Seducing Amy Glazer (away from the stage)

Charlie Barker 3 copy
Stephen Barker Turner is the title character in the Amy Glazer-directed feature Seducing Charlie Barker, based on Theresa Rebeck’s play The Scene. Below: Theater and film director Amy Glazer. Photo by Lisa Keating

Theater folk know Amy Glazer as one of the busiest directors in Bay Area theater. But she also has a burgeoning career as a film director, which is no surprise given that she grew up on movie sets.

I interviewed Glazer for a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle pegging to the release of her second full-length feature, Seducing Charlie Barker, which is based on Theresa Rebeck’s play The Scene, which Glazer directed at SF Playhouse in 2008. (Read my review of that production here.)

You can read my interview with Glazer here.

Amy Glazer head shot

As usual, there wasn’t quite enough room in the newspaper for every interesting thing Glazer had to say. Given that she’s becoming a specialist in turning plays she directed on stage into movies, I asked her what the secret of adaptation is.

“First, you have to pick the best of the dialogue, the greatest hits,” she says. “It’s hardly surprising that playwrights are now in demand as TV writers. They write great dialogue and great characters, and film needs that. Then you have to learn to show and not tell. Wherever a play is relying on the grammar of drama, like using dialogue to create exposition, that has to become a scene or somehow it has to inform the visual picture. I discovered ways of including details that can be more powerful than dialogue.”

I also asked her how the movie world feels about plays becoming movies. “People in the know that at the end of the day, a movie has to come from good writing,” Glazer says. “Those people do not have an attitude about turning plays into movies. They understand that you’re not just shooting the play as a movie. You’re deconstructing the world of the play for a film because film is a visual medium and can only sustain so much dialogue. Film condenses time, which is something I didn’t understand on my first movie. I’ve definitely had a learning curve.”

Glazer and her producing partner, Lynn Webb, have formed a production company called Beshert, a Yiddish word meaning destiny or kismet, and they have four projects in pre-production, all based on plays Glazer loves and has directed.

“I’d love to get old doing this. Or stay young doing this,” she says.

Visit the official Seducing Charlie Barker website here.

Watch the Seducing Charlie Barker trailer:

Official Seducing Charlie Barker Trailer from Seducing Charlie Barker on Vimeo.

Review: `The Scene’

Opened Feb. 2, 2008 at SF Playhouse

The Scene makes a scene at SF Playhouse
Three stars Scene to be seen

By all rights, opening night of SF Playhouse’s The Scene should have been a disaster.

The company, which has really come into its own during this, its fifth season, had every reason to believe The Scene would in fact be a scene. They had imported a celebrity star in Berkeley native Daphne Zuniga, of “Melrose Place” fame. And they had a sizzling play from hot playwright Theresa Rebeck, who made her Broadway debut last year in the well-received Mauritius.

Then reality struck. Just days before Saturday’s gala opening-night performance, Zuniga contracted laryngitis and was under doctor’s orders not to perform. She missed Friday’s preview and was MIA for opening night.

Enter Nancy Carlin to the rescue. The veteran Bay Area actor, whose husband, Howard Swain, is also in the Scene cast, was already on deck to fill in for a few performances later in the run when Zuniga had scheduling conflicts. But she was hardly ready to step into the role yet.

So, Saturday night, artistic director Bill English made a pre-show announcement about Zuniga’s indisposition and warned us that Carlin would be carrying her script.

Turns out, Carlin was wonderful in the role of Stella, a bright, funny TV talk show producer who has been turned hard and cynical by her job, New York and life in general.

The theater’s electrical system, on the other hand, was less prepared than Carlin. The theater was plunged into blackout twice during Act 2.

The company (under the intrepid stage management of Nicola Rossini) soldiered on, and it’s a good thing they did. In spite of the sick star and the wonky wiring, The Scene is a terrific production of a sparky play that in many ways generates its own electricity.

The two-hour play begins and ends at swanky Manhattan parties (the slick, swiftly changing set is by English). At the first one, friends Charlie (Aaron Davidman) and Lewis (Swain) encounter what Rebeck calls a “scene machine,” which is a young person who thrives on the upper-crust party circuit.

This person is in the form of Clea (Heather Gordon, who also happens to be Miss Marin County 2008 and will compete for the title of Miss California in June), who keeps reminding us that she’s fresh off the bus from Ohio. Clea is a near-perfect specimen: gorgeous with impeccably cut long blond hair, a figure that doesn’t quit in her tight clothes and a brain that is far craftier than she’d like most of her acquaintances to know.

The first party scene sets up the impending disaster as Clea insinuates herself into Lewis’ and then Charlie’s life. She really is a monster — “some kind of succubus” as one character describes her — because she’s capable of being all things to all people. She can be genuine and artificial simultaneously, dumb blond-ish one moment and whip-crack smart the next. She’ll use sex to get what she wants and then verbally lacerate anyone who suggests she’s doing just that.

I can’t comment on Zuniga’s well-rehearsed performance, obviously, but I will say that Carlin is perfectly cast as Stella, Charlie’s wife, who turns out to be far more interesting than her hard, ultra-competent exterior suggests. Even in thrust into performance unready, Carlin was able to convey Stella’s depths, her humor and her soul-shaking hurt.

