Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission

Christopher Hampton's Tales from Hollywood is our second ACT 50th Anniversary title. A fanciful story about the real playwright Odon von Horvath, who (though in reality dead before he could have escaped Hitler's regime) arrives in Tinseltown, mixing with Garbo, Brecht, Thomas Mann, and the Marx Brothers. A tragicomic culture clash ensues.

Please note this evening's event will take place in The Allen Theatre.

Part of the series:  Endangered Species Project

Here are some facts: Ödön von Horváth was a Hungarian playwright whose plays, critical of the Nazi movement, drove him from his adopted Germany, to Austria, and finally, to Paris, where, in 1938, he was hit by a falling tree branch during a thunderstorm on the Champs-Élysées and killed at the age of 37.

But though Christopher Hampton's 1982 play Tales from Hollywood is full of true things, Hampton has that tree branch kill someone else, and Horváth embarks for Southern California. So a dead man tells these Tales .

Los Angeles' lucrative film industry, along with the increasingly dangerous political climate in Europe, made Hollywood a particular kind of oasis for European émigré artists and technicians in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of them made it inside the "dream factory," and succeeded there to the point of international and enduring fame: Marlene Dietrich, Peter Lorre, Franz Waxman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Michael Curtiz, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang...

But the entry for foreign-born writers—the focal characters in Tales —was more difficult. Not only did they have to adopt the American vernacular as their own, but they had to learn to submit, or subvert, their artistic impulses to those with the keys to the world's first great mass medium. Many esteemed writers (and not just émigré ones) were unused to such competition and collaboration; their very excellences made them ill-suited to the almost assembly-line work, and they found themselves flummoxed, if not humiliated, by the film business. As the frustrated screenwriter Bertolt Brecht—a character in the play—put it, to succeed in the film business, "you have to write badly, but you also have to write as well as you possibly can."

Hampton brings his fictionalized Horváth into this world, and though he allows him a wee bit of studio success, he also challenges him with friends and fellow émigrés, like Brecht and the novelists and brothers Thomas and Heinrich Mann—great artists who nevertheless can't seem to make the steep grade up into Beverly Hills.

The play is founded, then, on the tension between art and commerce. That's not so unusual; plenty of tales from Hollywood, from A Star Is Born to Day of the Locust to The Player, make use of that conflict. But in Hampton's funny and moving play, there is a touching even-handedness that somehow avoids either blanket condemnation of the studios or automatic ennoblement of their artistic "victims." The tragedy of exile is tempered not just by the expected skewering of ignorant executives, but the human comedy of the exiles' own egos and foibles.

What makes the play great is its skill in limning the tender relationships that his Horváth builds with the Mann brothers; with Heinrich's wife, the alternately fierce and fragile Nelly; and with Horváth's (fictional) American lover, Helen Schwartz. The resulting hybrid of intimate fiction and historical drama is a play that possesses the kind of inexorable narrative that the greatest Hollywood films share.
 
Christopher Hampton (b. 1946) was the youngest person ever to have a West End play produced, Have You Seen My Mother? , in 1966—two years before he graduated from Oxford. He has written many original plays, and is almost equally famous for his translations of French and German works, including Yasmina Reza's international successes Art and God of Carnage . He won an Oscar for his screenplay of Dangerous Liaisons , based on his play Les Liaisons Dangereuses , and was also nominated for his film adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement . His most recently produced screenplays include Chéri and A Dangerous Method .   
 
Hampton considers this his favorite of his original works. After its Mark Taper Forum premiere in Los Angeles, the play was produced by the UK's National Theatre; its cast there included Michael Gambon, Billie Whitelaw, and Ian McDiarmid. It was also televised by the BBC in 1996 (and shown later on PBS), starring Jeremy Irons, Alec Guiness, and Sinéad Cusack.

ACT's fondly-remembered production, featuring Larry Ballard, Stevie Kallos, Jo Leffingwell, and Peter Silbert, was staged by Jeff Steitzer in the Queen Anne space in 1986.

ESP's reading—the second of our three plays this year chosen to celebrate ACT's 50th Anniversary—is kindly being sponsored by members of ACT's Board of Directors, and, by special arrangement, will take place in The Allen Theatre, so tickets will be much less limited than usual. Therefore, this is a perfect opportunity to invite that friend you know would love ESP!

Cast
John Aylward
Suzanne Bouchard
Christine Marie Brown
Chelsea LeValley
Jon Lutyens
Dawson Nichols
Larry Paulsen
R. Hamilton Wright
Richard Ziman

Endangered Species Project  is an organization of distinguished Seattle theatre artists dedicated to presenting plays that seldom get full productions. While it is an essential duty of theatres to read and develop new work, there’s a parallel need to bring older neglected plays back to the stage. Through our simply staged readings, we lend live voices to plays that are now silent on our bookshelves.  

Founded in February of 2011, Endangered Species Project has consistently mounted monthly readings. Expanding from our core group of eleven, dozens of Seattle’s best and bravest actors have been instrumental in bringing new life to these plays. We strive to do nothing that gets between the audience and the play. We want to give full scope to those two most powerful forces in the theatre: a playwright’s ideas and the audience’s imagination.

Learn more at www.endangeredspeciesproject.org .