Echo Theater Co. Premieres BACKYARD, Now thru 7/13

Echo Theater Co. Premieres BACKYARD, Now thru 7/13

Earn your blood at the tag team match of the century, with the survival of two families in the balance. The Echo Theater Company presents the world premiere of an outrageously violent, seriously dark and surprisingly funny new play about backyard wrestling. Larry Biederman directs Backyard by Mickey Birnbaum, opening tonight, May 31 at the Echo's new home, Atwater Village Theatre.

Birnbaum's full-contact dark comedy explores the walls that separate families and the walls that separate countries. In a backyard in suburban San Diego, three teenagers (Ian Bamberg, Esmer Kazvinova and Adan Martin Rocha) prepare for a backyard wrestling match, while a wife (Jacqueline Wright) welcomes back her absent husband (Hugo Armstrong) with her own brand of violence. Meanwhile, at the border fence separating the U.S. and Mexico, a Mexican wrestler (Richard Azurdia) waits for his son to come home.

Backyard wrestling is a term applied to underground matches in which untrained fans as young as 12 emulate professional wrestling in unsanctioned, unprofessional surroundings such as a backyard.

"Like Mickey's other plays, Backyard reflects his urgent interest in disenfranchised youth and the outlets they find to cope," says Biederman, who previously directed the playwright's Big Death and Little Death.

"While the phenomenon of backyard wrestling is scary on the one hand, it's also a fascinating representation of American individualism," Birnbaum notes. "The idea of the self-made man that keeps these kids setting pretty intense standards for themselves - to keep doing it bigger and better. These kids have turned this institutionalized form of violence into their own form of theater. In the play, the family dynamics are acted out in the wrestling scenarios."

Birnbaum's play Big Death & Little Death inaugurated Woolly Mammoth's new Washington D.C. theater in 2005 and has been produced subsequently at Perishable Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island; Crowded Fire in San Francisco; the Road Theatre in Los Angeles (directed by Biederman); and the Catastrophic Theater in Houston. It was nominated for a 2006 Helen Hayes/Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play, and was a 2006 PEN USA Literary Awards finalist. His play Bleed Rail premiered at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Los Angeles in 2007 (with Hugo Armstrong), winning a Garland Award for Playwriting. Mickey spent two months living in playwright William Inge's boyhood home in Independence, Kansas as the recipient of a 2006 Inge Fellowship. He has written numerous children's plays for L.A.'s celebrated non-profit organization, Virginia Avenue Project. He is a founding member of Dog Ear, a Los Angeles collective of nationally-renowned playwrights and of the Playwrights' Union, and was a member of the 2008-09 Center Theatre Group Writer's Workshop. Over a thirty year career, Mickey has written screenplays for Universal, Paramount, Columbia/Sony, Interscope, Warner Brothers and Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions.

Larry Biederman has directed many critically acclaimed productions throughout Los Angeles, including The Autumn Garden (Antaeus), Dark Rapture (Evidence Room), No Mercy (24th Street Theatre) and Mickey Birnbaum's Big Death and Little Death (Road Theatre). His world premiere productions include Crumble (Moving Arts), Farewell Miss Cotton (Black Dahlia) and Wirehead for the Echo, which earned seven LA Weekly Award nominations including Best Direction. His production of La Ronde was part of the 2009 NY International Fringe Festival where, in addition to critical acclaim and oversold houses, both actors received Best Actor awards for the entire festival. Most recently, Biederman's premiere production of Assisted Living moved from the Odyssey Theatre to the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey. He has directed and taught across the country, from the Williamstown Theatre Festival to the Old Globe.

Ian Bamberg returns to the Echo where he was recently seen as "Ben" in the highly acclaimed production of Firemen, while Esmer Kazvinova, currently a high school junior, and Adan Martin Rocha, with two films and several national commercials under his belt, are newcomers to L.A. theater. Hugo Armstrong has been seen in productions at Burglars of Hamm, Kirk Douglas Theatre, REDCAT, Theatre of Note, Ghost Road, LA Theatre Works, Critical Mass, Boston Court, UCLAlive, Sacred Fools, Ahmanson Theatre, Poor Dog Group, Geffen Playhouse and the Mark Taper Forum. Richard Azurdia appeared locally in Bill & Joan at Sacred Fools; Chinese Massacre [Annotated] at Circle X; The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, Othello and Merry Wives of Windsor for Independent Shakespeare Co); and Living Out at the Mark Taper Forum among others, and he is producing director of Company of Angels and an artistic associate of Son of Semele Ensemble. Jacqueline Wright is well-known to L.A. audiences for diverse roles in Bob (Echo Theater Company), Patron Saint Of Sea Monsters; House of Gold (LA Weekly Award, Ovation nomination), Tree, (LA Weekly and LA Drama Critics Circle nominations), The Classroom, Eat Me (LA Weekly nomination), Clyt at Home (LA Weekly Award); Buddy Buddette and And Still The Dogs (LA Weekly nomination).

Scenic design for Backyard is by Stephen Gifford; lighting design is by Matt Richter and Christina Robinson; sound design is by Mike Hooker; costume design is by Kathryn Poppen; fight choreography is by Ahmed Best; assistant director is Katherine Tanner; company manager is Gwenn Moreale; production stage manager is Benjamin Shipley. Chris Fields and Rebecca Eisenberg produce for The Echo Theater Company.

The Echo Theater Company is a group of actors, writers, directors and producers dedicated to developing and presenting the work of playwrights on all levels. Under the leadership of artistic director Chris Fields, the Echo has produced 50 plays, 36 of them premieres and 22 of them commissioned, and is the company that introduced Los Angeles to playwrights David Lindsay-Abaire, Adam Rapp and Sarah Ruhl, among many others.

Backyard runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. tonight, May 31 through July 13 (dark July 4, 5, 6). There will be one preview performance on Friday, May 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 on Fridays and Sundays, and $30 on Saturdays. Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. On-site parking is free. For reservations and information, call (310) 307-3753 or go to (Recommended for mature audiences)

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