Arts & Theater

Director of ‘Happiness,’ Patrick Murphy leaves a legacy in Sacramento

Producer Lisa Thew, Kelley Ogden (Ellen), and director Patrick Murphy of KOLT Run Productions’ “There Is A Happiness That Morning Is.”
Producer Lisa Thew, Kelley Ogden (Ellen), and director Patrick Murphy of KOLT Run Productions’ “There Is A Happiness That Morning Is.” Photography by Reese Brindisi

Director, actor and acting teacher Patrick Murphy leaves a subtle, lasting contribution wherever he goes.

And soon, he’ll be going to Southern California, but not before directing a KOLT Run production of Mickle Maher’s avant-garde comedy romance “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is.”

Murphy grew up in Sacramento, studying theater at California State University, Sacramento, before teaching the subject for 13 years at the University of West Virginia and then for 25 years at DePaul University in Chicago, where he is now professor emeritus. Since retiring and coming back to Sacramento in 2005, Murphy has worked with numerous theater companies as an actor and creative consultant.

KOLT co-founders Kelley Ogden and Lisa Thew have tried for several years to get Murphy into the director’s chair. Ogden, a student of Murphy’s at DePaul, counts him as one her most important theater mentors. Capital Stage co-founder Peter Mohrmann also studied with Murphy at DePaul, where actors John C. Reilly and Gillian Armstrong also came through the program.

“The sort of things Rick (Murphy) brought into my viewpoint in terms of how I see theater and especially how I see performance has very much has been a foundation from which I work,” Ogden said.

Patrick Murphy was intrigued by the avant-garde comedy of Mickle Maher.

KOLT productions have been the result of Ogden and Thew’s joint vision of a progressive boutique theater. Their creative sensibilities are forged through their broad educational and professional experiences.

“The kind of work we do and the kind of work we enjoy, a lot of that for me came from those first years with Rick,” Ogden said.

Ogden has also performed with other area theater companies, most recently in Capital Stage’s “Rapture, Blister, Burn.” She co-stars in “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is” with Greg Hanson and Greg Parker, both of whom she met while doing “Twelfth Night” at the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival.

Getting Murphy to direct the complex literate piece was the key.

“He works with what you give him,” Ogden said. “If you don’t come with anything he’s not going to have anything to do with you. You need to come with ideas, come with thoughts, come with a point of view.”

Murphy was already familiar with playwright Maher from his years in Chicago and was particularly intrigued with “There Is a Happiness.” He jumped at the opportunity to work on it when Ogden and Thew approached him.

“I love his work and to be involved with it is a highly desirable experience,” Murphy said.

The play involves two undergraduate English lectures, Bernard (Hansen) and Ellen (Ogden), who specialize in the poetry of William Blake. They are also a couple who have been together 20 years.

As the play begins, the couple is dealing with the aftermath of an incident from the night before. The pair had been giving a public reading on campus and were so inspired by the poetry that they engaged in public intercourse on the quad. The university president is demanding a public apology from each of them if they want to keep their jobs.

“He (Bernard) is willing to do that but Ellen is not, so this creates a crisis in their relationship,” Murphy said. “The play ultimately is about the complications of love or the difficulty of maintaining an enduring love and the difficulties that are encountered in that journey.”

There’s one more thing.

“It’s also written in rhyming couplets,” Murphy said.

Even though it’s a relatively new play, KOLT has had it on its agenda for a couple of years awaiting the right set of circumstances to put it into production. The rehearsal process has had the longest of all their productions so far: 10 weeks, Ogden said.

“From the moment I opened ‘Rapture,’ we were in rehearsals every day I wasn’t in a performance and then for another month after we closed. It’s an incredibly detailed, specific, grounded type of work that you do with Rick,” she said.

“You are never phoning anything in with Rick. That can’t happen,” Ogden said. “It’s exhausting, but the work he gets out of you by doing that is incredibly beneficial and exhilarating.”

There Is a Happiness That Morning Is

  • What: Avant-garde comedy by Mickel Maher, directed by Patrick Murphy
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 31
  • Where: Wilkerson Theater, California Stage complex, 25th and R streets, Sacramento
  • Cost: $15-$20,