Bennett Bradley, a director, producer and director of audience development for the Fountain Theatre, was found dead in his apartment near Koreatown on Saturday. He was 59.
Bradley was directing Ifa Bayeza’s The Ballad of Emmett Till, scheduled to open on February 3, when, on Saturday, he failed to show for rehearsal. At around 6 p.m., the show’s stage manager drove to Bradley’s apartment on the 100 block of south New Hampshire Avenue and discovered a horrible scene: Bradley had been stabbed multiple times in what LAPD is calling a robbery-homicide. By the time the theater’s co-artistic director, Stephen Sachs, arrived at 7:30, it was a crime scene.
Word spread swiftly after KABC-TV reported the story on Sunday. At noon that day, the theater’s staff and friends gathered at the small venue on Fountain Avenue near Normandie, in an attempt to fathom the unfathomable.
“We’re crying and we’re just angry,” says the theater’s producing director, Simon Levy. “The whole thing was terrible. It was just brutal. We’re just gathering our forces here and trying to deal with it all.
“Ben was just the gentlest soul on the planet,” Levy adds. “He was just an artist who wanted to do good theater and tell truthful stories. To have it happen like this is just beyond us.”
Bradley, who lived alone, prided himself on his cooking.
“He was the chef of the Fountain Theatre,” Sachs says. “He would cook a massive meal for every opening-night performance for the entire audience, about 100 people — roast beef and ham and potatoes and beans. It became such an event that people calling for opening-night tickets would ask what Ben was going to cook. He loved people and he loved cooking for people. After the show Ben would be upstairs in our café, and he’d have this this glorious display all set up. He was the beaming host welcoming everybody in.”
Bradley was a graduate of Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where he majored in theater. He directed the critically acclaimed Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (winner of the 2006 Ovation Awards for Best Production and Best Director) and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, which ran in repertory with Master Class. He also directed Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys (winner of Best Ensemble, L.A. Weekly Award, and Best Ensemble, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award) at the Fountain.
He produced the Fountain’s acclaimed Yellowman, Master Class and Central Avenue, and co-produced The Darker Face of the Earth, I Am a Man, and Four by Tennessee.
He also produced the Fountan’s Voices (HIV/AIDS) Theatre Workshop, which staged The Guilt and Innocence of Citizen Zed and The Tribe of the Blue Mud People, also an original work.
On Monday morning, Levy had just arrived at the theater for a second gathering. “We decided [yesterday] that Ben was so passionate about this Emmet Till project, we decided that we want to go forward with the show in his honor, and in his memory. So we’re in the midst of trying to figure all that out. We’re waiting to hear from LAPD to release his apartment, so we can figure out all his personal effects and coordinate that with his family in Baltimore.
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“There’s a lot of information that we don’t have. And a lot of information we can’t divulge because it’s an ongoing investigation ... I’ve had to answer dozens of e-mails this morning, [and] I just lost it. Ben and I were together for 16 years.”
Levy says the theater is planning a memorial service January 23. The first impulse was to hold it at the Fountain Theatre, but the scale of the reaction has made it clear that the venue may be too small. Levy also said the theater has been contacted by the office of Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, a longtime supporter of the Fountain Theatre.
The theater has established the Ben Bradley Memorial Fund. For more information, visit fountaintheatre.com.
UPDATE: The LAPD has arrested a 25-year-old suspect, Jose Fructuoso, of Los Angeles, in the stabbing death of Bennett Bradley. According to the KTLA News blog, L.A. Now, Fructuoso knew the victim for several years, though police did not disclose the nature of their relationship. Anyone with information about the murder is asked to contact police at (877) LAPD-24-7.