On Stage

Slavs!Slavs!

Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness

by Tony Kushner
directed by Brian Katz
January 24 - Feb 23, 2008
Weds - Sat 8pm

"Rambunctiously funny, seriously moving… a work of a brilliant and restless imagination.”  - The New York Times

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Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness is Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner's legendary follow-up to Angels in America

Leaving the familiar world of New York, Kushner transports us to Russia circa 1985 at the beginning of Perestroika, and takes us through the fall of the Soviet empire in 1991.  Along the way, we encounter leaping Bolsheviks, drunken lesbians, wandering children, and even a Babushka or two.   Both brilliantly funny and timelessly sad, Tony Kushner's thoughtful play gets a unique, cross-gendered production from The Custom Made Theatre Company that isn't afraid to ask the eternal questions, while laughing at the presumption of such a task.

Synopsis:

Tony Kushner’s amazing insight, imagination, and love for theatre as a way to engage thought is at the heart of Slavs!  It is made up of three distinct acts:  the first takes place inside the heart of the Kremlin in 1985.  Here, we find ageless Bolsheviks facing real change for the first time since the Revolution.  They are buffoonish, almost burlesque, in their passions for either amazing change or lifeless stagnation.  One by one, they are forced to “the new,” willingly or unwillingly, and in the most hilarious of ways.

The second act takes place inside a security office that houses the brains of the old Bolsheviks.  There, we meet Katherina, a young lesbian who has been given the cushy job of guarding the brains in exchange for attention paid to a lovesick male apparatchik who confesses his desire for her, despite knowing she will never have him.  Also visiting that night is Katherina’s lover, Bonfila, a sad doctor who wants to find a real connection – spiritual, sexual and political - with this lost, young woman with whom she has fallen madly in love.  Through the consumption of an enormous amount of vodka, Bonfila and Katherina are visited by a big babushka who brings some light to their grey world – in the form of even more vodka, and a vision of things to come .

The final act takes place in Siberia after the fall of the Soviet Union.  Here, we find Bonfila caring for children who have been born with genetic mutations resulting from a nearby toxic waste dump.  Bonfila is visited by one of the younger apparatchiks from the first act who is a representative of the new, democratic Russia.  The trouble is, he is far from a democrat – he is a supremacist and fascist.  Long before it became obvious to the rest of the world, this final act shows Kushner’s amazing insight into where Russia was headed when she yoked off her “old skin before a new skin was ready to be born.”

A Unique Rethinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness

Artistic Director Brian Katz helms this new look at Kushner’s insightful play.  When asked why it was time to revive “Slavs!” he said, “I think this is where we (Americans) are at right now.  There is a frightening parallel between what the old Bolsheviks are facing and what we are peering at in 2008.  We all want to end the current administration – everyone I know agrees that we want Bush and his cronies out, but what comes next?  As the oldest living Bolshevik cries out, ‘What is to be done?’  We don’t ask these questions enough.  We are all against this or that, for this thing or that thing, but we seem to abhor anything that resembles real political theory.  We might be at the right time of history to say, much like FDR did at the time of the depression, this is not what we want to be.  We can grow into a better society.  We don’t claim to know what that drastic turn is, but we know that something must be done.  ‘Slavs!’ challenges us to think that through, and in today’s entertainment, this is a rare and wonderful task.”

Custom Made’s production is a unique take on this masterwork.  Led by Tony Kushner’s statement that the “play benefits from creative casting,” Custom Made puts women in some of the men’s roles and keeps the characters as gender and age neutral as possible.  Inspired by a famous all-female reading of the play, which included Madeline Khan and Olympia Dukakis, director Katz commented “It’s not about their physical ages, or gender, especially those who are reaching the century mark.  It’s about their thoughts, vigor, experience, and whether this timelessness has precluded them from moving forward,” says director Katz. 

Custom Made Favorites Perform 

A.J. Davenport, known to Custom Made audiences as Candy in Dodo for President and Napoleon in Animal Farm, plays Aleksii Prelapsarianov, the world’s oldest living Bolshevik, a character who opens Part II:  Perestroika in Kushner’s award-winning Angels in AmericaBrandy Leggett  (The Heidi Chonricles, Woody Allen’s God and Death) performs as Upgobkin, the most forward leaping of the old set.  And Alex Alexander (Dodo, Dodo for President) rounds up the gender-bending as Smukov, a grumpy old military man.  Alexander also doubles as the sad lesbian doctor, Bonflila .Richard Wenzel returns to the Custom Stage (Dodo for President, The Water Engine) as the love sick Popolitipov, and Michael Berlin creates a comic and frightening presence as the scheming (and aptly named) Rodent.  Rounding out the cast are Megan C. Briggs as Katherina, a drunk nihilistic lost lesbian,  and Jessica Rudholm as Mrs. Domik, and introducing Hanna Travis and Lexi Oliva as the child, Vodya Domik.

