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South Coast Repertory's new artistic director has his predecessors and a rival for ongoing company

February 18, 2011 |  5:54 pm

MarcMasterson2AllenJSchaben King Lear could have spared himself a lot of heartache if he’d thought of an exit strategy like the one South Coast Repertory’s co-founders, Martin Benson and David Emmes, have designed for themselves.

When they turn over the reins to incoming artistic director Marc Masterson in September -– after 47 years leading the acclaimed Costa Mesa theater –- Benson and Emmes will retain a title, founding artistic directors, that carries specific perks. They’ll keep their seats on the board of directors, serve as advisors to Masterson, and reserve the right to direct at least one play each per season for the next five years.

What does that mean for Masterson, 55, who arrives with more than 30 years’ experience as an artistic director at City Theatre of Pittsburgh and Actors Theatre of Louisville?

The worst case scenario would be a repeat of two other Shakespearean plays about English kings, “Richard II” and “Henry VI.” In each, the titular monarch’s authority is badly undermined by competing powers who are nominally his vassals –- with chaotic consequences for the realm.

In “Henry VI,” one of the main troublemakers is the Duke of York, who thinks the crown should rightfully have been his. In our fantasy of a nightmare scenario at SCR, that would be associate artistic director John Glore, a longtime lieutenant to Benson and Emmes who was an unsuccessful contender for the top job.

JohnGloreMeganMonaghanCotterAsked to comment about this week’s announcement that Masterson will be the artistic director, and what that means for him, Glore, who has been at South Coast since 1984, except for 2000 to 2005, when he was a top aide to Gordon Davidson at Center Theatre Group, sent an e-mail:

“Although obviously I’m disappointed that I won’t have the opportunity to take the reins myself, I have the utmost respect for every member of the search committee and know that their deliberations were painstaking and judicious. In Marc Masterson they have tapped a proven leader whose track record suggests he will embrace and extend SCR’s mission…..Marc has my full support coming in, and I look forward to getting to know him and to learning how I can serve his efforts. Above all I remain devoted to the theater that has been my artistic home for most of my professional life.”

Regarding Glore, Masterson says, “John’s a great guy and a really important part of the team. We don’t know each other well, but I know his reputation and connections and I think he is invaluable.”

At Actors Theatre, Masterson has, in fact, been the in-house Shakespearean, directing “Macbeth,” “The Tempest” and “As You Like It.” His credits on the classic and contemporary-classic side also include Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Searching titles for clues about areas of consonance and divergence between Actors Theatre under Masterson and SCR under Benson and Emmes, the one that stands out is Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” which Masterson directed in Louisville last fall. Simon is a playwright to whom Benson and Emmes have been allergic.

On the adventurous-leaning side, however, Masterson has programmed an assortment of plays that SCR has not presented: “Gone Missing” and “This Beautiful City” by the Civilians, a New York City troupe that has been embraced at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog” and Adam Guettel’s cave-disaster musical, “Floyd Collins.”

There’s also ample evidence of converging taste: shows picked by Benson and Emmes in Costa Mesa and by Masterson in Louisville include Donald Margulies’ “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment” and Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel,” two shows that premiered at South Coast; August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” and “Fences,” Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House,” David Auburn’s “Proof,” Martin McDonagh’s “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart” and Yasmina Reza’s “Art.” 

Asked to name some favorite less well-known playwrights, Masterson mentioned the hip-hop-influenced Kristoffer Diaz, who had his Southern California debut last fall with “Welcome to Arroyo’s” at the Old Globe in San Diego, and won raves from Chicago critics in 2009 with “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” and Los Angeles playwright Theresa Rebeck, whose work has been staged by the Pasadena Playhouse (“Mauritius”) and the Laguna Playhouse (“Bad Dates”). He said he’s particularly excited about “Elemeno Pea” by Molly Smith Metzler, a comic drama about class differences that she wrote as a student in the Juilliard School's graduate playwrights program. It premieres next month at Actors Theatre as part of its annual flagship event, the Humana Festival of New American Plays. 

For the full story on South Coast’s transition, click here and here.


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 In for the long haul


-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Marc Masterson at South Coast Repertory. John Glore and former South Coast Rep colleague Megan Monaghan in 2006. South Coast Repertory exterior. Credits: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times (Masterson). Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times (Glore/Monaghan). Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times (SCR exterior).