Monday, September 27, 2010

Building Buzz-Worthy Props

Kathleen Early and Rebecca Mozo in SCR's In the Next Room or the vibrator play

So, Andrea Bullock and Jeff Rockey, what did you do at work last week?

Oh, you know, the usual: Built replicas of antique vibrators.

SCR’s version of the Carpenter.
You did what?

Yes, the halls of South Coast Repertory are buzzing these days as our artists prepare for the opening of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, a new comedy set in the 1880s about a just-invented electrical device designed to cure “female hysteria.”

Andrea and Jeff, our props artisans, had the task of creating two versions of the device from drawings of the real things.

Because these were real things: “Both of our vibrators are based on historical fixtures,” Jeff said, “the Carpenter vibrator, invented by a Dr. Carpenter, and the Chattanooga vibrator, manufactured by the Chattanooga Medical Company.”'

SCR’s version of the Chattanooga.
Described in the book The Technology of Orgasm as the “Cadillac of vibrators” because of its $200 price tag (in 1900), the Chattanooga was designed for, ahem… interior use. It consisted of a pole with a moveable arm. On that arm was a rod that could be made to vibrate.

“This instrument will be found to be an invaluable aid to the physician in the treatment of all nervous diseases and female trouble,” read its instruction manual.

Though it sounds silly and shocking today, doctors practiced genital massage on women from the time of the ancient Greeks through at least the 1920s. For them, this was a medical act, not a sexual one. They called the result a paroxysm rather than an orgasm.

Doctors believed this treatment relieved the symptoms of female hysteria, a diagnosis that also dates to the Greeks and covered everything from headaches to nervousness to loss of appetite to sleeplessness to general bad behavior—anything doctors couldn’t otherwise explain.

Problem was: Doctors didn’t really like doing it because it took a long time, time that could be spent earning money seeing other patients.

They needed a device that could do the job for them, which led to the invention of water-powered, steam-powered and finally—and most successfully—electric vibrators.

That’s where our story begins.

Andrea and Jeff used what they call “found parts” to create their vibrator replicas—bits of old lamps, an air hose, modern-day machine cranks, coat hooks.

19th Century drawing of the Chattanooga.
The Chattanooga model includes a tool handle, a pedal borrowed from a costume shop dress form, and oil filter wrenches. The legs on the Carpenter once supported a barstool.

“We did some research to find out what these antique vibrators looked like,” Andrea said, “and then sat around brainstorming ideas for how to make something that looked like that.”

She made the Chattanooga, and said the hardest part was creating an arm that could move up and down, back and forth.

Jeff made a variation of the Carpenter, which unlike the Chattanooga was designed only for exterior use and featured a collection of attachments (which in his model came from a modern day massager).

But no, neither of these devices actually vibrates. Those noises you hear will be coming from…well, we must keep a few secrets. See if you can figure it out.

Andrea and Jeff weren’t fazed by their assignments. In fact, they weren’t even sure these were the weirdest things they’d ever been asked to make.

One of the weirdest, maybe, said Jeff.
“I don’t know,” said Andrea, “I’ve made ‘dead’ plush animals that bleed.”

Now What’s This Play About?
In the Next Room or the vibrator play takes place at the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of home electricity. With its arrival comes a new invention that Dr. Givings is applying to patients suffering from “female hysteria.” His wife, Catherine, can’t help but overhear the sounds that accompany her husband’s treatments, and so begins to investigate—with comical results. But what Catherine comes to realize is that it is not the device in the next room that she yearns for, but rather an intimacy that’s missing from her marriage.
Sept. 26 - Oct. 17 - More Info/Tickets

Friday, September 24, 2010

'Misalliance' Opens the Season to Raves at SCR

Honorary Producer Mary Beth Adderley and Director Martin Benson

In his breeziest comedy, Misalliance, George Bernard Shaw posed the question: what differentiates a good alliance from a bad alliance?  His play may or may not have offered a definative answer, but—according to Broadway World—“the journey to ponder the question comes bound in laughter and frivolity!”

