Amy Madigan to Read Tolstoy at L.A.'s Theatricum Botanicum

Ellen_Geer_Amy_Madigan - H 2014
Courtesy of Theatricum Botanicum

Ellen_Geer_Amy_Madigan - H 2014

The veteran actress pitches in for classical theater company born out of blacklist

Throw a stick in Los Angeles this time of year and you’ll hit a productions of A Christmas Carol, or at least one of the 10 interpretations of The Nutcracker currently on display. But what you won’t see in too many places is Amy Madigan (Grey's Anatomy) reading Tolstoy as part of Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum’s Olde Fashioned Yuletide Celebration in Topanga on Saturday at 6 pm. Amid the caroling, sweets, artisan gift shop and silent auction at the home of one of L.A.’s oldest Shakespeare companies, Madigan will read What We Live For, an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s take on Archangel Michael, while members of the company act out the story of a humble cobbler and his wife who help a stranger in need only to find their kindness rewarded over time.

“We wanted to have a fun Christmas package, not do the Shakespeare stuff,” Madigan tells The Hollywood Reporter about the fundraiser priced at $200 a head. “I know there’s going to be music and stuff, but the story is fascinating to me. We find ourselves through our compassion and love for others.”

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Madigan and husband, Ed Harris (Snowpiercer), have been attending plays in the open air at Theatricum for years. Founded by actor Will Geer (The Waltons) in the early fifties, the theatre company nestled in the mountains of Topanga became a refuge for actors like Geer who were blacklisted in the McCarthy Era. Over the years it has attracted performers like Della Reese and Burl Ives, as well as folk singers Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

Since Geer’s death in 1978, his daughter, veteran actor Ellen Geer (Desperate Housewives), has kept alive not just this idyllic rustic getaway for fans of the classics, but the organization’s long tradition of community service, offering youth, teen and adult classes. For a non-profit the numbers are staggering, including hosting 8,000 LAUSD students each spring for workshops, theatre games and instruction in stage technique.

“Their arts education is monumental, how many kids throughout Los Angeles they have touched with their summer program,” says Madigan, who lives only 15 minutes away. “I think any nonprofit organization certainly has its trouble. Arts funding has suffered a bit, certainly, post-recession. You always have to get people to give so they understand the importance of the arts education. It’s not in the school as it used to be, the public schools. I think in that sense it’s really important.”