I opened in the play Skin Deep on Saturday, April 2nd and it went GREAT!!!! So nice to bring the 5 weeks of intense rehearsals to an audience so we could hear all the laughter and the beautiful silence. Plus had a pretty darn good interview that just came out in the San Diego Jewish Journal. http://sdjewishjournal.com/sdjj/pat-launer/art-imitates-life-at-scripps-ranch-theatre/
Imitates Life at Scripps Ranch Theatre
by Pat Launer March 25, 2016
Two middle-aged New York sisters, both hyper-concerned with their appearance. One eats compulsively; the other obsessively pursues plastic surgery. Their conversations are fast-paced, snappy and funny. They could so be Jewish.
But in Jon Lonoff’s “Skin Deep,” they come from a large Irish-Catholic family. The plus-sized sister, Maureen, who has a well-used altar in her small, disheveled apartment, is played, at Scripps Ranch Theatre, by Brenda Adelman.
“I definitely know this character,” says the Jewish actress who moved to San Diego in 2013. “I grew up in Brooklyn; they’re in Forest Hills, Queens. This character is so much like me. Art parallels life. I’ve had weight issues my whole life. As a teenager, I dealt with major emotional eating. Food was my addiction of choice. If I was angry, instead of turning my anger against its source, I’d eat. Then I’d beat myself up for doing that.
“Maureen is not as conscious about her behaviors. But she’s had a lot of trouble with men, and she’s single – and eating whole pizzas – when her sister and brother-in-law fix her up with a guy. She’s had her heart broken, but she’s willing to open her heart again.
“That kind of thing always happens to me,” Adelman continues. “I had just gotten a divorce when I moved here and auditioned for ‘Sunset Park’ at Scripps Ranch. The character in that show had just been left by her husband. Now, I’ve just broken up from a relationship again, and like Maureen, I’m willing to take a chance again.”
As director Eric Poppick puts it, “Brenda is Maureen.” He also directed the actress in Scripps’ performance of “Sunset Park” last year.
“Yes, these sisters could be Jewish,” Poppick admits. Having grown up in a Conservative Jewish family in New Jersey, he’s well aware that “many sub-cultures have similar issues. The play is about real people, real relationships and what many of us have gone through, or will go through, in terms of love.
“Maureen has difficulty finding a man because of her weight,” Poppick continues. “And she has to deal with a gorgeous sister, married to a guy she herself had a crush on years ago. Joe Spinelli, the blind date, is a sweet man. There are a lot of men like him who, for one reason or another, hasn’t found anyone he quite fits. Though the Mulligan family has more education – and the sister and brother-in-law live on the Upper East Side and have money to burn – he’s the most stable and sensible of the bunch.”
Although the play deals with issues of body image and compulsive behavior, not to mention religious, educational and economic disparities in potential mates, it’s unequivocally a rom-com of the early tv variety.
“When I first read it,” Poppick says, “I laughed out loud. And I don’t do that very often. Lonoff is a funny writer. And I’m a romantic at heart.”
Poppick’s romantic side helps explain his marriage two years ago, to the woman he’s been with for 25 years.
“We thought it was time,” he says, without irony. “Her mother was 99 years old [she’s about to turn 101], and we thought it would be nice for her to see us married. My wife is an attorney, but her mother was in show business. She was a singer and her husband was a musician. They knew all the big entertainers of the ’40s and ’50s. She went to the homes of Groucho Marx and Jack Benny.”
When Poppick moved to San Diego in 2006, he was “surprised at how many theaters there were here.”
One of those was Scripps Ranch Theatre, a 38-year-old organization founded in 1978, when there was no community theater between Escondido and downtown San Diego. After years of theatrical homelessness, the theater has settled into the Legler Benbough Theatre, on the campus of Alliant International University (formerly USIU) off Pomerado Road. Since 2002, Jill Drexler has been the artistic director.
“We now have about 900 subscribers,” actor/director Drexler says. “We’ve operated in the black every year we’ve been in business. We started out as a community theater, but several years ago, we started paying our artists. We’ve moved from a four-play season to six offerings a year, and stretched to include more challenging work [like William Inge’s “Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” this past winter]. We’ve brought on development and marketing consultants to guide our plans for the future.”
Two notable Scripps Ranch programs, founded and helmed by actor/director/producer Robert May, are geared toward “creating an artistic home for emerging and established playwrights,” as May describes them. There’s the five-year-old “Out on a Limb: New Plays from America’s Finest City,” which focuses on stories about San Diego and its people. And New Works Studio, a nine-month collaborative program for local playwrights, launched this past February.
