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Leading SoCal stage actors win a week in Wisconsin with Olympia Dukakis

December 8, 2010 | 11:15 am

MarkHarelikSchaben An actor is never too good or too experienced to benefit from a week away at theater camp.

That’s the premise behind the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program, inaugurated in 2009 in the Wisconsin woods, where chosen actors get to spend a week honing their chops with a master teacher.

This year’s 10 campers –- fellows, that is -– include Nike Doukas and Mark Harelik, both of whom have a long list of credits on the Southern California theater scene. As winners, each receives $2,500 plus all expenses for a week in July working on her or his art with this year’s master class teacher, Olympia Dukakis. The fellows are nominated by nonprofit theaters around the country; Harelik and Doukas both were nominated by South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. Winners were announced this week by Ten Chimneys Foundation, the program’s sponsor.

LuntFontanneLALibrary The fellowships not only honor Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (pictured), the stage (mainly) and screen stars who often performed together during their 55-year marriage, but the master classes take place at Ten Chimneys, the estate in Genesee Depot, outside Milwaukee, where the Lunt-Fontannes entertained a who’s who of the entertainment world –- among them Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Charlie Chaplin and Katharine Hepburn.  The estate is now a national historic landmark, and its website quotes Carol Channing: “There is a peculiar feeling for actors or anybody in the theatre that when you went to Ten Chimneys you had done something right.”

Harelik’s list of somethings includes having starred at the Mark Taper Forum in the 1980s in two plays he wrote himself (“The Immigrant,” based on the life of his grandfather, a Jewish peddler who settled in small-town Texas) or with Randal Myler (“Lost Highway,” a musical biography of Hank Williams Sr.). 

At South Coast, Harelik has starred as one of the stage’s great scoundrels (“Tartuffe”) and one of its noblest heroes (“Cyrano de Bergerac”). His first show at SCR was the 1990 premiere of Howard Korder’s “Search and Destroy,” a production that helped establish the company’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading incubators of new plays.

Harelik also has performed frequently at San Diego’s two leading theaters: the Old Globe, where former artistic director Jack O’Brien called him “the quintessential leading man,”  and La Jolla Playhouse, where former artistic director Des McAnuff dubbed him “a star of the stage.” He has two Broadway credits, the 2005 musical “The Light in the Piazza” and a turn earlier this year in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” with Cherry Jones.

NikeDoukasDouglasSillsCristoferGross Doukas has been a go-to actress when South Coast does Shaw, having played the female leads in “Pygmalion,” “Arms and the Man” and “Major Barbara.” SCR has gone to her 15 times in all since 1993, including new plays by Sarah Ruhl, Richard Greenberg and Beth Henley, and a turn as Beatrice in "Much Ado About Nothing" (pictured), whose staging sought to partake of a Lunt-Fontanne-like 1930s glamor.

"She's the kind of working actor -- clasically trained, always focused on improving herself as an artist -- that we all look for and to whom we return repeatedly," said David Emmes, South Coast's producing artistic director.

Doukas and Harelik won’t be strangers when they convene as master class-mates in the Wisconsin woods. They appeared together in the Antaeus Company’s 1994 staging of Chekhov’s “The Wood Demon” at the Taper; in 2001, both helped fuel one of SCR’s greatest hits, Amy Freed’s “The Beard of Avon.” Harelik played Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, and Doukas was Queen Elizabeth in the comedy inspired by scholars’ perpetual jousting over whether Shakespeare really did write all those plays.

Summer theater camp also will include a third member of that cast: Rene Augesen, who played the Bard’s wife, Anne Hathaway, in “The Beard of Avon,” is Wisconsin-bound as well, having been nominated by the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Augesen’s five SCR roles also include playing a feisty servant in the household taken over by Harelik’s Tartuffe.

Austin Pendleton, whose many Broadway credits date back to 1964, when he originated the role of the tailor, Motel Kamzoil, opposite Zero Mostel's Tevye and Bea Arthur's Golde in "Fiddler on the Roof," was also named as one of the 2011 Lunt-Fontanne fellows, nominated by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In recent years, Southern California theater audiences have been most acquainted with Pendleton as the playwright of “Orson’s Shadow,” a comedy staged at the Old Globe, Pasadena Playhouse and Black Dahlia, where the 2001 L.A. premiere won him best playwright honors from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.  To complete the circle of this post, two of the famous characters who populate “Orson’s Shadow,” in addition to Orson Welles, are Olivier and Leigh, those illustrious house guests of the Lunt-Fontannes.

-- Mike Boehm


OlympiaDukakisMikeCasseseReuters      Stage legends in a kind spotlight

A sparkling 'Much Ado,' circa 1930

 Think panache, not Pinocchio

'Immigrant' arrives at Westwood Playhouse

Smoking guns and rat-a-tat language

Photos: Mark Harelik does his makeup to play Cyrano; Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne in 1936 production of "Idiot's Delight" by Robert Sherwood; Nike Doukas and Douglas Sills, as Beatrice and Benedick, do their best Lunt-Fontanne impression in SCR's "Much Ado About Nothing," with staging based on 1930s Hollywood glamor (bottom). Credits: Alan J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times (Harelik); Los Angeles Public Library (Lunt-Fontanne); Cristofer Gross/SCR (Doukas and Sills).