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Playwright and actor. Actor on stage in Life's a Dream, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, and Uncle Vanya, all at the American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA; Sweetable, Richelieau; The King Stag; Gillette; The Day Room; The End of the World with Symposium to Follow; Titus Andronicus, Public Theatre's New York Shakespeare Festival; Piano and Night of the Iguana, both at Los Angeles Theater Center; The Syringa Tree, Playhouse 91; appeared with the American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA, for four seasons.
Actor on television in Tales from the Crypt, Reasonable Doubts, Hunter, Secret Lives, and Into Thin Air. Actor in films, including Men Seeking Women, and The Last Supper.
Outstanding Achievement in the Theatre, Drama-Logue, for Night of the Iguana; Outstanding Solo Performance, Drama Desk, for The Syringa Tree; Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, Outer Critics Circle, for The Syringa Tree; Drama League Honor, for The Syringa Tree; nominated for John Gassner Playwriting Award, for The Syringa Tree; Obie Award for Best Performance and Best Play, 2001, for The Syringa Tree.
The Syringa Tree (one-act play), Dramatist Play Service (New York, NY), 2001.
Pamela Gien was born in Emmarentia, South Africa, a suburb of Johannesburg, during apartheid. She moved to the United States in 1983 where she began an acting career. She has acted in a number of plays and appeared on television and in movies. She received a Drama-Logue Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Theatre for her work in the play Night of the Iguana at the Los Angeles Theater Center. She was a principal member of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge for four seasons. She appeared in the Public Theatre's New York Shakespeare Festival production of Titus Andronicus playing, what Thomas M. Disch of the Nation called, "A vivid Lavinia, both in the scenes of her ravishment and of her mute sufferings."
Gien used some of her personal experiences growing up in South Africa to craft her one-woman show, The Syringa Tree. This is the story of a white family and a black family during apartheid in South Africa, trying to live together while still retaining their dignity. The play is loosely based on some of Gien's own experiences. The violent and senseless murder of her grandfather is one element from her own life that finds its way into the play. Gien said of her work in her interview with Time, "It's a fictional story, but one deeply invested with much of my life, memories and feelings that I carry with me to this day." Narrated primarily by the six-year-old daughter of the white family, Gien plays all the characters in the play, from the robust black servant, to the Jewish father.
The play began as an acting exercise of Gien's in the small Los Angeles acting studio run by Larry Moss. Moss is a well-known acting coach, who has worked with such actors as Helen Hunt, Hilary Swank, Jim Carrey, and Jason Alexander. Matt Salinger, an independent film producer, witnessed the exercise and felt it needed to be seen by a wider audience. Together the three work-shopped the piece for two years in Moss's studio, before opening the play in Seattle at the ACT Theatre. They then took the play to New York, in September of 2000, where it received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, a Drama League Honor, a nomination for the John Gassner Playwriting Award, and the Obie Award for Best Performance and Best Play 2001.
The play was praised by critics not only for its heartfelt and moving story, but also for Gien's dynamic performance. Chip Deffaa of the New York Post enjoyed the play, but stated, "It takes a while for the play's central themes to become clear, and the title doesn't really help matters. There are also times when the dramatic tension sags." Yet he continued, "The evening builds to a climax of striking intensity." Pamela Renner in a review for Variety called it "something of a loose and baggy monster monologue." However, Renner noted that as an actress Gien is "energetic and flexible. Her affection for the material is unquestionable, and her command of South African dialects impressive." Stefan Kanfer stated in the New Leader that "Gien's performance provided a classic example of perfect pitch." Richard Scholem in his review for LI Business News wrote, "She brings these people to life with a keen-eyed compassion that enables us to know them and makes us care about them." Barbara and Scott Siegel of Back Stage agreed that Gien's "whirlwind" acting was excellent; "[Gien] weaves in and out of souls with breathtaking fluidity." Lynn Slotkin observed in the Slotkin Letter, "Ms. Gien's artistry is breathtaking and her storytelling is heartbreaking. This is brilliant, brilliant theatre."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Back Stage, October 13, 2000, Barbara and Scott Siegel, review of The Syringa Tree, p. 52.
Long Island Business News, September 22, 2000, Richard Scholem, "One-Woman Show on Apartheid Triumphs," p. 41A.
New Leader, March, 2001, Stefan Kanfer, "Soloists with Something to Say," p. 41.
New York Post, October 2, 2000, Chip Deffaa, "Young S. African Dramatist Tells It Like It Was."
New York Times, October 6, 2000, Jesse Mckinley, "Fictional Facts," p. E2.
Variety, October 2, 2000, Pamela Renner, review of The Syringa Tree, p. 36.
Sanza,http://www.sanza.co.uk/ (September 9, 2003), biography of Pamela Gien.
Slotkin Letter,http://www.lynnslotkin.com/ (November 15, 2001), review of The Syringa Tree.
Syringa Tree,http://www.syringatree.com/ (November 15, 2001), play synopsis and author biography.
Time,http://www.time.com/ (November 15, 2001), Jennifer Hunt, "In the Shadow of The Syringa Tree: An Intimate Look at Apartheid South Africa."*