Davidman’s Charlie takes the biggest journey of the play, going from frustrated unemployed actor to — well, to say more would be to spoil the play’s trajectory. But he’s an intelligent man who takes responsibility for his choices, and he even tries to hold on to his integrity in a world that has no value for nor need of anything smacking of soulfulness.

The role of Lewis is the least flashy in the show, but Swain imbues it with great humor and warmth. Lewis does nothing the whole play but tell the truth — even if that means admitting his shallowness. He’s a good man, and with Swain in the role, there’s no doubt of that.

The play, well directed by Amy Glazer, really does belong to Gordon’s Clea, a repulsive, irresistible dervish who makes The Scene sexy and scary and something to be seen and savored.

Daphne Zuniga comes home

After a career of movies (The Sure Thing, Spaceballs) and TV (Melrose Place, One Tree Hill), Daphne Zuniga was ready to go back where it all started: to the theater.

The Berkeley native was something of a rebel as a girl until a wise teacher channeled her energy into something completely foreign to her at that time: drama class.

That led to classes in the Young Conservatory at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, and from there Zuniga headed to college (UCLA) and a career that has kept her mostly in front of cameras.

At the moment, however, she is back in the Bay Area, living in the East Bay and commuting to San Francisco, where she’s starring in Theresa Rebeck’s acclaimed dark comedy The Scene at SF Playhouse.

“Last year, when I was on set, I’d find myself longing for the process of rehearsing,” the 45-year-old Zuniga says during a rehearsal break. “My job is a lot of work, traveling a lot, long hours. I was feeling like I had forgotten what I really fell in love with in the beginning. I was missing rehearsal, which you don’t get in TV because it all goes so fast.”

The other day, while driving into San Francisco across the Bay Bridge, Zuniga was struck by a thought: “It occurred to me that I had gotten exactly what I wished for. I was back on stage, and it’s in the place where I first fell in love with acting, two blocks away from where I studied at 14. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Well, maybe not overwhelmed. “Now we’re rehearsing, and I’m bitching and moaning because it’s such a long, tedious process,” Zuniga says with a laugh. “Can’t we just print that already? I’m kidding. Theater is such a different animal. I love it. It’s so great to be back home.”

Zuniga has never been one to strategize her career. Even in college, when she was roommates with Amy Resnick, who has become one of the Bay Area’s most popular actors, she didn’t form a long-term plan. When she and Resnick auditioned for an agent as scene partners, they were both signed the same day.

“Every time I try to strategize, it never seems to work,” Zuniga says. “It’s not exactly like you’re blowing in the wind. But things have a tendency to come up.”

So how did Zuniga, who hasn’t been onstage since a production of Moliere’s Tartuffe in Los Angeles five years ago, end up in a hot play in her old stomping grounds? The simple answer: a friend hooked her up.

Jennifer Seibel, SF Mayor Gavin Newsom’s fiancee, had performed at SF Playhouse in Six Degrees of Separation, and while in LA having lunch with Zuniga and mentioned that she had just read The Scene.

Oddly enough Zuniga, who recently acquired a New York apartment to put her in proximity of more theater opportunities, had also read The Scene, which was sent to her by another theater company.

Within 24 hours, Zuniga had been in touch with SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English, with director Amy Glazer, and the next thing she knows, Zuniga is in rehearsal and spending a lot of time looking for parking spaces in San Francisco.

About Stella, the character she’s playing in The Scene, Zuniga says: “She works very hard. She strives to be the best at what she does, and because she’s a hard worker, a lot of people around her annoy her. She supports her husband, who was a TV actor, but he hasn’t worked in a while. Then this horrible thing happens with her marriage, and she doesn’t know how to cope. She’s worked so hard for a lfie that looks good on paper. Then this tragedy happens, life happens, and she’s at a loss. Her husband betrays her. How many of us know what to do when that happens? It’s a sharp play with relief in the humor.

In addition to her TV — and now stage — work, Zuniga is an activist.

“It’s all Berkeley,” she says. “Growing up in Berkeley put me in therapy for 20 years, but it also gave me a sense of no boundaries. No no’s. If there’s a no, challenge it. That’s from the Bay Area. That’s San Francisco. That’s the mentality, the world I was born into. There’s no other place like it, not even Greenwich Village. We combine creativity and open-mindedness with action. We create stuff here in California. That’s why I love it here and am thrilled to be back.”

One of Zuniga’s causes — saving the planet, basically — resulted in The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED a documentary based on the Technology, Entertainment, Design conferences that aim to bring together great thinkers and speakers from all walks of life and gives them 18 minutes to make “the best talks of their lives.”

“I’ve seen all these talks,” Zuniga says, “and I had to do what I could to inspire people. I though that the masses needed to see this and experience what I experienced there. I left with my brain burst wide open, my heart…it was like wow! So much more is possible than what we’re led to believe. human beings need to be reminded how amazing we are. We know down deep that our passions are worthy and our passion and longing for a better world are worthy. Why not believe in them, why not make these things come to be?”

The documentary is available at all the usual outlets includeing and and Borders.

For information about TED, check out the Web site here.

Visit Zuniga’s personal Web site here.

The Scene continues through March 8 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco. Tickets are $38. Call 415-677-9596 or visit for information.