Don’t miss this amazing play from our greatest progressive playwright!

Slavs!  Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness could only come from the mind of Tony Kushner, one of this country’s greatest dramatists.   Its lust for life, understanding, and truth make for a unique theatrical experience you won’t soon forget.

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Production Photos

Click on the thumbnails below for a high-resolution version

Slavs
Alex Alexander, Brandy Legget, Megan Briggs
SlavsAJ Davenport
SlavsAJ Davenport, Brandy Leggett, Hanah Travis
SlavsMegan Briggs, Alex Alexander
SlavsMichael Berlin, Lexi Oliva
SlavsMichael Berlin, AJ Davenport
SlavsMichael Berlin, Jessica Rudholm


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Cast and Crew

* denotes company member

Cast

Mrs. Domik / First Babushka................................Jessica Jade Rudholm*
Katherina / Second Babushka............................................Megan Briggs
Smukov / Bonfila..............................................................Alex Alexander
Upgobkin / Big Babushka.................................................Brandy Leggett*
Aleksii Prelapsarianov......................................................A.J. Davenport*
Popolitipov.......................................................................Richard Wenzel*
Rodent / Narration...............................................................Michael Berlin
Vodya.................(alternating performances) Lexi Oliva / Hannah Travis

Staff and Crew

Director.....................................................................................Brian Katz*
Set & Lighting Design...............................................................Marci Ring*
Costume Design ..............................................................Stephanie Pope*
Stage Management..................................................................Marci Ring*
Dramaturge......................................................................Elizabeth Creely
Sound Design..........................................................................Matt Payne
Scenic Artist...................................................................Nicola McCarthy
Fight Choreographer.................................................................Jon Bailey
Poster Design.........................................................................Simon Miller*

Alex Alexander (Smukov, Bonfila) is honored to be speaking the words of Tony Kushner. On stage, Alex has been everyone from a ninja-fighting nun (with Impact Theatre) to the first woman president (with Custom Made). On screen, she is a member of Barewitness Films, an improvisational film collective. Also, she was the lead in Teachings of the Disgusting and Awful (www.teachingsthemovie.com) which is in need of votes from 1/1-2/14 on www.vuze.com for inclusion in the Cinequest Film Festival.

Michael Berlin (Rodent, Narrator) has appeared in Confusions, The Good Woman of Szechuan, Theater Tremendo’s Best of SFFringe (2006) production, Where the Sun Don’t Shine, CMTC’s Sin, The Water Engine and most recently, The Old Neighborhood.  He wrote, directed and acted in The Fall of the House of Pancakes, and has taught improvisation & performed with Free Delivery and BATS. 

Elizabeth Creely (Dramaturge) Elizabeth Creely graduated from SFSU with a degree in Playwriting in 2006. A fan of CMTC since her fateful viewing of St. Joan of the Stockyards, she is currently at work on two plays.

Megan C. Briggs (Katherina, 2nd Babushka)- Megan is thrilled to be back on the CMTC stage, having previously appeared as Amee in Price, and Marcy in Dodo for President.  She is also ecstatic to be in her second Kushner production, having appeared as Paulinka in A Bright Room Called Day.  Favorite Bay Area theatre credits include Rachel in Nathan the Wise (TheatreFIRST), Lilianne in the world premier of Quadrille (CTA Crossroads), Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest (SCT)and Elizabeth in The Crucible.  She graduated cum laude from the University of the Pacific with a B.A. in Theatre Arts. Many thanks to her loving parents and the supportive team at B&V.

AJ Davenport (Aleksii Prelapsarianov) is a CMTC company member and has appeared with Crowded Fire, Unconditional Theatre, Killing My Lobster. She is also a member of Multi Ethnic Theatre.  Favorite CMTC roles include Mary in the Bald Soprano, Ludmilla in Black Snow, Anna in Death, and Napoleon in Animal Farm.  Thanks to CMTC, Brian and Leah for many years of challenging characters and good experiences and to SMC for his years of love, support and kisses.

