by Kelly L. Miller
The night begins innocently enough: Max and Peter reminisce about the girls they liked in high school and talk about their lives since: they’ve both moved away and become fathers. Peter’s been dying to see his old friends—and he’s been trying (and failing) for years to stay in touch. They’re waiting for Mitch to arrive for the party to begin. He’s the only one of them who never left town—and he still lives in his parents’ house.
Their well-meaning reunion turns quickly into a twisted trip down memory lane, as the men move backwards through nostalgia—for the boys and friends they once were—regressing to the darker memories of their shared adolescence. Their memories are unreliable, pain runs deep, and it will take them all night to sift through their past friendships in search of understanding.
At its core, Gregory S Moss’ new play Reunion is a scathingly funny two-act comedy about male friendship, aging and reconciliation. It’s a story that excavates male cruelty to explore the nuanced, complicated emotion inherent in male friendship. Moss has described the play as: “Tennessee Williams on the inside. David Mamet on the outside.” In it, he is both exploring and subverting the dramatic genre of the male bonding story—represented in pop culture recently by “bromances” like “The Hangover”; and in theater, by male comedies of menace by playwrights like Neil LaBute, Sam Shepard, David Mamet and Harold Pinter.
View Adrienne Campbell-Holt's design presentation for Reunion—her early thoughts on the play.
The inspiration for Reunion was also personal. Moss says: “I was interested in writing about the characters I knew back in Newburyport, Mass., where I grew up. There's a specific brand of Massachusetts macho that fascinates me. It's a front, in the same way I think the Mamet or Pinter characters machismo is a front. I wanted to see the soft side of these characters. Excavate the deeper feeling in them. And I wanted—in some regard—to evoke the specifics of the city I grew up in—the slang, the locales, the secret places that comprised my childhood there.”
He continues, “I was interested in thinking about the BAD KIDS I grew up with—the tough stoners, the juvenile delinquents, the bullies and metal heads—and I was wondering what might have happened to them. Them and other people from my high school days. I'm not in touch with anyone from that part of my life, so the play allowed me to investigate them, remember them, conjure them up again.”
Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt returns to SCR to direct the world premiere of Reunion, following its hit staged reading during the 2013 Pacific Playwrights Festival. “Reunion is my favorite kind of play,” she says. “It is funny, surprising, and hyper-theatrical. And it packs a major emotional punch. I love that it’s about working-class people and set in a place I know well. At the same time, I think everyone can relate to the world of this play. We all know at least one of these men—and I think some people who ‘don’t like theatre’ will love this play. That excites me.”
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Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Chaney Lieberman (Peddler 1) - I am 12 years old and live in Aliso Viejo. This is my fourth year studying at SCR. I first started acting when I was about seven or eight. I have been in Into the Woods, A Christmas Carol and The Nightingale, which all were performed at SCR. The thing I love most about performing, is how you can relate to someone or something completely different from who you are. It also lets me escape any problems I might be having and go into a new world with no worries.
Mitchell Huntley (Jack) - I am 13 years old, and live in Newport Beach. I am in seventh grade at the Orange County School of the Arts, in its Musical Theatre conservatory. I am in my fifth year of acting classes at SCR. I first started acting when I was in SCR's summer program in 2009. At SCR, I have been in Cinderella, The Nightingale, Into the Woods, Seussical and Annie. I also appeared in Bugsy Malone and The Jungle Book at Mariners Elementary School, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the Lake Forest Players, and Once On This Island at Newport Harbor High School. I love the feeling of sharing an amazing story with an audience in creative ways.
Max Salinger (Sailor 2/Townsman/Youngster 3) - I will be 13 in March and I live in Irvine. I started studying at SCR the summer before third grade, and I was hooked. SCR’s summer workshop was my first experience. My first play was SCR's A Christmas Carol. Since then I have been in The Who's Tommy, All My Sons, A Christmas Carol at Sierra Madre Playhouse and Miss Saigon, Once Upon a Mattress and Seussical at Stagedoor Manor in New York City. Performing gives you the chance to mix up your boring life. After awhile, everyone gets tired of being themselves and wants to try to be someone else. You can leave your problems behind when performing.
