Director Sheri Lee Miller leads Cinnabar Theater’s ‘Time Stands Still’

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time stands still

When: 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays April 1 & 2, 8 & 9, 15 & 16, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays April 3, 10, 17.

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North.

Tickets: Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for youth. Call 707-763-8920 or visit cinnabartheater.org

“It’s impossible to direct, or act, without using some of what you’ve experienced in your own life,” suggests actor-director Sheri Lee Miller, scooting her chair closer to the heater in the rehearsal room at Cinnabar Theater. As the sound of falling rain grows louder overhead, she takes a moment to mull that last thought over.

“I think that’s why actors tend to get better with age,” she said. “They have more and more experience to draw on. Directors, too. We also, hopefully, get better with age. And we do tend to bring our own personal stories to the work we create on stage. That’s just part of the process of making art.”

It’s a rainy Saturday morning in late March, and Miller, of Santa Rosa, has arrived early to prepare for a rehearsal of Cinnabar’s upcoming production “Time Stands Still,” by Pulitzer winning playwright Donald Margulies. Critically acclaimed in its 2010 Broadway run — featuring Laura Linney, Brian D’Arcy James, Alicia Silverstone and Eric Bogosian — Margulies’ often brilliant script takes a compelling, artfully crafted, frequently funny look at the lives of modern-day journalists, the writers and photographers who cover wars and other political conflicts in foreign countries, examining the cost of remaining objective in the midst of real human suffering.

“It’s a remarkably well-written play,” Miller noted. “It’s a love story, in a way, with two different couples, one of them a loose journalistic team. Something bad happened overseas, and the story picks up once they are back home, as they try to find a way to deal with, and heal from, what happened. It’s really a wonderful story and our cast is just magnificent in it, all of them.”

With a smile, she added, “Our stage manager is excellent, too.”

Acknowledging the compliment with a grin, stage manager Ross Brown moved by, sliding furniture into place to approximate the set still being built in Cinnabar’s theater space next door. Across the room, actress Ivy Rose Miller (Miller’s daughter) is curled up in a corner studying her lines. Over near the heater, as she waits for the arrival of the rest of the cast - Laura Lowry, John Browning, and John Shillington – Miller, the director, took a moment to look back on her last 12 years of “making art” at Cinnabar Theater.

“I just love this space,” Miller said, referring to the entire facility, particularly the cozy, intimate 100-seat theater where, once the set is done, “Time Stands Still” will soon move into the next phase of rehearsal. “Cinnabar is exactly what I think a theater should look like and feel like.”

“Time Stands Still,” opening April 1, marks the 35th show Miller has directed in the county since 1999, and the 10th full-run show she’s directed for Cinnabar since 2004, when she served as the theater company’s Director of Marketing and Education, a position she held for four years. A graduate of San Diego State University, with a degree in acting and directing, Miller is one of the most prolific and in-demand directors in Sonoma County, a role she currently balances with her job as production manager for the Mill Valley Philharmonic in Marin County. A Sonoma County native, she lived in Seattle for several years after graduation, with her actor husband Clark Miller, eventually returning to Sonoma County in the late 1990s.

time stands still

When: 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays April 1 & 2, 8 & 9, 15 & 16, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays April 3, 10, 17.

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North.

Tickets: Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for youth. Call 707-763-8920 or visit cinnabartheater.org

A member of Actors Equity, she continued acting and directing over the next several years with a number of local companies - including Sonoma County Repertory Theater and Actors Theater. After taking on the director of education job, she helmed her first show for Cinnabar, the world premiere of “The Tailor of Gloucester,” a popular children’s operetta that Miller was asked to direct two more times during the next few years.

After leaving Cinnabar in 2008, she went on to direct and act in a number of shows for other companies, eventually returning to direct Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart” in 2011. A tremendous hit for Cinnabar, the performance was followed by a string of other shows with Miller at the helm, including Garson Kanin’s “Born Yesterday,” Frank and Malachy McCourt’s “A Couple of Blaguards,” Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” “La Cage Aux Folles,” for which Miller won a San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle award for best director and best costumes — she also choreographed the show — and “Of Mice and Men,” for which she was nominated for Best Director. Her most recent show, Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” earned Miller her third directing nomination.

Asked what distinguishes her productions, she initially diverted the question, praising the actors and tech artists she’s been fortunate to work with. Eventually, Miller gave in.

“I think my shows have really good character development,” she said. “A lot of times, when people approach me after a show, they tell me how much they got wrapped up in the emotions of the story, so I’d say I’m good at telling the story of a play without getting in the way of it. I think that telling truthful stories, establishing clear emotions, and building a strong connection between the characters, are definitely the things I’m best at, as a director.”

In an instant, she changed the subject, redirecting the focus to her actors and to Cinnabar Theater itself, especially the people who keep the place going.

“I’ve known everyone here for a really long time, and they feel like family to me,” Miller said. “Everyone here works hard, and is trying their very best to make every production the best it can be. I really like that.”

(Contact David Templeton at argus@arguscourier.com)

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