Friday, February 5, 2010

Sandra Oh At Ojai Playwrights Conference

Last Saturday Sandra attended the Ojai Playwrights Conference winter gala and benefit, and here is a video from the event:

Ojai Valley News has more details from the event:
Saturday’s Ojai Playwrights Conference winter gala and benefit, “Hearts on Fire,” featured stars Sally Field, John Glover, Dana Delany, Sandra Oh, Steven Weber, Noah Wyle, Amanda McBroom and Jane Kaczmarek on the Matilija Auditorium stage, performing selections from a number of plays by Terrence McNally.

The winter gala is intended to raise funds for the summer workshop program. The OPC believes that the value of theater as it is developed is linked to the value of theater as it takes its final form, and engages audiences, challenges ideas and changes the world.

The visuals for the show, which came before the food and festivities at St. Thomas Aquinas Center, relied on pared-down, grown-up elegance. The stars wore mostly black (accents included a grey sweater on Glover, Weber’s subtle lavender shirt and Oh’s lavender stockings, Delany’s pink and Field’s red shoes). The rich, red light-reflective curtains were like an open candy box, delivering differently concocted valentines, inspired treats, though glimpses of the human experience can’t be compared to sugary confections. Even so, the presentations were satisfying vignettes, not pessimistic.

Artistic director and producer Robert Egan said that he prepared for the event by trying to read through all of the plays of honoree playwright McNally. “I was struck,” Egan said, “not only by this man’s incredible output, but by his form, which is a mixture of naturalism and realism, and by the size of this man’s heart.”

At a row of black music stands, actors brought the scenes to life, with no costumes and very minimal stage direction. Introductions to the individual plays were brief; with each scene the audience was without much context, right in the middle of things.

It was a testimony to the ability of the actors and the honesty of the writing that convincing relationships appeared, and interactions created small affecting climaxes.

McNally would not want to credit the written play above the actors’ gifts for creating lives from thin air. Later in the evening he said, “I learn from my actors, my director, what the play is about. Theater is the most collaborative art.”

It is February, the month of Valentine’s Day, and the gala allowed for many examples of what it means to be relational.


McNally’s work does not focus only on romantically involved couples. “Lips Together Teeth Apart” displayed a relationship between a brother and sister with ties both simple and complex, a brother-in-law and sister-in-law sharing a confidence, and the tendency for couples to compare their relationships. There was even mention of the relationship with one’s unborn children.


Throughout the evening, words worked to create believable lines of affiliation, even with few actions to accompany them. The actors were chosen well: their voices, faces and minimal gestures offered the audience characters whose hearts became visible just beneath, and even in tandem with, the workings of the ego. Perhaps that is why McNally’s characters are so beautiful, they aren’t big dissimulators.

Highlights of the after-party were cranberry and pomegranate martinis, a glimpse of timelessly sweet and strong Field, Oh with her beautiful manner and voluptuous hair, the smile and wit of Delany and Weber, the hilarity of Glover and the brilliance of McBroom. The food was prepared by celebrity chef Michael Hollingsworth. A surprise: typically dense carrots can become a light and frothy mousse as a cinnamon-topped souffle.

The stars appeared to be having fun, genuine fun, well cared for by the OPC staff and volunteers. McNally said, “There is nothing more joyful than being in rehearsal with great actors. American stage needs the kind of development that places like Ojai provide.”

And more from here:
It was announced at the start of the show that Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen had to bow out of the cast due to a death in the family. But the benefit performance still offered the chance to see actor John Glover reprise his Tony Award-winning role from McNally’s “Love! Valour! Compassion!”; to see “Desperate Housewives” star Dana Delany as a well-meaning but culturally incorrect American traveling through India in “The Perfect Ganesh”; and to see “Grey’s Anatomy” star Oh as a woman whose brother has just died of AIDS, leaving her a Fire Island home she isn’t sure she wants to keep for reasons she knows are offensive in “Lips Together, Teeth Apart.”
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