Emme O’Toole (Lady Pomegranate) - I’m 12 years old and I’m from Irvine. I’ve been studying acting at SCR for five years. I first started acting when I was eight. I love performing in plays! At SCR, I’ve appeared in A Christmas Carol, Seussical, The Nightingale and Annie. I’m also involved both onstage and backstage at a couple of community theaters in Orange County. A couple of other favorite roles include Laurie Morton in Brighton Beach Memoirs at Mysterium Theatre and Melinda Loomis in Inherit the Wind at the Attic Community Theatre. I love exploring other characters, digging into their motives, personalities and quirks. Performing is a way to not be myself for a while. I get to handle someone else’s problems and experience their joys as well. Also, throughout the rehearsal process, my fellow ensemble and I become very close. They become a second family to me and SCR becomes my second home.
Lauren Dong (Adelaid/Ensemble) - I am 11 years old and live in Irvine. I have been studying acting at a SCR for the past three years. I first started acting when I was seven. My most memorable roles are A Christmas Carol, Seussical, Annie and The Sound of Music. I like being able to explore all different kinds of characters through different thoughts and emotions. I like getting excited about performing in front of a live audience because I get to make a difference in someone’s life that day.
Louis Tonkovich (Ned/Ensemble) - I am currently 11 years old and I reside in Modjeska Canyon. I have been attending classes at SCR for four years and acting for about the same amount of time. At SCR, I have performed in A Christmas Carol and the Summer Players production of Annie. I have also performed in Ragtime: The Musical and Assassins. The thing I like best about performing is feeling the audience’s presence and sensing them relating and siding with one of the characters. Perhaps some people in the audience have felt the way a character feels, so they know what that character is going through.
Shelby Hayes (Jack’s Mother) - I am almost 14 and live in Eastside Costa Mesa. I have been studying acting for three years. My classes with SCR were my first acting experience. I hade the role of Girl About Town in the 2011 production of A Christmas Carol, Death in The Nightingale with last year's Junior Players and Cecile the French Maid in Annie in the recent Summer Players production. I have also performed in a couple of plays with other local theaters, most notably as the Scarecrow in The Attic Community Theatre's youth production of Wizard of Oz. The thing that most fuels my passion for acting is the fact that I can channel my true inner weirdness into another character and instead of judging the real me, the audience applauds me.
Lizzie Mills (Guitar Lady/Ensemble) - I will be 14 in March and I live in Coto De Caza. This is my fourth year with SCR. I first started acting by just doing plays here and there since I was about seven but I would always enjoy doing plays for my family since I was about five. At SCR I have been in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court twice (first as Merlin then as Queen Morgan), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (as Charlie), and Many Moons (Chuy). I like performing because I enjoy the challenge of taking on a character who could be one hundred degrees opposite of who I am. I also enjoy meeting my cast and slowly becoming like a family as the play moves on.
Graysen Airth (Lady Plum) - I am 14 and from Newport Beach. I have been acting at SCR for three years and started acting when I was eight in school drama classes. I’ve been in several plays including A Christmas Carol, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Discovering Rogue and The Jungle Book. What I like best about performing is the excitement and rush of being on stage and the feeling of joy it brings to me and to the audience.
Alex Theolodgides Rodriguez (Jack’s Father/Voice of Giant/Ensemble) - I am 14 years old and live in Irvine. I am in my sixth year studying acting at SCR. I started acting in third grade, after my older sister had started going to SCR. I was in A Christmas Carol in 2009, portraying the complex and emotionally tortured character known as Turkey Boy. What I like most about performing is combining talents with people who are really creative and dedicated to make something great.
Huxley Berg (Chicken/Ensemble) - I am 13 and live in Mission Viejo. I have been attending SCR since I was eight, it was the summer after my third season of little league when I knew there must be some other place for me. My grandma took action and told me about SCR and their theater program. I thought that was pretty cool so I started taking classes and the rest is history. I have been in many plays, I was young Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Nightingale, last years Junior Players production. I am currently in my first year attending Orange County School of the Arts. When performing, no matter the role, becoming somebody or to even create somebody is the best feeling on and off stage. SCR helped guide me to myself and who I will become. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to share and learn from such great teachers.
