“Mutual Philanthropy” Director Dan Bonnell Interview – Navigating the American Dream for Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA

Temptation and seduction, by the American Dream, proves to be both humorous and hazardous between friends when wealth divides. “It’s the elephant in the room that nobody talks about,” says playwright Karen Rizzo. “This is a story about our city, and Los Angeles audiences are bound to recognize the references…including that elephant in the room.” When working class East L.A. born Ester and her sculptor husband are invited to dinner by a wealthy couple from their children’s school, a delicate game of power ensues.





Dan Bonnell directs this world premiere which spotlights a sort of “class system” and the growing concern about the huge wealth disparity within our local communities. Neighborhoods and schools are rapidly changing as McMansions are springing up in the older and historical areas like Boyle Heights, Echo Park, and Mount Washington. Bonnell’s ability to so expertly navigate the humor and subtleties within the serious social issues of this piece, come from his years of experience with new plays. He has staged productions for more than twenty-five companies in Los Angeles and worked at some of the world’s finest theaters such as the Long Wharf, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Alliance Theater, Pioneer Theater Company, Bronfman Center in Montreal, Theatre Les Deschargeurs in Paris and the National Youth Theater in Hanoi, Vietnam. As a recipient of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, NAACP, and GLAAD Media Awards, he is one of the most sought after stage directors here, and regionally.



Ester: Why this script, what was the intrigue that pulled you into the project?

Dan: I loved the subject matter—the idea of “social class” in Los Angeles and the dark side of “patronage.” I was drawn to the off-beat comedy of the script that playwright, Karen Rizzo created.

Ester: Describe a typical first meeting with a cast? How did this one go, and did it help you to plan for the remainder of rehearsals?

Dan: Normally you have a “meet and greet” with the cast to describe the concept of the project, then you do a “read-thru” and a discussion of the play. In this case, we did all those things—and it was very exciting. Several members of the cast were working with each other for the first time—but there was an immediate connection and chemistry. I knew we were gonna have fun!



Ester: Since it is a world premiere, did the script change during rehearsals? Was the writer, Karen Rizzo, open to, or suggesting changes?

Dan: The project has been in development for several months at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, so there have not been extreme changes. But Karen Rizzo has been very flexible with our exploration of specific moments—and, actually, we made a major change to the final moments of the play.

Ester: What was the most challenging part of the process for you to go though

Dan: The hardest part is letting go, always. Sometimes directing is like parenting. You raise a kid, watch out for his or her needs, give support and guidance…but at a certain point you have to step back and let them live their own lives. That’s where we are now…the kids are heading off to college...and I have to sit back, send good energy, and watch how it all turns out.





Ester: Any big surprises in the way that the production changed or finally came together?

Dan: No big surprises per se…but there are always lots of little surprises. That’s the joy of doing this kind of collaborative work—being inspired by another artist, being taken to a place where you didn’t expect to go. The secret is surrounding yourself with smart, talented people. My goal is to create a safe space, full of opportunities for my team to take chances, to walk the un-explored path—and when they do that, everyone is surprised. 



Ester: Why do you think audiences will like this show, and what do you think they will respond to the most?

Dan: This project is smart. It’s extremely funny, dangerous, and full of insight about the human condition. It’s about our dreams and needs and the costs of trying to make our dreams reality. I think that's a subject everyone can understand and enjoy.

Ester: What is the best, and worst, part about working with EST/LA?

Dan: Aside from the drive (I live near the beach, so I had to drive to Atwater Village for rehearsal everyday—oy!) there is NO worst part. The folks at EST-LA are truly supportive and wonderfully professional. The best part is: the folks at EST-LA are truly supportive and wonderfully professional!  Ha ha!

Mutual Philanthropy runs at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, at 3pm and 7pm on Sundays (with added performances at 8pm on Thursday September 15th and September 22nd) through September 25, 2016, with the possibility of continuing into October.

Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA is located in the Atwater Village Theatre Complex, 3269 Casitas Ave. LA, CA 90039.

Reservations: $19.95 ($28 at the door, $14.95 Students must show student ID at the door)

Tickets here  and 818-839-1197.

Top of Page

Join Splash Magazines

Feature Article

Tempflow™ and Tempur-Pedic® Reviews - What 35 Hours of Research Uncovered

Want Your Business to Male a Splash
<!-- #wrapper -->