Category: South Coast Repertory

Theater review: 'The Prince of Atlantis' at South Coast Repertory

April 8, 2012 |  4:48 pm

Prince of atlantis 1

There’s a by-the-numbers quality to Steven Drukman’s “The Prince of Atlantis,” a play that sets out to please audiences by giving them a theatrical variation of what they’ve experienced on TV.

A good percentage of Saturday’s matinee audience at South Coast Repertory, where the work is having its world premiere, seemed to eat it up. I found it contrived and tedious, but as dramedies (awful word) go, it hits all the requisite emotional marks while cracking just enough jokes to be labeled harmlessly diverting, at least by those who don’t have any problems with ethnic caricature.

The twist here is that the play’s stereotypical Italian American characters hail from the Greater Boston area neighborhood of Nonantum, a community in Newton that has a distinctive patois, in which “wonga” means “money” and “cuya moi” is how to tell someone to “shut up!” But beyond the way the men affectionately call each other “mush,” it’s the same bada-bing, bada-boom meatball hero subculture that never seems to go out of style in popular entertainment.

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Theater review: 'Sight Unseen' at South Coast Repertory

March 19, 2012 |  4:54 pm

Sight unseen 1


 Donald Margulies’ “Sight Unseen” returns to South Coast Repertory, where the play had its world premiere in 1991. And it’s safe to say that every new production of this critically acclaimed work is a unique experience.

This revival, directed by founding SCR artistic director David Emmes, is absorbing through and through, but it demonstrates the challenge of balancing the competing perspectives of the play. One side dominates here, making “Sight Unseen” seem ultimately more parochial than it should.

Depending on who’s playing Jonathan, a painter whose career has brought him fame, fortune and a New York Times Magazine cover, and Patricia, his ex-girlfriend living in England with her fellow archaeologist husband, the play’s balance of meaning will shift. This is of course true for all good dramas, but the situation in “Sight Unseen” is somewhat more pronounced as the play is a study of a character who bears quite a few similarities to his author.

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Theater review: 'Elemeno Pea' at South Coast Repertory

February 5, 2012 |  4:55 pm

Elemeno pea 1

 The old upstairs-downstairs distinction (all the rage again with “Downton Abbey”) is given a brief holiday in “Elemeno Pea,” a comedy by Molly Smith Metzler, in which the hired help has more or less taken over a lavish Martha’s Vineyard estate at the end of the summer season. Time, in other words, to break the good stuff out of the liquor cabinet.

The play, now receiving its West Coast premiere at South Coast Repertory, was originally produced at the 2011 Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. SCR artistic director Marc Masterson, who was still the head of ATL when “Elemeno Pea” had its world premiere, makes his Southern California directorial debut with this often amusing morality tale about the compromising consequences of money’s seductive power.

Masterson’s production isn’t quite able to mask the unsettledness of Metzler’s mix of broad caricature and genuine human concern. The playwright wants to have her sitcom high jinks and her psychological interest too. But the staging finds pockets of sympathy amid all the exaggerated mockery, and it’s always a nice surprise when the least likable character turns out to be more than just a villainous twit.

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Theater review: 'Topdog/Underdog' at South Coast Repertory

January 15, 2012 |  6:10 pm

In Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog,” in revival at South Coast Repertory, characters named Lincoln and Booth by their parents as a sick joke struggle to survive the historical funhouse they’re trapped in.

The Freudian compulsion to repeat the past combines with the Marxist notion of tragedy’s inevitable return as farce — deadly farce, in the case of these two brothers holed up in a decrepit one-room apartment lacking not just a second bed but also running water and a toilet.

These men aren’t just prisoners of memory, they’re stuck in a grimy economic jail cell with little chance of parole. They laugh and poke fun out of a kind of slow-burn despair that can occasionally seem like a ghetto “Waiting for Godot.” Other times their story will have you thinking more biblically — Cain and Abel for starters.

PHOTOS: 'Topdog/Underdog'

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'Studio SCR' series includes O.C.'s leading theater outsider

December 7, 2011 |  7:02 am

Orange County’s leading outsider stage director, Dave Barton, will work inside the county’s theatrical Big House –- South Coast Repertory -– for the first time in spring as part of SCR’s second annual Studio SCR series spotlighting off-center artists and companies in the 94-seat Nicholas Studio.