Abby Matzke (Young Steward/Youngster 4) - I am 13 years old and live in Huntington Beach. I have been studying acting at SCR for about four years. I started acting when I was seven, so about six years ago. The plays I have been in are: A Christmas Carol, Once on this Island, Bye Bye Birdie, Rising Son Rising Moon, Many Moons, Little Red Riding Hood and The Parable of the Stimples. The best part of performing for me is that it is a way to express myself and my individuality. I love acting, it is my true passion and through this experience in Junior Players I hope to perfect my craft.
Tessa Taylor (Peddler 2) - I am 13 years old and from Newport Beach. I have been studying at SCR for four years. I first started acting at the age of two. I have been in many school plays and 6 plays at SCR which include: Alice in Wonderland, Many Moons, The 8 Dragons, The Monsters in My Room, Daisy Head Maisy and A Christmas Carol. What I like best about performing is that I can be a whole new person on stage. In fact, when I was in A Christmas Carol I played the role of Tiny Tim. Pretending to be a boy was a whole new experience!
Ella Web (Giant’s Wife/Youngster 1) - I’m 11 years old and from San Clemente. This is my third year at SCR. I started acting when I did the summer acting workshop at SCR in 2011. I’ve been in two productions at SCR: A Christmas Carol and Annie. When I’m performing I like that have the chance to live in someone else’s life for a day.
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Monday, March 3, 2014
|Playwright Gregory S Moss|
.To say that playwright Gregory S Moss is busy these days is an understatement. Lately, he has been splitting his time between New York and New Mexico, where he runs the graduate program of dramatic writing at the University of New Mexico. Moss recently finished two new plays and he’s writing the book of a musical based on the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson with Joe Iconis. He’s also working on a new show about Charles Ludlum with the renowned Pig Iron Theatre Company of Philadelphia. Heading into rehearsals for Reunion, SCR’s Literary Director Kelly Miller talked to Moss about his writing—and the ferocity of the characters and music in his work.
KELLY MILLER: When did you first know you were a writer, then a playwright?
GREGORY S MOSS: I started writing at a pretty young age—maybe eight. I remember writing little illustrated stories that were structured like fairy tales. The first one was a made-up origin story for Robin Hood. After that I went through a solid adolescent phase of writing poems—and look, I’m not gonna throw my young, idealistic self under the bus, but I hope never to read those things again. I was deeply into Rimbaud, I wanted to be Rimbaud—someone who wrote so beautifully and lived this wild, itinerant life, then walked away from poetry altogether at age 20—his life and art were totally in sync. An utterly romantic, completely unfeasible model to imitate.
Writing plays didn’t start untill college—I was hired (for no money) to adapt The Pied Piper of Hamelin for a local children’s theater. I was moving back and forth across the country from Los Angeles to Durham, N.C., to Cambridge, Mass., primarily acting and directing, when I wrote my first “real” play—a one-act monologue I wrote to perform myself, so I wouldn’t have to pay someone else royalties. Even then, I didn’t think I was a writer. I didn’t believe it, really, until I met Paula Vogel. I saw Paula speak at The Huntington, and was just so lit up and inspired by her—like, “Here’s someone talking about making theater, with immense passion and intensity, in a language I understand!” At last!!!
How did your time studying at Brown University influence your work?
In more ways than I can name. It put in me in touch with my peers—Cory Hinkle, Dan Le Franc, Ann Marie Healy, Christina Anderson, Dipika Guha, Meg Miroshnik—and legitimized what I thought were my deviant artistic tendencies. Brown taught me to value community and hard work. It taught me to value my personal weirdo writerly DNA and gave me a practical set of tools to craft those impulses into something that (one hopes) becomes meaningful for an audience. Brown gave me a context and community in which to do the thing I wanted so badly to do.
