A play about finding peace in religious faith will serve as Sharon Ott's last directing vehicle at CA's Berkeley Repertory Theatre. An Almost Holy Picture, by Heather McDonald, looks at a former minister turned church groundskeeper and his relationship with God.
Picture opens April 16 and features J. Michael Flynn, (Berkeley Rep's Triumph of Love) who replaces Warren D. Keith as groundskeeper Samuel Gentle. Keith, originally scheduled to play Gentle, has been tapped for his third Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski.
Three events have shaped Gentle's view of life and God: a voice he heard as a child; a horrible schoolbus accident that leads to his renunciation of the ministry; and coping with his daughter's rare endocrine disease. Says the character, "When I looked at this wrinkled, cooing bird that was my daughter and held her tight little fists in my hands, I felt my ribcage expand to make room as my heart grew bigger."
In her 13-year tenure at Berkeley, Ott has directed over 20 works, including McDonald's Dream Of A Common Language. Of An Almost Holy Picture, Ott says, "the audience, acting as listener to someone's most private thoughts, is almost like a priest hearing a confession." The drama premiered at CA's La Jolla Playhouse and was named best play of the year by the L.A. Times' critics. Other works by McDonald include The Rivers And Ravines and Faulkner's Bicycle.
Designing An Almost Holy Picture are Loy Arcenas (set), Susan Snowden (costumes), Stephen LeGrand (sound) and Peter Maradudin (lighting). For tickets ($30-$39) and information on Picture, which begins previews April 11 and runs to May 9, call (510) 845-4700.
Here's the back-story on Ott's move from Berkeley to Seattle Rep:
In January, Seattle Repertory artistic director Dan Sullivan announced his plan to end his 17-year tenure at the theatre in June 1996. His replacement will be Sharon Ott, current artistic director of Berkeley Rep.
Ott resigned her California post, saying, "The great gift I received when I first arrived at Berkeley Rep was the wealth of talented artists who were in our circle of collaboration. It has been a circle of growth over the years...and it is a gift that will greet my successor in this enviable position."
"Sharon Ott has been a great artistic diector here for the past 13 years," said Board of Trustees president A. George Battle. "She has brought this theatre to national rank, which will serve us well as we begin our national search for our next Artistic Director -- only the third artistic transition in the Rep's thirty seasons of production. We're optimistic about our future and the expansion plans we have in place, and we wish Sharon every success in Seattle."
Among the 20 plays Ott directed for Berkeley Rep (which grew to an annual budget of $5 million under her domain) were the Anna Deavere Smith solo Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 and Philip Kan Gotanda's Yankee Dawg You Die.
In 1990, Seattle Rep won the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Dan Sullivan, a three-time Tony-nominated director, is best known to theatregoers beyond Seattle as director of Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig, his own Inspecting Carol, Herb Gardner's Conversations With My Father, and Jon Robin Baitz's The Substance of Fire and A Fair Country Off-Broadway.
Citing the opening of Seattle Rep's second stage in Jan. 1997, Sullivan said (back in Jan. 1996), "I will do the very best to produce a grand farewell next season to celebrate this event. Then, it will be time for me to move on. I'm involved in many projects that provide me with opportunities for new professional growth. It would not be fair to the Rep for me to have a divided eye."