Barton’s Fullerton-based Monkey Wrench Collective will revive his staging of “pool (no water)” by the edgy British playwright Mark Ravenhill, one of a series of often-confrontational English and American writers who’ve found a regular outlet in Orange County during Barton’s 15-year run as leader of Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, then Monkey Wrench. 

Studio SCR, with seven productions from January to June, will feature other artists known for experimental work, including plays previously staged at REDCAT, the RADAR LA festival, and Fringe Fests in Hollywood and Edinburgh, Scotland.

The schedule:

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Henry Segerstrom's mall hosts exhibit on his public art patronage

November 30, 2011 |  3:00 pm

Henry Segerstrom Jim Huntington in 1982
By definition, public art is a form that requires no throwing back of curtains.

But a behind-the-scenes look at the public art of one extremely busy Southern California neighborhood -– Costa Mesa’s South Coast Metro commercial and arts district -– is what's being offered in an exhibition opening Wednesday at South Coast Plaza, the shopping center that led the district’s transformation from lima bean fields to the sort of place it makes sense to festoon with major pieces of sculpture.

“On Display in Orange County: Modern and Contemporary Sculpture” runs through Jan. 2 in a pop-up gallery at the South Coast Plaza Penthouse, a third-floor niche for luxe retailers.

The show includes photographs, preliminary artist renderings and models, videos and other archival items documenting the creation of 13 works. All but one was bought or commissioned by Henry T. Segerstrom, managing partner of the family firm that owns and operates South Coast Plaza and developed the surrounding properties. (The exception is a 1981 Henry Moore sculpture purchased in 1984 by Angels of the Arts, a support group of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.) One piece, Alexander Calder’s 1966 mobile, “Pekin,” will be part of the exhibition, having been temporarily relocated from its usual perch in the lobby of one of the district’s commercial buildings.

Doing good while doing well, the Segerstroms donated the acreage for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts -– a title that applies both specifically to the two-building performing arts center at its core (formerly known as the Orange County Performing Arts Center) and more generally to the overall arts district. That district also encompasses South Coast Repertory and a vacant parcel set aside for the Orange County Museum of Art, which faces the challenge of raising money so it can build there and eventually vacate its cramped quarters in Newport Beach.

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Segerstrom Center plans 'Off Center' performance festival

November 9, 2011 |  6:00 am

Segerstrom Center Mariah Tauger
Building on the concept of alternative and youth-oriented offerings it launched in 2008, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts is announcing Wednesday that its first “Off Center Festival” will run Jan. 13-21. Minimalism and eclecticism are among the creative approaches; affordability is a guiding principle with tickets $20 for each performance, discounted to $10 each in multi-show packages. 

Music, theater, dance and a variety show infused with intellectual as well as entertainment value will take place in the Costa Mesa center’s two smaller venues and outdoor plaza; next-door neighbor South Coast Repertory will lend its Nicholas Studio for one of the plays.

“Ten Tiny Dances” (Jan. 20-21), billed as “an experiment in confined space” devised by Portland, Ore., choreographer Mike Barber, will take place on a 4-by-4-foot square stage inside the Samueli Theater. The repertoire will include new pieces created for the occasion by Southern California dance makers Meg Wolfe, Melanie Rios and Jennifer Backhaus.

“The Car Plays” (Jan. 14-15, 20-21), overseen by Paul Stein, former artistic director of L.A.’s Moving Arts troupe, offers 10-minute scripts that not only are set in automobiles, but performed in them, with actors and audience sharing a car's cabin. A ticket will get you admission to one of three separate five-play sequences performed in vehicles parked on the center’s plaza. New scripts that South Coast Repertory commissioned will be included.

Normal stages will suffice for “ReEntry” (Jan. 18-20) and “The Word Begins” (Jan. 19-21). “ReEntry,” in Founders Hall, is a 2009 documentary play that creators Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez scripted from interviews with U.S. Marines and their families, about the experience of returning from combat in Iraq. Sanchez, an alumna of Anne Bogart's SITI Company, is directing the production by her new documentary-theater troupe, American Records. "ReEntry" opens this month at Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky, where SCR's new artistic director, Marc Masterson, included it in the final season he picked for his former stage.