I grew up, I should say, in a working-class family, in a working-class town. Being an artist as a job? And going to a school where someone might help you figure out how to do that? It never occurred to me; I didn’t think such things existed. I thought artists were like aristocrats—you had to be born into it.
|Tim Cummings and Michael Gladis in rehearsal for the 2013 Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Reunion.|
Writing plays for me is always about challenging my own habits. I like to try different things. And each story requires a specific container that will best bring it to the stage. I’m restless. But as I write more, I find I am more comfortable with my own voice. I’m less concerned with reinventing the wheel each time out, and more invested in getting things down the way I see and hear them.
I take ideas from all over the place, especially other art forms—music, movies and comics in particular. I listen to people talk on buses and in coffee shops and write down what they say. I mine my own personal past for things. Sometimes things just come to you.
I am increasingly interested in the intersection between naturalism and expressionism or surrealism. There’s a sweet spot, between straight realism (which I don’t think theater does very well, actually) and something more dream-like. That’s usually where I’m aiming—a nice bridge between the familiar and the strange.
What was the original inspiration for Reunion?
I wanted to write a conventionally structured two act play about working-class characters, that would then subvert or break up the familiarity of the form. What was important to me was to capture a certain kind of character I knew as a kid, wondering what might have happened to them. Tough, working-class, deeply macho Massachusetts kids. I was also thinking a lot about getting older, the sort of unfairness of how time keeps moving, and how we contend with things that we lose to that.
What other sources inspired the play—and how do you describe it to friends?
I like to describe it as a Tennessee Williams play in Mamet drag. Or a Smiths song played by Metallica.
My dad gave me this story by Nathaniel Hawthorne—“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”—about a group of elderly people who are given this potion that makes them, temporarily, young again. They have all these hopes and plans for how THIS time they’re gonna get it RIGHT, do things correctly. Then they drink the potion and just do all the same stupid things they did the first time around. So that dual sense—of wanting to go back, and of falling prey to the same mistakes—that was a big part of the play for me.
How important is it that the play is set in your hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts?
It’s important to me! But no—I think it’s more about specific kinds of tough working-class kids who are regionally specific to Boston—angry, tough, hyper-masculine and always busting each other’s balls. The location is important because it forms these kinds of men, and these kinds of friendships.
So much of this play is about male friendship and cruelty and aging—and about trying to reconcile who you were in high school with who you’ve become as an adult. How does the play resonate with who you were back then—and who you’ve become?
The play is about kids I was afraid of in middle and high school. This was not my social circle. But that culture—of swagger and brutal male bonding—that was in the water there, and parts of it, much as I resist it, have definitely shaped me. There are some years I would like a “do over” on, for sure.
|Playwright Gregory S Moss and Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt in rehearsal for the 2014 Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Reunion.|
’Cause that music—punk, metal—so perfectly expresses adolescent male energy and rage. And I’m always gonna be a little in love with that period of life, painful as it was. As a kid, music is identity. You let everyone know who you are through the shorthand of your favorite bands, and your devotion to them is borderline fanatical. I think the internet has changed that, but really, back then? Social lines were drawn over whether you wanted to listen to an extended guitar solo or not.
I was in bands in my teens and 20s, too, so music is a big part of how I process things.
What do you hope people will walk away with after seeing Reunion?
I hope they find it diverting, and laugh, and are moved by it.
What’s next in your writing world; what else are you working on?
I just finished two new plays—one is a romance set during one summer on a beach outside of Providence, Rhode Island, the other is a response to the work of recently-deceased LA artist Mike Kelley. I’m finishimg the first draft of a book for a musical based on the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson, that I’m making with the brilliant Joe Iconis, for La Jolla Playhouse. I’m working on a show about Charles Ludlum with Pig Iron Theater Company in Philly. And with writer/performer Kristen Kosmas, I’m writing a new play that mashes up The Cherry Orchard with the sitcom "Friends."
What brings you the most joy in your writing—in rehearsal, or in the production process?
I could rehearse and rewrite forever. I think, with the right collaborators, that would be heaven. I envy the Russian and European models of year long, two-year-long development processes. But I want to write for other people, so deadlines and opening nights are good things, too.