That journey began on First Night of Misalliance, Friday, September 12, at South Coast Repertory, and the critics reached for even more metaphors, with the Orange County Register declaring that SCR’s 47th Seaon opened “with a bang!” and the Los Angles Times noting that the evening proceeded at “full gallop!”  First Nighters simply cheered—and gave the cast a standing ovation.

Read all about the season opening party, complete with photos, here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"The Play's the Thing" Surprises—and Raises Over $530,000

Could they be the surprise?

Just as everyone expected, on Saturday, September 11, South Coast Repertory’s 2010 Gala Ball, “The Play’s the Thing,” lived up to its name, raising over $530,000 for the theatre’s annual fund and throwing in a surprise for good measure.

The glittering party began as guests swept into the hotel and up the grand staircase where they were greeted — beneath a giant marquee — by Gala Chair Sophie Cripe, her husband, Larry, and SCR Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson.

Turning the corner, they continued along a red carpeted hallway adorned with posters of SCR productions and the playwrights whose classics, modern masterpieces and world premieres have been at the heart of the theatre’s 46 seasons. Along the way, they were regaled by costumed characters from past shows.

And that was just the beginning. Read all about the party and the surprise act that stopped the show.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Meet Dakin Matthews, Mr. Versatility

JD Cullum and Dakin Matthews in Misalliance.

Dakin Matthews is nothing if not versatile: He moves from Shakespeare to “General Hospital,” from Shaw to “Desperate Housewives,” and back again.

Pretty impressive for a man who never intended to be an actor.

Matthews started life studying to be a priest but decided to become a professor. He was teaching Shakespeare at Cal State East Bay near San Francisco when a friend suggested he audition for a part in a summer Shakespeare festival. He decided to give it a try, and won the coveted role of Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1.

“I thought, ‘Well, this will be interesting. I can teach year-round and then in summertime go do Shakespeare in festivals,’” he said. “And I did that for about four or five years, and then people started to offer me jobs during the day during the school year, and they were nice jobs, so I went to my chairman and said, ‘How about if I take all the 8 a.m. classes five days a weeks?’”

And for the next 20 years, that’s what he did—teaching all morning, and rehearsing and performing all afternoon and evening. Around age 50, he took early retirement and began working in film and television, eventually moving to Los Angeles.

Why the change? Partly for the money.

“One of the reasons I came to L.A. was because I had children who wanted to go to college, and I wanted to be able to afford that,” he said with a laugh.

“Another reason was that the regional theater movement by that time was about 25 years old, and that meant they had a lot of famous alumni. And those alumni were now coming back to the theaters that they left and playing all the lead roles. So that I, who’d put in my 20 years in the regions, was now being bumped out of roles that I wanted to play... I figured if I wanted to continue to progress in the theatre, into playing the roles that I wanted to play, I’m going to have to go down to L.A and get some TV and film cred.”

Northern California’s loss was Southern California’s gain.

Matthews has worked steadily in TV (besides “General Hospital” and “Desperate Housewives,” he has recently appeared in a couple of episodes of “True Blood”), film (he’ll be seen in the upcoming Coen Brothers remake of True Grit) and theatre. At South Coast Repertory alone, he has appeared in Major Barbara, Hamlet, Hitchcock Blonde and Shadowlands. Next he will appear in George Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance, which starts previews at SCR on Sept. 10 and runs through Oct. 10.

In a break between rehearsals, Matthews sat down to talk about his career, falling in love with beautiful women and just how damn funny Shaw really is.

Tell us about your character, John Tarleton.

Well, he is kind of a self-portrait of Shaw. Shaw was extremely proud of his vitality in his age, extremely proud of his smarts, his learning, his knowledge. But [Tarleton] is kind of a little parody of himself, a little judgment of himself as well. And Tarleton, of course, is a bit of an iconoclast. And Shaw was certainly that. He never met a statue he didn’t want to break.

We were talking about this in rehearsal: Shaw has two older men in the play—one tired of years of government service and non-judgmental and one [my character] boisterous and having an opinion on everything and not the least bit diplomatic, personally or intellectually. And Shaw puts the two sides up [against each other]. Even though Misalliance is a comment about family more than anything else, and a comment about the young versus the old, it’s also a comment about approaches to life.

