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Laguna Playhouse names L.A. theater veteran as artistic director

September 7, 2011 | 10:54 am

Ann Wareham (L) is Laguna Playhouse artistic director, joining executive director Karen Wood
The Laguna Playhouse has appointed Ann Wareham as its artistic director; until mid-2009, when she was laid off amid recession-driven cuts, Wareham had worked for 27 years at L.A.’s Center Theatre Group, where she was an associate producer.

Wareham (pictured at left, above, with playhouse Executive Director Karen Wood) joined the Laguna staff last fall as associate producer; the artistic director’s job had been vacant since August 2010, when Andrew Barnicle resigned after nearly 20 years.

Operating in a 420-seat house, the company has changed its approach significantly since the economy went south; it gave up ambitious plans to open a second stage for new and adventurous work, and has leaned more toward lighter fare, emphasizing musicals and solo performances.

Missing from the mix have been issue-oriented dramas such as “The Laramie Project” and “The Price,” Arthur Miller’s  account of the Great Depression’s economic and psychic toll on a New York family. Both were playhouse highlights during the early 2000s.

When Barnicle resigned, Wood was promoted from managing director to executive director, putting her in charge of the playhouse.  Also a Center Theatre Group alum -- she had been the general manager of the Mark Taper Forum and its Taper, Too new play development program during the 1980s and early '90s -- Wood brought in her former colleague, Wareham, to be in charge of day-to-day producing for the 2010-11 season.

“We were working through the first year and figuring it out,” Wood said Tuesday. It became clear that Wareham was a good fit, leading to her promotion to artistic director. Unlike Barnicle, Wareham will report to the executive director rather than to the playhouse’s board. The title, she said, will give her more cachet in bringing in donors and creative talent and in representing the theater to the public. 

“I have longstanding relationships with directors and playwrights and other artists that I hope to capitalize on,” she said.  Like her former boss, Center Theatre Group’s artistic director, Michael Ritchie, Wareham doesn’t direct plays herself.

Wood and Wareham chose the 2011-12 plays together. Half of the six shows are solo pieces, which they said was a necessary cost-control device as they tried to raise the number of plays in the season from five to six, while coping with dwindling resources. Wood said the season’s budget is $4.1 million, down nearly 20% from $5 million in 2010-11.

Barnicle has continued to direct at the Laguna Playhouse, including a Sept. 27-Oct. 23 revival of Willy Russell’s “Shirley Valentine,” a single-actor show that was well received in London and on Broadway during the late 1980s. The season’s other single-actor plays are “This Wonderful Life,” a holiday season take on Frank Capra’s classic Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Sister’s Easter Catechism,” an early spring new installment in the long-running comic series that Maripat Donovan has built around her signature teaching-nun character.

Donovan will be back June 3-24, trying out a new character in a non-subscription show called “Mrs. Bee’s Guide to the Good Life,” in which she’ll play an advice-dispensing home economics teacher from the 1950s and '60s.

In addition to a recent summer musical tribute to Tony Bennett that launched the new Laguna Playhouse season, the non-solo plays are “Lonesome Traveler,” an evening tracing the development of American folk music that’s produced by Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre, and the mid-spring premiere of “Tickled Pink,” Rita Rudner and Martin Bergman’s adaptation of Rudner’s semi-autobiographical novel.


Rita Rudner's stage adaptation of her novel and a new folk music revue highlight season

Andrew Barnicle, longtime artistic director of Laguna Playhouse, stepping down

Laguna Playhouse's 2010-11 season tends toward new plays with small casts

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Newly named artistic director Ann Wareham, left, has joined executive director Karen Wood at the Laguna Playhouse. Credit: Laguna Playhouse/Romero Fine Portraiture