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Monday, February 24, 2014
|THE CAST: Kevin Berntson, Tim Cummings and Michael Gladis|
.It’s a bit of reunion in the rehearsal hall right now for actors Kevin Berntson, Tim Cummings and Michael Gladis—all three are veterans of South Coast Repertory. For two of the actors, it marks a return to Gregory S. Moss’ Reunion: Michael Gladis and Tim Cummings were cast in the play’s reading last year at the Pacific Playwrights Festival. Here’s more about the cast:
Kevin Berntson (Peter) has previously performed on stage at South Coast Repertory in Sideways Stories from Wayside School. At La Jolla Playhouse, he appeared in Boy and The School for Wives and at San Diego Repertory Theatre, he appeared in their production of A Christmas Carol. Berntson also has appeared in Teen Witch: The Musical, Spring Awakening and Love’s Labour’s Lost. His television credits include “2 Broke Girls,” “Kickin’ It,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Private Practice,” “Rules of Engagement,” a recurring role on “Hart of Dixie.” He has appeared in more than 25 commercials. He is an improv instructor at The Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles. Berntson performs improvisation regularly. His comedy short “Traffic Signals,” which he co-wrote and co-stars in, won Best Comedy Short at the LA Comedy Shorts Festival. Berntson studies acting at Steppenwolf West with Tom Irwin and holds an MFA from UC San Diego.
Tim Cummings (Mitch) returns to SCR after appearing in Eurydice last season. His recent credits: portrayed Ned Weeks in the four-month run of The Normal Heart at The Fountain (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly nomination for Best Lead Actor and Best Production, Broadway World and Eddon Awards winner for Best Lead Actor); The Phantom Tollbooth (Main Street Theater); The Firebird (Disney Hall); The New Electric Ballroom (Rogue Machine Theatre), for which Cummings won the LADCC, the LA Weekly and the StageSceneLA award for Best Supporting Actor; The Walworth Farce and WAR (Theatre Banshee); Camino Real and Tartuffe (The Theatre@ Boston Court); The Winter’s Tale and Hamlet (Theater 150); Slasher and The Last Schwartz (Zephyr Theatre); Only Say The Word (Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA); The Pursuit of Happiness (Laguna Playhouse); Burn This (Stages Theatre Center); and Closer (Hollywood Food Chain). In New York, he appeared in Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune (Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci, director Joe Mantello) and The Guys (with Sigourney Weaver and Susan Sarandon, director Jim Simpson). His film and television credits include Spirited, Something Strange, “Criminal Minds,” “My Two Fans,” Presence, Exit Interview and The Box. He is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Cummings serves as associate director of the Youth Program at the Ojai Playwrights Conference.
Michael Gladis (Max) appeared at SCR previously in Princess Marjorie by Noah Haidle and the Pacific Playwrights Festival readings of Reunion and Kin. His New York theater credits include Fifth of July with the Signature Theater Company, Baal at The Flea Theater, The Main(e) Play and ‘Nami with Partial Comfort Productions, Dog Sees God at SoHo Playhouse, St. Crispin’s Day at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, and a national tour of Romeo & Juliet, among others. His film credits include the soon-to-be-released Devil’s Knot, Knights of Badassdom and In Security. He can also be seen in J. Edgar and K-19: The Widowmaker. On television, Gladis appeared on “The Mentalist,” “Justified,” “Eagleheart,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “House M.D.,” “The Good Wife,” and three seasons as Paul Kinsey on “Mad Men.” Also, he will soon be invading your home as Deputy Chief Holland Knox on the new CBS series, “Reckless.”
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Friday, February 21, 2014
Sign up for a guided backstage tour, departing every 15 minutes from the lobby. See where the magic of theatre happens, including the scenic shop, the prop shop, the wig shop and more. Talk with the artisans who create SCR’s stagecraft. Don’t miss this rare opportunity!
Tour reservations are highly encouraged, as space is limited and past tours have filled up quickly. Go online to reserve your spot on one of the tours or call the Box Office at (714) 708-5555.