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Students Reach ‘Dead End’ at Ahmanson

by Stan Wedeking

“Dead End” cast members test the waters in the simulated East River (an 11,000 gallon pool at the base of the 42-foot New York cityscape).

Photo/Craig Schwartz

“Dead End” is really a vibrant beginning for 14 USC theater students.

The revival of Sidney Kingsley’s 1935 drama, which kicks off the Ahmanson Theatre’s 2005-06 season Sept. 7, also inaugurates a unique partnership between Center Theatre Group (CTG) and USC � a partnership that will routinely put student-actors on the boards of three major Los Angeles venues.

Fourteen of the 42 cast members in “Dead End” are current students at the USC School of Theatre. They join 28 seasoned pros, including Jeremy Sisto (“Six Feet Under”) and Joyce Van Patten. Special permission from Actors Equity Association made the student casting possible.

More than 120 students auditioned for the 14 roles, which went to: Beck Bennett, Scott Burman, Nick Daz�, Ryan Eggold, Wyatt Fenner, Ben Giroux, Shiloh Goodin, Megan Marie Harvey, Clay Larsen, Geoffrey E. Lind Jr., Trevor Peterson, Juliana Long Tyson, Danielle Van Beest and Ryan Wilkins. Another USC student, Jennifer Brienen, serves behind the scenes as production assistant.

Madeline Puzo, dean of the USC School of Theatre, planned the partnership for nearly a year with CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie and managing director Charles Dillingham. CTG operates three professional venues: the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

“We’re very excited that the students will have the opportunity to work with a major national theater company alongside preeminent theatre artists,” said Puzo, who was a longtime artistic executive at CTG. “This is a tremendous aid in the mentoring of young artists. ‘Dead End’ is the first public expression of the beginning of a beautiful partnership.”

CTG officials said they looked to USC, which ranks among the top five undergraduate theater schools in the country, as a natural source for young talent. In addition to performance opportunities, the relationship provides student internships throughout the CTG organization.

As the student with the largest role, senior Peterson is dealing with a little stage fright.

“At first I was very excited to act at the Ahmanson in front of 2,000 people,” he said. “But now, I have never been more worried or self-conscious. Knowing this could affect the rest of my life, this play has been the most thrilling experience … but has also scared me like nothing else.”

“No amount of acting classes can train you like your first professional show,” added Tyson, a junior who plays a wealthy girl new to the neighborhood. “For USC to jump at the opportunity to give their kids this kind of exposure makes me respect my school and the craft they teach that much more.”

Playwright Kingsley wrote “Dead End” in 1935, but the issues it addresses � poverty, violence, youth gangs and gentrification � remain pertinent today. The story takes place in Depression-era Manhattan, where classes collide as an East Side neighborhood is invaded by luxury apartments.

A gang of teenagers � the Dead End Kids � uses the streets as a refuge from their harsh home life. This urban sanctuary is threatened when the wealthy tenants of an abutting building are forced to use the rear entrance. The invasion of the boys’ territory leads to a dramatic confrontation between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

Intertwined with the lives of the gang members are the stories of two men from the neighborhood � Baby-Face Martin (Sisto), a notorious gangster who returns home to see his mother (Van Patten) and former girlfriend (Pamela Gray); and Gimpty (Tom Everett Scott), an unemployed man hopelessly in love with the beautiful Kay (Sarah Hudnut), a women kept by her rich protector.

The set, one of the largest ever created for the Ahmanson, features a towering 42 foot-high New York City skyline. In a dramatic simulation of the East River, the orchestra pit is filled with more than 11,000 gallons of water.

Directed by Nicholas Martin, the production is a revival of the acclaimed 2000 show by the director’s own Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. The production originated in 1997 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival where CTG’s Ritchie was artistic director.

“Dead End” runs Wednesday, Sept. 7, through Sunday, Oct. 16. Performances are scheduled Tuesdays through Sundays, with matinees on Saturdays, Sundays and Thursdays.

Tickets range from $15 to $75. For information, call (213) 628-2772. Order tickets online at The Ahmanson Theatre is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., in downtown Los Angeles.

Students Reach ‘Dead End’ at Ahmanson

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