep. 28, 2010
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In a guest house on the Gulf, a hundred miles from New Orleans, old friends gather in a summer home to rediscover connections, rekindle lost relationships, and find peace - only to find that they can't rewrite the stories of their past. The Antaeus Company, L.A.'s classical theater ensemble, presents The Autumn Garden by Lillian Hellman, directed by Larry Biederman. Four gala openings of the fully double-cast production, two with each cast, take place October 28-31, with performances continuing through December 19 at Antaeus' interim home, Deaf West Theatre in the NoHo Arts District. Low-priced previews begin October 22.

In The Autumn Garden, Hellman looks affectionately upon the sad and funny frailties of human existence. She contemplates the meaning of middle age with great understanding and unsentimental compassion as longtime friends who meet annually at a genteel Southern home enter the autumn of their lives, and the summer of 1949 simultaneously draws to a close. When an old flame thrusts himself into the yearly gathering, he forces them to reexamine their mundane, yet seemingly idyllic existence, the opportunities they've lost, and the lives that have passed them by. Possessing none of the melodrama that Hellman's earlier plays were famous for, The Autumn Garden (1951) is the work of an accomplished writer at the peak of her talent. In the view of many, including the playwright herself, this rarely produced work is the best of her plays.

"Autumn Garden is, to me, my most satisfying play - certainly it was in the writing," Hellman said in an interview with the New York World Telegram and Sun. She added, "There is no central character in my play; it really is about 10 people of almost equal importance."

In fact, The Autumn Garden is an ensemble acting tour de force - making it the perfect choice for a company like Antaeus.

"There's a complexity to the characters, in the nuances of their relationships, that we felt an ensemble like ours is perfectly suited for," explains Antaeus artistic director Jeanie Hackett, who also appears in the production, sharing the role of Carrie Ellis with guest artist Eve Gordon. "After all, like the characters in the play, many of us in the ensemble have known each other, and worked together, for years. The people in the play have an intricate history with each other and so do we."

"The play is very Chekhovian in nature," agrees Biederman. "It's a surprisingly funny play, sometimes a dark comedy, with many poignant moments of personal discovery. Part of the beauty is that it's about falling in love with reality. Pursuing one's dreams is one thing, but holding on to them to the point of missing out on the life you're living can be tragic. You want to have dreams, but live in the real world."

The Autumn Garden ensemble cast includes Jane Kaczmarek and Kitty Swink, sharing the role of Nina; Stephen Caffrey and Jeffrey Nordling as Nick; Kurtwood Smith and James Sutorius as General Griggs; Rhonda Aldrich and Faye Grant as Rose; Eve Gordon and Jeanie Hackett as Carrie Ellis; Anne Gee Byrd and Dawn Didawick as Mrs. Ellis; Shannon Holt and Lily Knight as Constance; JosH Clark and Stoney Westmoreland as Crossman; Joe Delafield and Josh Zuckerman as Frederick; and Zoe Perry and Jeanne Syquia as Sophie. Rounding out the cast are Saundra McClain as Leona and Anne Verrier Scatolini as Hilda.

Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) is regarded as one of America's major 20th Century playwrights, best known as the author of the plays The Children's Hour, The Little Foxes, Another Part of the Forest, Watch on the Rhine, and Toys in the Attic. She also wrote three volumes of autobiography: An Unfinished Woman, for which she received the National Book Award in 1969; Pentimento; and Scoundrel Time. Hellman was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award twice, for Watch on the Rhine (1941) and Toys in the Attic (1960), and was nominated for two Academy Awards for the screenplays The Little Foxes and The North Star. Hellman was a woman caught between two worlds - the theatrical world in which she worked and the political world that nearly stripped her of her work. Though her plays were not overtly political, they contained recurring themes of social justice that provoked controversy. Although she stated that she "wasn't a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group" in her famous letter to McCarthy and his committee, she was always involved in political affairs around the world. As a result, Hellman was blacklisted in the '50s and '60s. She stood as the symbol of a trusted friend who would not name names to save her own career.

Set Design for The Autumn Garden is by Tom Buderwitz; Lighting Design is by John Eckert; Costume Design is by Tina Haatanian Jones; Sound Design is by John Zalewski; Properties Design is by Jen Prince; Production Stage Manager is Ritz Gray; and Producer is Young Ji.

The Autumn Garden will have four Gala Opening Weekend performances, on Thursday, October 28; Friday, October 29; Saturday, October 30 (all @ 8 pm), and on Sunday, October 31 (@ 4 pm). Beginning on November 4 and continuing through December 19, there will be five performances per week: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm. There will be no performance on Thursday, November 25 (Thanksgiving). Tickets are $30 on Thursdays and Fridays and $34 on Saturdays and Sundays, except opening weekend performances, which are $40 (October 28 & 29) and $75 (October 30 & 31) and include a post-show reception with the actors. Preview performances take place October 22 through 27; tickets to previews are $20.

The Antaeus Company is located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood, CA 91601 (at Deaf West Theatre). There is ample street parking. The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (818) 506-1983 or go to