Monday, March 5, 2012

Artistic Inspiration—Past and Present—with Donald Margulies

Sight Unseen Returns Home
  • 1990: NewSCRipts reading at SCR
  • 1991: World premiere at SCR
  • 1992: New York premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club (with Laura Linney as Grete)
  • 2004: Broadway revival by Manhattan Theatre Club (with Laura Linney as Patricia)
  • 2012: SCR revival
By Kelly L. Miller

Since Sight Unseen premiered at South Coast Repertory in 1991, it has become a modern classic in the American theatre.  The result of Donald Margulies’ first commission from SCR, Sight Unseen was his breakout play, garnering both an OBIE Award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination following its New York premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1992.  In The New York Times, Frank Rich called it “a smart and sad new comedy…about the 1980's art scene, the loss of love and the price of assimilation, both ethnic and intellectual, in an America where authenticity often has little to do with an artist's—or anyone else's—rise to the top.”

Margulies’ play centers on protagonist Jonathan Waxman, a provocative American painter who has exploded onto the New York art scene—and who has a line of patrons waiting for his newest work.  Waxman is in London, on the cusp of his first European show, but something is missing.  Yearning to reconnect with his personal and artistic past, Jonathan searches out Patricia, his first love and artistic muse, who now lives in the British countryside with her husband Nick, working on ancient archaeological digs.

Margulies' first SCR commission and world premiere
was Sight Unseen in 1991 with Stephen Rowe,
Randy Oglesby and Elizabeth Norment.
SCR's second Margulies premiere was Collected Stories
with Kandis Chappell and Suzanne Cryer in 1996.

Margulies’ structurally inventive play doesn’t unfold chronologically.  Rather, it moves back and forth in time, charting Jonathan and Patricia’s turbulent past and unexpected reunion, as well as Waxman’s London interview with a German art critic named Grete, who ultimately questions the artistic integrity of his controversial work. 

In Sight Unseen, Margulies explores numerous thematic concerns—including the nature of artistic inspiration, creation and first love; the value of art as a commodity; the impact of an artist’s cultural identity and family on his work; and the powerful effect time and memory can have as one revisits his past loves and successes.  In his review of the 2004 New York revival, Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Margulies has never been merely a satirist. His plays are usually about how time and memory transform feelings, relationships and the perception of the past.”

Margulies returned in 2004 with Brooklyn Boy
featuring Adam Arkin and Ari Graynor.

In 2007 SCR premiered Margulies most recent
commission Shipwrecked! An Entertainment
with Melody Butiu and Gregory Itzin.

When asked about his inspiration to remount Sight Unseen, director David Emmes cited Jonathan Waxman’s quest to reconcile his own past in order to understand his artistic future.  As Emmes continues his lifelong artistic journey at SCR—a theater he co-founded with Martin Benson in 1964—it’s a challenge that resonates with him.  How does the past inform your present and future artistic success?  How does your artistic viewpoint change and evolve over time?  And most importantly, “how do you continue to live a challenging and fulfilling life in the theatre” as an artist, as time goes by?

We hope you’ll join us as we welcome one of our favorite playwrights, Donald Margulies, back home.

Playwright Donald Margulies.
About the Playwright

SCR has had a long and successful artistic relationship with playwright Donald Margulies.  He’s the author of four plays that were commissioned and premiered by SCR:  Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (2007); Sight Unseen (1991) and the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Award-winner, Collected Stories (1996), both of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; and Brooklyn Boy (2004). His play Dinner with Friends, which originated at Actors Theatre of Louisville, went on after its West Coast premiere at SCR to win numerous awards, including the 2000 Pulitzer Prize.  This revival of Sight Unseen will mark Donald’s seventh production at SCR, putting him near the top of our most-produced playwrights list. 

Margulies was the recipient of the 2000 Sidney Kingsley Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Theatre by a playwright.  He is currently adapting the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides into an HBO miniseries and he is an adjunct professor of English and Theatre Studies at Yale University.

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