The acclaimed stage actress Jan Maxwell starred in the original Off-Broadway production of Scenes From an Execution, directed by Richard Romagnoli, one of the founders of D.C. and New York-based Potomac Theatre Project. She was nominated for the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for her performance in the drama by Englishman Howard Barker.
Romagnoli again directed Maxwell in Scenes in 2016; she retired from the stage after the production, for health reasons, and passed away two years later.
Scenes From an Execution is considered an actor’s play – in the original London production Glenda Jackson had the lead role, of a 16th century artist battling the state over artistic freedoms – and that’s why Tampa-based thespian Chris Marshall is excited to bring it to the bay area.
Director Romagnoli and Potomac co-founder and producer Cheryl Faraon are longtime friends of his; as the inaugural step in a new national outreach program, they’re bringing a staged reading of Scenes From an Execution to thestudio@620 Saturday and Sunday.
During a visit in 2022, the three of them discussed working together again. “This is a great arts town,” Romagnoli noted. “We should introduce Howard Barker to St. Pete.”
For Marshall, recently seen onstage in the Tampa Repertory Theatre production of The Elephant Man, “let’s make this happen” was all he needed to hear.
“I’ve had a relationship with this play for 30 years,” he says, “and I think it’s an absolutely phenomenal piece of theater.”
As a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, he worked often with Potomac, which employed a combination of Equity actors and students. “I was in Richard’s very first production of Scenes From an Execution at Middlebury, 30 years ago,” Marshall explains. “And then we took it to the Kennedy Center with the American Collegiate Theatre Festival.”
After spending 16 years in Los Angeles, acting, directing and teaching the craft, Marshall relocated to St. Petersburg in 2015. He is the director of the upper division theater program at Berkeley Preparatory School. In fact, he teaches Scenes From an Execution there. (He works with Potomac in New York over his summer breaks.)
“For me, this is one of my top three favorite plays. Maybe top two. It’s an incredible story.”
He is also an artistic associate with Tampa Rep, which is why this staged reading (with scripts, but not static – there is movement onstage) is cast with local professionals Emilia Sargent, Jim Sorensen, Jay Hoff and Ned Averill-Snell. Marshall plays The Doje, the main antagonist to Galactia, the artist.
She’s played by Broadway and TV actress Danielle Skraastad, a longtime friend of Marshall’s, and another Potomac Theatre Project alum.
Admission is free (although donations are, of course, welcome). RSVPs are required, here.
So why go to all his trouble for zero money?
“Richard made this clear from the very beginning, and this is his ethos: This is for the actors,” Marshall reports.
“Howard Barker’s writing is just a playground for actors; there’s so much behind it. It has a power to it that many contemporary writers don’t have. His investigations into art and politics, and the power of art on its own versus art being interpreted by an audience or by the public – for artists in the theater world, it’s very apropos. It’s very much things that we think about and investigate all the time. So for us, it’s just been great discussion and great fun.”
With the relaxed blocking of a staged reading, he adds, “It’s really more of an actor’s playground, and that’s really been the point of this project.”