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Stars add quality to ACT's 'Life'

(c) Examiner.com

September 29, 2008



By Chad Jones

American Conservatory Theater has announced full casting for its follow-up to the hit "Rock 'n' Roll."

Jane Anderson's "The Quality of Life," which takes place in the post-fire Oakland Hills, had its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and now writer/director Anderson and ACT, in association with the Geffen and Jonathan Reinis Productions, bring some of that starry cast up north.

Laurie Metcalf, a member of Chicago's illustrious Steppenwolf Theatre Company and a regular on the sitcom "Roseanne," plays Jeannette, whose living on the plot of land where her house used to be with her husband, Neil (played by two-time Obie-winner Dennis Boutsikaris, a seasoned Broadway and off-Broadway actor). Jeannette and Neil receive a visit from her Midwestern relatives, Dinah and Bill, played respectively by JoBeth Williams ("Poltergeist," "The Big Chill") and Steven Culp (most recently seen here in ACT's "Blackbird" last season and known for playing the dearly departed Rex Van de Kamp on TV's "Desperate Housewives").

When you're dealing with stars, you're also dealing with their busy schedules. Metcalf has previous commitments, so she's sharing the role of Jeannette with Caroline Lagerfelt, who played Inter Dominguez on the Bay Area-filmed "Nash Bridges" for five years. She also played Queen Elizabeth in ACT's "Mary Stuart."

"I can't wait to see how Laurie and Caroline, two enormously gifted actresses, put their own unique spin on this wildly complex character," said director/writer Anderson. "Although the intent of the script will stay the same, it's going to be a different show every night. That's what makes live theater so exciting -- all the marvelous variables that come with each performance."

Anderson, who splits her time between Los Angeles and Marin County, was inspired to write the play after her brother's experience with the Pt. Reyes/Mt. Vision fire of 1995. She sets the play in Jeannette and Neil's encampment, where they are living rather peacefully in the ashes of their former home. The couple is at a key moment in their relationship as Neil's cancer returns. The visit from Bill and Dinah -- an attempt to reach out for solace from estranged family members -- comes in the wake of the couple's loss of their daughter. So these four people -- Bay Area liberal and Midwestern conservative -- reunite amid the turmoil of grief and life-changing decisions.

"There's a terrible rift in this country between the far right and far left," Anderson said. "One of the things I hope to achieve with 'The Quality of Life' is to help the audience recognize that in the face of this dichotomy of ideals, there's the possibility of finding a common human condition."

Anderson added that she has done "extensive work" on the script since last year's premiere at the Geffen: "Having this unique mix of original cast and new members is the optimal way to take this play to its next incarnation."



For more info: "The Quality of Life" runs Oct. 24-Nov. 23 at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $14-$82. Call 415-749-2228 or visit act-sf.org

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