Scripps Ranch has a loyal audience following, and a range of acting and directing “regulars,” too, including Eric Poppick, who has served the theater in both capacities. Over the past 10 years, he reports, he has performed in 15 shows countywide, at theaters including Cygnet, North Coast Rep, New Village Arts, Intrepid, and ion, and he’s directed two world premieres in addition to four productions at Scripps Ranch.
“I’m fortunate I don’t have to do it for the money. You can’t make a living in theater here,” he laments.
He was able to earn a tidy living when he was in Los Angeles, where he appeared in movie and tv shows such as “Basic Instinct,” “Hero” (with Dustin Hoffman), “Seinfeld,” “Columbo,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law” and several daytime soap operas, in which he played a raft of doctors, judges and businessmen. He obtained his BFA in acting (Boston University), but his MA was in directing (State University of New York at Albany).
Now he’s one of the local “go-to Jews” for consultation on Yiddishisms and other Jewish issues and customs, for Scripps Ranch and other theaters. Though he confesses to knowing only “a bissel” of Yiddish, he can still read Hebrew from his Bar Mitzvah days.
Poppick serves on the Reading Committee for Scripps Ranch Theatre. Each year, artistic director Drexler chooses approximately 15 plays, and the committee reads them all and chooses a balanced season. Of the six annual productions, typically two or three are comedies. Next season, there will be a bit of a departure, with a small but beloved musical, “The Fantasticks.”
Right now, Poppick’s focus is on “Skin Deep,” which includes one busy local actor/director (Charles Peters), two relative newcomers (Daniel Gurian and Cindy Chavez), and Brenda Adelman.
“I’m really excited to be in a play like this, about a woman who’s unfolding, ready to love herself,” says Adelman. “Unlike Maureen, I’ve always been lucky to be with men who love my body more than I do. Maureen uses humor as a shield. She’s super funny and witty. I absolutely love her. Fortunately, I’ve worked with the two male actors before. I did an audition with Daniel, who’s playing Joe, so we already have some chemistry. And Charles was my brother in ‘Sunset Park.’
“I haven’t worked with Cindy before. But these sisters are so familiar to me. My high school had lots of Jews, Italians and Irish. In my neighborhood, your culture defined you more than your religion.
“I’m not a religious Jew,” Adelman continues, “but I’m absolutely culturally Jewish and extremely spiritual. I can certainly resonate with Maureen’s prayers, and trying to connect with something bigger than yourself. There are so many ways into this character for me.”
After her graduation from Hunter College in New York, Adelman studied the Meisner Technique (named for Sanford Meisner, 1905-1997), which encourages actors to develop their characters externally, as opposed to method acting, which develops from an internal source such as emotional recall or sense of memory. Adelman studied at several theater companies, and was part of an improv group in Arizona for two years. In addition to plays, she’s performed in short and industrial films and her own solo show. She has a lot of other irons in the fire, but she’s “passionate” about this play.
“A play like this comes along rarely,” she says. “The actor who’d played my mom in ‘Sunset Park,’ Carm Greco, told me I had to audition for it. ‘It has you written all over it,’ she said. And she was right. The character fits me like a glove. For me, the best kind of acting is when you can really tap into something personal about it. Some things in life just feel divinely inspired.
“And Eric [Poppick] is wonderful. He’s all about the connection and making it real. He gives actors a lot of leeway, to bring their ideas and themselves to the work. I know how Maureen feels. She’s getting older, probably wants to have kids. She has such low self-esteem. That was me. I had an image of myself as overweight even after I lost weight. I get to heal this on another level now. I get to dive deep.
“I believe being a good actor is being completely honest in the character,” she continues. “You have to play it for keeps, like you’re a real person. In my real life, I don’t go for laughs. But my biggest laughs onstage have always come when I don’t try for laughs. There are layers of what’s going on underneath Maureen, and I intend to play it honestly. It’s all about trusting the writer, the director, and yourself… and letting the magic happen.”
For her director, “there clearly are some serious issues in the play. Do we have friends or family with food or plastic surgery issues? How do we relate to that? Do we accept it? Try to stop it? Some of that is in the play, too.
“Maureen and Joe don’t seem like an ideal match,” Poppick continues. “You see couples and say, ‘How did these two get together?’ I think ‘My Lord, what goes on when the door’s closed?’ I hope people are touched by the play, and hope that Maureen and Joe are going to work out. These characters are bound to remind us of someone in our own family. We all have our own craziness.” Α
The Scripps Ranch Theatre production of “Skin Deep” runs April 1-May 1 in the Legler Benbough Theatre on the campus of Alliant University, 9783 Avenue of Nations, Scripps Ranch. Tickets ($28-$31) and information are at (858) 578-7728; scrippsranchtheatre.org.