California actress directs new show at Quintessence theater

by Frank Burd & Len Lear
Posted 10/20/20

The red-haired actress came to Philadelphia a few years ago because her husband was cast in a play at Quintessence Theatre, and although she now lives in California, Emily Trask has theater …

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California actress directs new show at Quintessence theater


The red-haired actress came to Philadelphia a few years ago because her husband was cast in a play at Quintessence Theatre, and although she now lives in California, Emily Trask has theater connections around the country. Now she is directing “Rutherford & Son,” the first of four live-stream play readings at Quintessence, the professional theater at 7137 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy, which began Oct. 12 and continue through Nov. 2. The readings are jointly titled “Shout into the Void.”

Emily is a theater virtuoso with a yard-long of film, theater and TV credits. Her resume begins in Wisconsin, where she grew up, followed by a BA theater degree at Grinnell College in Iowa. Before graduation, she had already worked professionally in theater.

A co-member of the Utah Theatre Festival, Emily went to New York, where she lived and worked extensively. She then got her Masters in Fine Arts at the prestigious Yale School of Drama, the alma mater of Meryl Streep, the most Oscar-nominated actor (16 times) in film history. Emily has also acted at Folger’s Shakespeare in D.C. and Lincoln Center in New York.

In August of 2018, Emily staged a one-night benefit reading of “An Iliad” at Quintessence, with proceeds from the pay-what-you-can performance donated to the American Friends Service Committee. But everything did not always come up roses for her.

“Shortly after I finished graduate school,” she said last week, “I contracted Lyme Disease and didn't catch it until it had become quite advanced. I was living in New York at the time and went through many levels of treatment, including having to be on in-home care and needing a cane to walk. Among many nasty neurological side effects, my legs would stop functioning without much warning — not ideal for a theatre artist!

“I still pushed myself to get on the subway and take voice lessons, still went to the auditions, wrote and stayed connected to the art I loved. Also, as an Equity actor, my health insurance was tied to whether I was working as an actor — a hard Catch-22. I was lucky enough to be employed during this health battle that lasted almost five years. Performing with Lyme Disease is the hardest thing I have ever done as an actor, and it's also given me invaluable perspective and gratitude ... I am incredibly grateful to say that as of two years ago, I am Lyme-free.”

While Emily's husband, Michael Brusasco, was acting in the Quintessence production of “The Three Musketeers,” they fell in love with Philadelphia, with Quintessence and with biscuits at the High Point Cafe. They moved to Mt. Airy to do more with Quintessence, but the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) offered her a position, so they moved to California. She acts, directs and teaches at the college there.

However, Emily pointed out, “The pandemic has profoundly affected my work as a theater artist and educator. Theater, in its essence, is the gathering of people in a shared space to tell and experience a story. Social-distancing is the opposite of what we usually strive for. So without that ability to 'gather,' we've had to think outside that box. Luckily, that's one thing creative artists are good at, so I'm delighted that Quintessence and other theaters and arts organizations are playing on new platforms … In fact, the confines of a computer screen lend themselves almost perfectly to the claustrophobia and pressurization that the characters in 'Rutherford & Son' are dealing with.”

Written by Githa Sowerby, the play is a study of class and gender politics over 100 years ago in an industrial town north of London. It is a sharp critique of the patriarchal industrial system in Northern England then. Popular in its day (written in 1912), it disappeared, as did many plays by women playwrights, but it was named one of the “100 plays of the century” by the Royal National Theatre.

“Rutherford & Son” will be read/performed by eight actors. A play reading is not typical fare for theater audiences, but these are not typical times.

The titles of the other plays in the series will be announced on a rolling basis. Scheduled to be presented during the run-up to this year’s election, each reading will feature an enduring classic that explores power, politics and prejudice in ways that provide contemporary insight. Each reading streams live Monday at 7 p.m., and ticket holders will have access to the recording through that Friday at 10 p.m., so audiences can watch when they want to!

More details at or 215-987-4450. More about Trask at


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