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After 23 years, it’s still the perfect setting for South Coast Rep’s ‘Misalliance’

September 16, 2010 |  7:00 am

Misalliancephoto Artistic director Martin Benson was looking for the right play to direct to open South Coast Repertory’s 2010-11 season. He started out searching for “undiscovered gems,” he says. But he ended up rediscovering George Bernard Shaw’s “Misalliance,” which he had staged at the Costa Mesa theater 23 years ago.

The Edwardian comedy is “absolutely wonderful,” Benson tells Culture Monster, and also “satisfies our desire to come out with something a little larger.”

“Some people think it’s wordy, but how many plays have an airplane crash and a young man screaming and crying because he doesn't get his way? It’s got Shaw’s brilliant wit and his interesting take on the title –- misalliances -– the gulf between parents and children, men and women, rich and poor.”

As he read the script, Benson kept glancing at a picture on his office wall. “It was the set from the earlier show. I kept looking and saying, ‘Wow, that's a good-looking set.’ And then I said, ‘Why not use it again? Why reinvent one glorious wheel?’ ”

For the 1987 production, designer Ralph Funicello had created a grand solarium for the country home of underwear magnate John Tarleton, who ends up hosting an assortment of aristocrats, an acrobat, an aviator and a gun-wielding intruder.

“It's a beautiful open room,”  Benson says. “There's glass everywhere. You can see through it, see people approach the house. The play has a lot of entrances and exits and this allows the action to flow.” Plus, he says, Funicello figured out ways to help conjure up “pivotal scenes, including an airplane flying by and smashing into the greenhouse offstage.”

Benson contacted the designer, a Tony nominee who has worked on more than 250 productions in the United States and Canada. The original solarium had been dismantled long ago, but Funicello still had the plans and even knew where to find the diorama-like set model. He had donated it to South Coast Rep, which had auctioned it at a fundraiser. The buyer was another designer, John Iacovelli, who was happy to lend it back.

“Misalliance” and Funicello's solarium are making their return to SCR in a Segerstrom Stage show that opens Friday and runs through Oct. 10. The cast includes Dakin Matthews, whom Benson calls “the perfect Shavian actor,” as John Tarleton.

“Rarely do we repeat a play and even more rarely do we use a similar set,” says Benson. “But these opportunities were just too good to pass up.”

-- Karen Wada


Plays by Annie Baker, Sarah Ruhl and Itamar Moses headed to South Coast Repertory for 2010-11 season

South Coast Repertory's 2010-11 season looks to the theater's past and future

A 'Misalliance' Comes to Life

Photo: Ralph Funicello's set for the 1987 production of Misalliance at South Coast Repertory. Credit: Courtesy of SCR.