Friday, January 27, 2012

Costume Drama

Jonathan Nichols and Cassie Beck.
All five of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Costumes are period pieces, but costume designer David Kay Mickelsen says that designing for contemporary pieces is often a greater challenge.

“Everyone has a view about what clothing today says about a person,” he says, whereas historical costuming is often dictated by tradition.

Mickelsen designed the costumes for Elemeno Pea, in which the lifestyles of two sisters—one preppy and one Plain Jane—collide against the wealthy backdrop of modern-day Martha’s Vineyard.  To help home in on each character’s personal style, Mickelsen asked the actors for their input.

Cassie Beck and Katrina Lenk.
Jonathan Nichols, who plays put-upon property caretaker Jos-B, felt that his character would likely wear the type of back support brace gardeners or construction workers wear; adjusting his back brace is now an essential part of Jos-B’s mannerisms.

Cassie Beck, who brings down-to-earth Devon to life, felt that her character played sports in her high school days, but wouldn’t be able to afford expensive sneakers on a social worker’s salary—hence her quirky-retro Chuck Taylors.

But it was Michaela, played by Katrina Lenk, who proved to be the biggest challenge. Mickelsen originally envisioned the trophy wife in simple neutrals, symbolizing her need to fit in to this wealthy world. But the neutral basics fell flat on Lenk, so Mickelsen kept searching until her found her bronze metallic, off-the-shoulder top just days before the show began previews.

“We realized that Michaela needed to be mega-sexy, but not in a skin-tight way. A monied-sexy way,” says Mickelsen of his last-minute find. “Clothing characters like this is based on all of us observing people every day. You just have to keep your eyes open.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

The ABC’s of "Elemeno Pea"

By Kimberly Colburn
Devon grew up in Buffalo, is currently living in her mother’s basement and at the moment is struggling to even find a job in her field. Her cousins have been laid off, and her 35th birthday party three months ago was more like a celebration of her impending spinsterhood than a party. Her sister, Simone, couldn’t come because she had to work, so now Devon is taking a trip to visit her in Martha’s Vineyard, where Simone has been working as an executive assistant to a very rich woman.

Set rendering by Ralph Funicello

As Elemeno Pea opens, Devon walks into the house and is floored by the splendor. It’s like living in a J-Lo movie and unlike anything she’s ever experienced. And this, it turns out, is only the guest house. The main house is across the perfectly landscaped grounds. These people have monies.

Simone is quick to show off her good fortune and explain to Devon that she’s more than just an employee. Devon begins to realize that this crazy place and the demanding job have started to change Simone, though Simone maintains that Devon’s just jealous. The sisters start hashing out the differences in their opinions (as only sisters can) when they are interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Simone’s boss/friend, Michaela, in the middle of a crisis of her own. A comedic clash of worlds unfolds as Devon learns more than she ever thought she would about how the 1% lives.

The Edgartown yacht club in Martha's Vineyard.
Playwright Molly Smith Metzler used her experiences on Martha’s Vineyard as her inspiration for writing Elemeno Pea. She spent a summer working at an über-ritzy yacht club, and took careful notes on the people she waited on. The resulting characters are hilarious in their self-absorbed worlds of money and status, but this is more than a simple send-up of the wealthy.

Metzler gives us a window into the behavior and life pressures of different classes of people, from the Latino caretaker to the globe-trotting playboy. The dialogue comes fast and furious, but Metzler cleverly inserts some social commentary between the laughs. How does the station you were born into determine who you become? What happens when you’re exposed to the best money has to offer? What does it take to start climbing to the top of the social ladder, and what happens after you get there?

Molly Smith Metzler
Marc Masterson
Metzler is a rising star on the national theatre scene. One of her first plays, Training Wisteria, appeared at the Summer Play Festival in New York, and Elemeno Pea premiered at the legendary Humana Festival of New American Plays last year. Her play Close Up Space, starring David Hyde Pierce, is currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club. Like Elemeno Pea, these plays balance laser-like comedy with thoughtful insights about the world.

Elemeno Pea also marks the SCR directorial debut of the company’s new Artistic Director, Marc Masterson. He chose it for production at Humana, but didn’t direct it there.  Masterson says he decided to direct it at SCR because the play is something he feels passionately about and tackles a subject he wants to explore. He also thinks it’s a play our audiences will really enjoy, so he’s excited to bring it to Orange County.

Metzler has been in attendance through parts of the rehearsal process, and she has continued to refine the play. Masterson explains that it’s like a sweater—once you’ve starting pulling one thread, you’ve got to look at everything again. Metzler, Masterson and the top-notch cast are collaborating to give SCR audiences a great night of theatre to look forward to.

Read more about Metzler and SCR's production of Elemeno Pea in this recent Los Angeles Times article.

'Elemeno Pea' Vet Joins SCR Vets
The cast from left to right: Katrina Lenk, Jonathan Nichols,
Cassie Beck, Jamison Jones and Melanie Lora.

Cassie Beck is no stranger to Elemeno Pea’s text, having played the role of Devon in the show’s world premiere at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville last year.

Although familiar with the play, Beck has never appeared on an SCR stage. Her four co-stars are in the opposite situation: new to the script but familiar to SCR.­

Appearing at SCR in 2010 were Jamison Jones (Ethan), who played Doctor Cerberus and a multitude of characters in the show of the same name, and Melanie Lora (Simone), who played the sought-after Hypatia in George Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance. Katrina Lenk, from 2005’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, will play spoiled trophy wife Michaela, and Jonathan Nichols, from 2003’s Anna in the Tropics, will play estate caretaker Jos-B—not to be confused with the never-seen José (Jos-A).

Catch this hilarious group of actors and characters in Elemeno Pea, running Jan. 27 – Feb. 26 on the Segerstrom Stage.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

First Nighters Praise "Topdog/Underdog"

On January 13, when the curtain fell on First Night of Topdog/Underdog, the audience was initially stunned—and then standing—in a well-deserved ovation.  The Orange County Register’s theatre critic Paul Hodgins was among the theatregoers, and his column echoed their praise:  “This Topdog reaches into your heart and squeezes it, hard…  If you love theater’s ability to simultaneously move, inform and entertain you, this play is a must-see.”

Things weren’t quite as dramatic at the cast party, co-sponsored by Pinto Provence, but a few of the dark tones were captured in the red candlelight, red roses and theatrical lighting.  And, of course, there were playing cards scattered here and there, in case anyone wanted to deal a little 3-card monte, Topdog/Underdog’s ultimate con game.

Among the First Nighters greeting the artists and singing their praises were Honorary Producers Alan and Olivia Slutzky, who were also praised by the partygoers for their generous support of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.