Do you relate to your character?

Oh, I relate to all my characters. I don’t necessarily like all of them, but I can relate to all of them. I like to feel like I’m still pretty vital at my age. I like having to be energetic. I do like to discover new things and learn something. Tarleton always is on a high learning curve. And I do like young, beautiful women. [Laughs.] Tarleton seems to fall in love with whatever young woman walks into the room. I can relate to that.

Why should people come see Misalliance?

Talk, talk talk! Shaw is just a great talker, that’s all, and you don’t get that kind of conversation in modern plays sometimes. You don’t get that many ideas thrown around. But on top of that, he is just excruciatingly funny most of the time.

I always find Shaw’s work to be a rewarding experience. It is like a banquet of ideas and words, and we are all sort of on a diet in this country, and sometimes it’s kind of nice to get just gorged…

It’s some of the greatest thinking, some of the greatest speaking and some of the greatest writing in the English language. He really is, after Shakespeare, the other truly great, great master of the English language in dramatic form.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Connecting the Dots with the 'Misalliance' Cast

South Coast Repertory kicks off the 2010-2011 season with George Bernard Shaw’s classic comedy Misalliance, a big show featuring a big cast. And with a cast as talented and hard working as this one, it is no surprise to learn that they’ve all crossed paths before.

JD Cullum
You might have seen JD Cullum in the movie Leatherheads getting into a little tiff with Renée Zellweger about his mother’s bosom. SCR regulars will also recognize him from performances in Pig Farm, The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow and another Shaw classic, Major Barbara, in which he appeared alongside…

Dakin Matthews
Dakin Matthews, an award-winning actor of stage, film and television. "Desperate Housewives’" lovers will recognize him as Bree’s religious consultant, Reverend Sikes. "General Hospital" fans can also pick out Matthews as the no-nonsense judge handling Sonny’s trial. SCR regulars will be very familiar with Matthews, who appeared in Hamlet with…

Ricahrd Doyle
…SCR Founding Artist Richard Doyle. Eighties sitcom fans will remember him from "Cheers," in which he played Woody’s father-in-law. But Doyle has appeared in more than 100 productions at SCR, among them, The Importance of Being Earnest, in which he was the frisky Reverend Chasuble wooing Miss Prism, played by…

Ameila White
...Amelia White. This won’t be White’s first time under Martin Benson’s direction, having recently worked with him in SCR’s The Heiress. That time, the Broadway star played Elizabeth Almont, aunt of the lonely Catherine Sloper, performed by…

Kirsten Potter
Kirsten Potter. Crime show enthusiasts might have spotted Potter in an episode of "Bones" being arrested by David Boreanaz as a suspected murderer. She just finished an accomplished run of King Lear as Goneril at L.A.’s Antaeus Company with…

Daniel Bess
Daniel Bess who played the role of Edmund. Many will recognize him from his recurring role in the first season of "24" as Rick Allen, kidnapper of Jack Bauer’s daughter. This is Bess’ first time on an SCR stage, but he has performed in several shows at Antaeus, which is where…

Wyatt Fenner
Wyatt Fenner studied acting. Fenner guest-starred on "Bones" as a recovering leukemia patient who dies in a subway accident. This is Fenner’s first performance on the Segerstrom Stage, but you might have seen him in the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Happy Face, as the brother with the deformed face being attacked by actor…

Peter Katona
Peter Katona, who played an abusive boyfriend in that reading. Katona appeared in SCR's A Femine Ending, and his face may also be recognizable from his appearances on TV crime shows, including "Castle" and "Numb3rs." Two TV shows that have also featured fellow Misalliance cast member…

Melanie Lora
Melanie Lora, who returns to the Segerstrom Stage after working with director Martin Benson on Collected Stories in 2009. It is fate that she returns to SCR in the same season that we revive Sideways Stories from Wayside School, a show that she originally appeared in here in 2004.

More info/Tickets