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Maxim Gorky's PHILISTINES Opens At American Conservatory


The American Conservatory Theater Master of Fine Arts Program presents Maxim Gorky's Philistines in a fresh new version by Andrew Upton, the co-artistic director of Australia's Sydney Theatre Company and an acclaimed adaptor of Russian plays.

Award-winning director Richard E. T. White (Hedda Gabler, The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?, and American Buffalo at A.C.T.) returns to San Francisco to helm a cast featuring A.C.T. core Acting Company member, and recipient of this season's national Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship, Jack Willis, A.C.T. regulars Sharon Lockwood and Robert Ernst, and members of the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program class of 2009. Censored under the czarist regime, Maxim Gorky's classic focuses on a turn-of-the-century Russian household, where a tyrannical father lords over his restless adult children as a cast of radical free-spirited guests and servants bring the tension to a fevered pitch. As political as it is personal, Philistines is a perfectly etched blend of outrageous family drama and fierce dark comedy.

Philistines runs February 12-28, 2008, at Zeum Theater (Yerba Buena Gardens, Fourth and Howard streets, San Francisco). Press weekend performances are Saturday, February 14, 2009, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 15, 2009, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15-$20 and are available at or by calling A.C.T. Ticket Services at 415.749.2228.

"In Philistines, the house-with its authoritarian parents trying to maintain control over disaffected children and rebellious tenant artists-becomes a perfect metaphor for a country and a world on The Edge of revolution," says White, who started his career in San Francisco and was the artistic director of the celebrated Eureka Theatre Company. "For Gorky, ideas are actions, and I hope to be able to capture his love of passionate idealism in pitched intellectual combat against cynicism and apathy in this production." He adds regarding the multigenerational cast, "I am especially looking forward to working with the third-year students alongside veteran actors such as Jack Willis. I cannot imagine a better way to explore the generational differences that are such an important part of the emotional landscape of this play."

"I hope to challenge them," says Willis, who also teaches in the conservatory, of the M.F.A. Program students who will share the stage with him. He adds, "And I trust that they will challenge me."

Although Philistines is Gorky's first work for the stage, political and social change had always been an important cornerstone of Gorky's earlier writing. The original 1902 production of the play, directed by Konstantin Stanislavski for the famed Moscow Art Theater, sparked riots.

The high-stakes drama of Philistines is rooted in the irreconcilable differences between the patriarch Vassilly (played by Willis), a man who knows his time is fleeting, and his children, who long to break free from the suffocating rigidity of their elders. Gorky crafts an ironic and unexpectedly funny commentary through this family on a wide-ranging set of issues, from class differences to love and marriage.

Gorky's insightful look at this clan astutely envisions a people on the cusp of a revolutionary leap forward and the violent change that was to shake Russian society only 15 years later. In Upton's new version, Gorky's 100-year-old vision is a timely and moving exploration of political and social change and its effect on the individual.
Scenic designer Melpomene Katakalos has created a space surrounded by photos and pictures, traditional for Russian households of that time, that also gives a sense of the historical continuity that is about to be broken. Joining her in creating the world of this production are lighting designer Kent Dorsey, costume designer Callie Floor, sound designer Cliff Caruthers, and musical director Robert Rutt. This production is made possible by a generous grant from The Bernard Osher Foundation. The James Irvine Foundation has provided major support to A.C.T.'s core Acting Company this season.

Ranked as one of the top programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program was the first theater training program in the country not affiliated with a college or university accredited to award the master of fine arts degree. The M.F.A. Program functions as the cornerstone of the A.C.T. Conservatory, which also includes the Summer Training Congress, Studio A.C.T., and the Young Conservatory. The third and final year of the program is designed to give students the opportunity to focus primarily on performing for a public audience. Past M.F.A. Program third-year productions have included works by Christopher Durang, Charles Busch, Marc Blitzstein, Georg Büchner, Caryl Churchill, George Farquhar, Henrik Ibsen, Robert O'Hara, Harold Pinter, William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Bertolt Brecht.