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Theater review: 'How the World Began' at South Coast Repertory

October 2, 2011 |  6:14 pm

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On the evolutionary ladder of playwriting, “How the World Began,” Catherine Trieschmann’s new drama about a standoff between a biology teacher and irate creationists, occupies a relatively low rung. The issue under discussion is distressingly topical, but the work seems better suited to a school auditorium than to a playhouse of South Coast Repertory’s standing.

To Trieschmann’s credit, she tries to be fair to all sides, situating the views of her characters, no matter how extreme, in personal details that are chosen with empathy. But neither the intellectual debate nor the human story is sharply illuminated.

Susan Pierce (Sarah Rafferty, cleanly doing what she can with the part) is a new teacher in Plainview, Kan., a town that is rebuilding after a tornado wreaked havoc. Unmarried, pregnant and not fully licensed, she has a degree from Brooklyn College, some messy personal history in New York and a desire to make a new start for herself.

She also has powerful convictions about the teaching of science and an urban impatience with provincial narrowness. Her words aren’t always measured, and something she said in class — a reference to “gobbledygook” when talking about unscientific theories of how life on Earth arose — comes back to haunt her.

Micah Staab (Jarrett Sleeper), one of her students, has taken offense. He demands an explanation of her comments, and the two engage in a kind of lawyerly cat-and-mouse that’s like David Mamet without the verbal fangs and toxin.

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Theater review: 'Pride and Prejudice' at South Coast Repertory

September 18, 2011 |  4:41 pm

P and p a 

It is a truth universally acknowledged in showbiz, that a classic novel much beloved by the masses must be trotted out onstage whenever a box office bump is called for.

“Pride and Prejudice,” Jane Austen’s perennial charmer, has once again been pressed into service, and a vocal contingent of Saturday’s matinee audience at South Coast Repertory seemed to be lapping up the tale of the marriageable Bennet daughters as though it were cookies and milk left by mom.

Only a killjoy would complain that the production is like a cartoon illustration of a tale that’s better read or languorously adapted for film or television than caricatured in the theater. So call me a killjoy because I can’t for the life of me understand how the familiar pleasures of Austen’s masterful plot can outweigh the obvious fact that the work isn’t meant to be shoe-horned into a makeshift play or presented in a style that favors hammy clarity over silence and subtlety.

The opening left many SCR patrons who were expecting a traditional airing of the story tremulous with anxiety. A punked-out girl (Claire Kaplan) with pink-streaked hair stomps around to blaring music in her bedroom until a woman, presumably her mother, enters and gives the girl something more subdued but no less absorbing to occupy her time — an e-reader version of “Pride and Prejudice,” eventually replaced by an actual book.

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Marc Masterson brings new possibilities as SCR leader

September 17, 2011 | 11:30 am

Marc Masterson now occupies a corner office at South Coast Repertory as its new artistic director. But the former occupant, co-founder David Emmes, has simply moved one door down.

Emmes and the other founding director, Martin Benson, still have a voice in what happens at Orange County’s flagship theater company, which they ran together from 1964 until Masterson came on board in June after nearly 11 years as artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. But the final word on artistic decisions is supposed to be Masterson’s alone.

The word, for now, is gradualism — this succession was carefully planned to bring evolution, not eruptions. Picking the new season that's about to begin was a cooperative effort by the new man and his two predecessors; after this, Masterson alone will have the final say.

Going by his track record in Kentucky, where the job included choosing and overseeing the annual Humana Festival of New American plays, the Masterson era in Costa Mesa doesn’t figure to be a simple continuation. His Louisville programming included documentary plays, hip-hop theater and shows by adventurous touring ensembles such as New York’s SITI Company — any of which would be a new development for South Coast.

Read the Arts & Book profile about Masterson’s settling-in period in Costa Mesa and what may lie ahead.

Southern California audiences will start getting an idea of his artistic approach in January, when he directs “Elemeno Pea,” a play about the gulf between rich Americans and everyone else. It premiered during the 2011 Humana Festival, near the end of his watch in Louisville.


Marc Masterson set to make the calls at South Coast Repertory

Some advice for South Coast Repertory's incoming leader

In for the long haul

— Mike Boehm

Photo: Marc Masterson takes a seat at South Coast Repertory. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times.


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