Brian Katz (Director) is overjoyed to return to Slavs! which he directed in Boston in 1997 to critical acclaim.  He is the co-founder and artistic director of Custom Made. For CMTC he has directed 18 productions, including the original musical Bye-bye, bin Laden!, which won a Best Premiere from the Bay Guardian, and Sondheim’s Assassins which appeared on Talkin’ Broadway and SFBG’s 2007 top production of the year lists. Beyond CMTC, Brian has directed for many companies including Killing My Lobster, Three Wise Monkeys, LVE, SFPC and St. Mary’s College. 

Brandy Leggett (Upgobkin, Big Babushka) is excited to make her 2008 theatre debut with the wonderful work of Tony Kushner after being off stage for a long stint.  You may have seen her in Woody Allen’s God and Death and Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles (Susan). She would like to thank Peter for his love and support.  Enjoy the show.

Nicola McCarthy (Scenic Artist)  was born and raised in Ireland, arriving in San Francisco in the summer of ‘96, having just graduated with a Diploma in Fine-art painting from Limerick Art College. She came for 3 months but ended up making her life here, loving the incredible creative spirit of the bay area.  Her Fine Art has been exhibited throughout the bay area and beyond: Ms. McCarthy has painted murals from here to Maui to Ireland and back again. She has painted schools, hospitals, businesses, theaters, and private homes. She loves playing with imagery and colour, and gets a particular thrill out of painting BIG, manipulating space, inventing backdrops for life.

Lexi Oliva (Vodya) makes her debut in mainstream drama with the Custom Made Theater Company’s Slavs!  Lexi’s previous stage experience has been in musical theater at the New Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.  Lexi starred as Chicken Soup in Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie, where she was able to showcase her musical talents through singing and dancing.

Reynosa Parrish (Props, Builder) This is Nova’s fourth show with Custom Made and she is excited about the opportunity to sharpen her skills. Other than gathering props and hammering at blocks of wood, she loves to smog cars and read comics. She would like to thank all her family and friends for the love and support and the evil minions for all their service. If you need a smog just ask her, she knows the best place!

Matt Payne (sound design) performance artist / and musician, Matt Payne is / really quite busy.

Stephanie Pope (Costume Design) has about five years of costume design experience and over eight years of professional fashion design and merchandising experience. Other credits include Designer Assistant for The Sex Habits of American Woman (Magic Theater) and Uncle Vanya, and Assistant Costumer at San Francisco State University costume shop.  She is the owner of Nip Tuck Alterations and Stephanie Pope Designs.  Stephanie is the resident costumer for CMTC, having designed The Old Neighborhood and Dodo for President this season.

Marci Ring (Set and Lighting Designer/Stage Manager) continues to juggle multiple technical hats with CMTC.  You may have seen her work in many of the recent CMTC productions, including Dodo for President, The Old Neighborhood, Assassins, The Water Engine and God and Death. Marci has also designed lights with NCTC, The Rhino, The Exit and amazing troupes like LiquidFire and Ambit Productions.  Love and treats to Del!

Jessica Jade Rudholm (Mrs. Domik, 1st Babushka) is delighted to be a part of this production.  This is her 8th show with CMTC.  Jessica has most recently been seen in The Water Engine in which she played Rita.  She is a graduate of CSU Monterey Bay where she had the honor of working with Alexander Mikhailov and Benny Sato Ambush.  In the summer of 2004  Jessica attended ACT’s summer training congress where she studied with Michael Carroll and the amazing ACT staff. Her favorite roles include Terry in Balm in Gilead and Molly in Finding Sincerity.  Jessica is a member of TBA.

Hannah Travis (Vodya) began her on-stage career at the age of six in the play From Storm to Rainbow sponsored by the Culture to Culture Foundation. Fluent in Mandarin, she is spokesperson for a chain of nine Bay Area Chinese elementary schools.  In the past year, she played supporting and leading roles in two yet-to-be-premiered short films, Erdberre and Freedom for You, did modeling for Charles Schwab, and appeared as an angel dancer in the 2007 production of A Tenderloin Christmas.  The role of Vodya in Slavs! is Hannah’s first significant role in a mainstage play, and her debut with Custom Made Theatre Company.

Richard Wenzel (Popolitipov) is thrilled to be working with such a talented group of people, onstage and off, and such an amazing script.  Other CMTC roles include The Interrogator in Bobby Gould in Hell and Morton Gross in The Water Engine.  His favorite role to date is Charlie Fox in Speed-the-Plow.  He appeared on screen last year as an FBI Agent in Strange Culture, and he can be heard as The Thespian Bear in an interactive children’s dvd adaptation of Gage Taylor’s Bears At Work.  Other stage work includes productions with 42nd St. Moon, New Conservatory, Center Rep, The Willows, and Active Arts Children’s Theatre of Oakland.

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