A.C.T.'s stage at Zeum Theater, a venue distinct from the American Conservatory Theater on Geary Street, is dedicated to the development of new works, new translations, new forms, and new artists. A.C.T.@Zeum was launched in October 2001 with the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program's world premiere staging of Marc Blitzstein's No for an Answer, directed by A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff. This unprecedented community partnership gives A.C.T. an additional stage for readings, workshops, rehearsals, and other aspects of new play and production development.

Tickets for Philistines can be purchased by visiting A.C.T. Ticket Services, located at 405 Geary Street, by calling 415.749.2228, or via the A.C.T. website at Groups of 10 or more are eligible for discounts; please call Edward Budworth at 415.439.2473.

Maxim Gorky (Playwright), born Aleksei Peshkov, was a Russian writer of short stories, novels, and plays. Having lost his father and mother at an early age, Gorky started work in harsh conditions while wandering throughout Russia and never received a formal education. The hardship he endured during his childhood had an important effect on his outlook on the capitalist forces that shaped Russian society in the late 19th century. He published his first literary work, the short story "Makar Chudra," in 1892 at the age of 24. By 1898 his writings for newspapers were collected in the three-volume Sketches and Stories (1898-99), which established his reputation as a writer of directness and passion. He published his first novel, Foma Gordeyey, in 1899 and started writing plays for the famed Moscow Art Theater on the encouragement of Chekhov. The Moscow Art Theater produced his first four plays, Philistines, The Lower Depths, Summer Folk, and Children of the Sun, all of which were censored by the czarist authorities due to their socialist leanings. In 1905, Gorky was forced into exile as a result of his support of Marxist causes; he wrote his two plays Barbarians and Enemies and the novel Mother, considered to be his most notable contribution to world literature, while travelling throughout Europe and in the United States. He spent most of his later life in and out of exile after the Bolshevik Revolution. He remained active as a writer, although much of his later fiction explores the period before the 1917 Revolution, including his acclaimed novel The Artamonov Business and the plays Yegor Bulychov and Others and Dostigayev and Others. Gorky died suddenly of pneumonia in 1936 and was buried with full Soviet honors in Red Square. After his death, there were rumors that he was assassinated by his doctors, acting on Stalin's behalf. These rumors have not been substantiated.

Andrew Upton (Adaptor) took a Diploma of Art in Dramatic Art at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in Melbourne, majoring in directing. Work in theater includes adaptations of The Cherry Orchard, Hedda Gabler, Don Juan, and Cyrano de Bergerac for the Sydney Theatre Company (where he is co-artistic director) and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme at the Belvoir St. Downstairs, Sydney. He has also written two original plays, Hanging Man and Riflemind. Film work includes adaptations of Gone, Foucault's Pendulum, Duplicate Keys, and Casanova in Love.

Richard E. T. White (Director) is chair of the theater department at Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts. He joined the department in 1995 after a three-year residency in Japan, where he taught at Toin and Gakushuin universities and was resident director at Tokyo's Theatre Company Subaru. In addition to serving as artistic director of San Francisco's Eureka Theatre Company and the Wisdom Bridge Theatre in Chicago, White has directed at regional theaters throughout the United States, including A.C.T. (Hedda Gabler, The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?, American Buffalo, The Marriage of Figaro, Taking Steps), Berkeley Repertory Theatre, The Old Globe, The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Northlight Theatre and Court Theatre in Chicago, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, ALLIANCE THEATRE, California Shakespeare Theater, and ACT-A Contemporary Theatre , The Empty Space Theatre, Intiman Theatre, and Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle. In collaboration with librettist/performer Rinde Eckert and composer Paul Dresher, he developed and directed the electronic opera Slow Fire, which has been performed at venues throughout the United States and Europe. White has received nine Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards and eight Drama-Logue Awards for outstanding direction.


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