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Artifacts

New Playhouse president on fixing 'Vibrator Play' malfunctions

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Last week, in "Batteries not included," Current theater critic Thomas Jenkins doled out some scalding comments about the San Pedro Playhouse production of "In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play." In Sarah Ruhl's script, the character Elizabeth is described as an African American. The San Pedro, however, had her part played by Julya Jara, an actress originally from Russia. To ameliorate the identity switch, the Playhouse changed original dialogue that mentioned the character's identity. Not surprisingly, Mr. Jenkins called them on it. To get an update on the issue, Artifacts spoke with Asia Ciaravino, the new president of the Playhouse.

First off, were permissions asked to make the script changes?

Not to my knowledge, I came halfway into the process.

What is the status of the play now?

I spoke with the director [Mindy Fuller], and she was very responsive and helpful and the cast was helpful in getting the lines added back in. They have restored the play to its original form, which I am very excited about. At this point, the actress is not replaced; we have the same actress that has been doing the part, so we are doing our best on that, that is where we are in the process.

Are you searching for a black actress to play this part?

We have looked for people to play this role, and that is an ongoing quest.

How is the audience receiving the play with a white actress playing a black character's part? Isn't there some confusion?

I think some of the lines could be confusing, because they refer to her in a specific way — the words indicate, obviously, that she is different, she's an outsider from what the rest of the characters are. That can be very confusing. But because the woman cast [as Elizabeth] is an immigrant and has an accent, I think there is some forgiveness from the audience on that part. The actress is from Russia originally, and that's her native tongue. … I think the most ironic part of all this is that she is the person most people talk about, how much they enjoy her performance.

How is this fracas affecting the Playhouse?

A few nights, we sold out the house. I appreciate all of the feedback from Thomas, and his approach, and I appreciate being able to restore the script. I think that is really important. My objective, and my goal is to make high quality theater in SA in a quality manner. So all feedback that comes into play is always positive.

You were at the Classic; any thoughts of a collaboration?

The Overtime is the scrappy new kid on the block. I'd like to collaborate with them, they have some incredible energy.

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