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Pacific Palisades compound built by Nazi sympathizers
during WWII inspires world premiere play ‘Blueprint for Paradise’
LOS ANGELES (REVISED June 29, 2016) – The ruins of an abandoned WWII Nazi compound in Pacific Palisades, known today as the ‘Murphy Ranch,’ are the inspiration for a new play. The Athena Cats presents the world premiere of Blueprint for Paradise by Laurel M. Wetzork, opening July 30 at the Hudson Theatres in Hollywood. Laura Steinroeder directs a cast that includes Alex Best, Regi Davis, Ann Hu, David Jahn, Steve Marvel, Peter McGlynn and Meredith Thomas.
Set in 1941 during the weeks leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and inspired by true events, Wetzork imagines the relationship between African-American architect Paul Revere Williams (designer of landmark L.A. buildings including Saks Fifth Ave and the Los Angeles County Courthouse, as well as private residences for Bert Lahr, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Frank Sinatra) and a wealthy American couple who employed him to design a compound and training ground for Nazi sympathizers.
“I wanted to explore how something like this could have happened in L.A., and why Nazi sympathizers would have hired a black architect,” explains Wetzork.
According to local L.A. historian Randy Young, 50 acres of land in Rustic Canyon were developed by Winona and Norman Stephens, sympathizers of American fascist group the Silver Legion of America. Records show that the land was purchased in 1933 by Jessie M. Murphy, Winona’s mother, and a one-page affidavit by Dr. John Vincent, a professor at UCLA and the director of the Huntington Hartford Foundation, states that the Stephens intended the property to be a Utopian base for Nazi activities in the U.S., complete with its own water storage and fuel tanks, bomb shelter and various outbuildings and bunkers. Later plans that were never carried out called for a four-story, 22-bedroom mansion. Rumor has it that neighbors in the canyon spied men patrolling the hills on weekends, in uniforms similar to those of the Silver Shirts. On Monday, December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, local police occupied the compound and detained members of the 50-strong caretaker force. The abandoned site, currently in a state of disrepair and covered in graffiti, is owned by the City of Los Angeles and has become a popular hiking destination. In February, 2016, many of the structures were demolished due to safety concerns.
Although her play is rooted in history, Wetzork has fictionalized the characters and condensed the timeline for dramatic effect. “A recurring theme in my work is that appearances are deceiving,” she says. “I wanted to examine the wife’s journey – to discover how Williams’ achievements and personality might have shaken her preconceived notions of the way the world should work.”
Wetzork’s research into the period turned up surprising facts. “It’s believed that some of Hitler’s ideas originated right here in L.A. with Pasadena’s Human Betterment Foundation,” she says. “That’s where the American eugenics movement took root, and the board of trustees included powerful and influential men like Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times and Nobel Prize-winning Caltech physicist Robert Millikan. In the play, Clara is greatly influenced by them, as well as by the ultra-conservative Mothers of America who opposed U.S. involvement in the war.”
Blueprint for Paradise was a semi-finalist in both the national Eugene O’Neill playwriting competition and the HUMANITAS/Center Theatre Group playwriting competition (2015).
Set design for Blueprint for Paradise is by Gary Lee Reed; lighting design is by Matthew Gorka; sound design is by Cricket S. Myers; costume design is by Michael Mullen; technical direction is by Jean-Paul ‘JP’ Rosenveldt; graphic design is by Kiff Scholl; and casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. The stage manager is Letitia Chang, producer is Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners; and executive producer is Debbie Bolsky, The Athena Cats.
Laurel M. Wetzork is a filmmaker, playwright, writer and artist who currently divides her time between stage, screen and consulting projects. She has studied with such writers as Prince Gomolvilas, Jon Robin Baitz, Tim Kirkman, Dinah Lenney, Michael Price (The Simpsons), Mark Richard, Natalie Chaidez, Brighde Mullins and Sandra Tsing Loh. In the film world, she’s worked with Tim Story (Barbershop), Guy Livneh, Elena Song, Lyse Beck, Debbie Bolsky, Erika Gieschen, Robert Kral, Autumn McAlpin, Glenn Garland, Caron Tate, Eric Z. Yang and others. Her SAG experimental feature film Rogues was featured at four of the top 20 U.S. film festivals. She is actively involved with the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) and is a member of the Dramatists Guild and the International Centre for Women Playwrights.
Laura Steinroeder is a Los Angeles-based theater director with a passion for working on new plays. She is the co-founding artistic director of Red Cup Theatre Company and an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC). Recent credits include the West Coast premiere of Turtles and DNA (both for Red Cup Theatre Company), All About Harold (Green Light Productions, GLO 2015), and the world premieres of 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks and Obviously Michael (Hollywood Fringe Festival). She is an alumna of the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
The Athena Cats are a collective of Southern California area female playwrights and directors formed to bring unrepresented works written by women to the stage. Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, mathematics, the arts, crafts and skill, is known for her calm temperament. She is noted to have only fought for just reasons and never without a purpose. Like Athena, The Athena Cats fight to see more plays by women produced and more women employed in the arts. Domestic cats, no matter their breed, are all members of one species. Felis catus has had a very long relationship with humans. Ancient Egyptians may have first domesticated cats as early as 4,000 years ago. And they worshipped them. As writers, The Athena Cats simply like cats and their semi-ferocious nature.
Blueprint for Paradise runs July 30 through Sept. 4, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. There will be two preview performances, on Thursday, July 28 and Friday, July 29, both at 8 p.m. All tickets are $25, except previews which are $15. The Hudson Theatres are located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038. For information and to purchase tickets, call (323) 960-4412 or www.blueprintforparadise.com.
Details for Calendar Listings
‘Blueprint for Paradise’
Blueprint for Paradise — Set in 1941 during the weeks leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and inspired by true events, playwright Laurel M. Wetzork imagines the relationship between African-American architect Paul Revere Williams (designer of landmark L.A. buildings including Saks Fifth Ave and the Los Angeles County Courthouse, as well as private residences for Bert Lahr, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Frank Sinatra) and a wealthy American couple who employed him to design a compound and training ground for Nazi sympathizers in the Pacific Palisades.
• Written by Laurel M. Wetzork
• Directed by Laura Steinroeder
• Starring Alex Best, Regi Davis, Ann Hu, David Jahn, Steve Marvel, Peter McGlynn, Meredith Thomas
• Produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners
• Executive Producer Debbie Bolsky, The Athena Cats
• Presented by The Athena Cats
Previews July 28 and July 29
Performances July 30 – Sept. 4
• Thursday at 8 p.m.: July 28 ONLY (preview)
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: July 29 (preview) ; Aug. 5, 12, 19, 26; Sept. 2
• Saturdays at 8 p.m: July 30 (Opening); Aug. 6, 13, 20, 27; Sept. 3
• Sundays at 3 p.m: July 31; Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28; Sept. 4
The Hudson Theatres
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
323-960-4412 or www.BlueprintForParadise.com