Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Story of an Invitation

Once a year, on a June morning at South Coast Repertory, members of the SCR Gala Ball Committee get together for an important task—assembling invitations and hand addressing each one for mailing.

Gala Chair Beth Phelps, Graphics Co-Chair Nadine Hall
Gail Doe
Laurie Smits Staude
Graphics Co-Chair Pam Muzzy

Olivia Johnson
Laurie Smits Staude, Olivia Johnson and SCR
Graphic Designer Crystal Woolard

This season’s Gala, “Setting the Stage,” chaired by Beth Phelps, will take place on September 8 at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa.  “Setting the Stage” will take guests on a theatrical journey from backstage to footlights—a journey rendered artistically in the invitation.
It’s the story of a show, from concept to completion.  Follow along, beginning with a set designer’s sketch (Proof), to a computer drawing (Putting It Together), to pop-ups of lights…costumes … sound… to fully realized productions (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Putting It Together)—inviting guests to join us as we begin “Setting the Stage” for next year’s productions.

For information about “Setting the Stage” (and to receive your own special invitation), please call Director of Development, Susan Reeder at (714) 708-5518.

Barbara Cline

The Gala Patron Party will take place at the home of SCR supporters Barbara and David Cline on August 16 at 6:30pm.  This exclusive party for Gala patrons previews  “Setting the Stage” and is one of the highlights of the Orange County summer social season.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Raw and Raucous Take on Strindberg Rounds Out Studio SCR

Jillian Lauren and D.J. Mendel in Cattywampus.
What happens when August Strindberg’s Miss Julie is plucked out of a 19th century Norwegian estate and replanted in the break room of a used car dealership in Pittsburgh? Everything goes Cattywampus (awry).  We talked to the show’s creator, Robert Cucuzza, about his theatrical influences, his motivations for transforming this classic play, and his re-writing process.

Deemed a "master of mayhem" by The New York Times, Cucuzza is a Los Angeles-based theater artist, filmmaker, actor, and acting teacher known for his dark humor and imaginative physicality.  In New York, he spent six years at Richard Foreman’s Ontological Theater, where he mounted many highly-acclaimed original plays and was a co-founder of the Obie Award-winning Blueprint Series festival for emerging theatre artists. Since 1997 he has been a company member of Elevator Repair Service (ERS), with whom he most recently originated the role of Tom Buchanan in GATZ—a staging of the entire text of The Great Gatsby that was placed on multiple “Best of 2010 Theater” lists, including The New York Times.

D.J. Mendel and Jenny Greer.
Cucuzza admits it was working with Foreman and ERS in the 90s that really taught him how to make theatre via various source materials. Both artists take what Cucuzza calls “cultural detritus” (text, music, dance, and film, for example) and smash it apart to recreate something new and original. “They taught me the importance of creating a rigorous world onstage, more so than a play or performance,” he says.  After leaving New York, he went on to receive his MFA in Directing from Cal Arts, where he worked on Shakespeare, motivating him to develop his own modernized version of a classic text.

Cucuzza has always been drawn to the raw power in Strindberg’s play, in which the well-bred daughter of an aristocrat in 1888 Sweden begins a sexual power play with her father’s servant, transgressing class boundaries and social mores. “I’m drawn to dark comedy, high drama, comic opportunity and almost schizophrenic power-switching, and Strindberg has all of these elements.” More specifically, Cucuzza was drawn to the working class character of Jean.  “I was raised in a very small rural town in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. I’ve rarely seen the working class people I grew up with represented with integrity on stage; you get a lot of folksy hicks or insulting caricatures. When I got my hands on Miss Julie, I saw it as a canvas upon which to draw this modernized and Americanized version of Jean.”

Though the play had power, Cucuzza found it outdated and unrelatable at its core, and set out to solve the problem by rewriting it line-by-line.  He couldn’t help but imagine the characters transported to his home of Appalachia—specifically, transforming Jean into a gritty blue-collar car detailer, and setting the play in the break room of a Pittsburgh car dealership on the night of its going-out-of-business party. “I distilled the dialogue, cut out repetition and lyricism, infused it with Pittsburgh slang, modern idioms and Americana, and out-and-out changed some of the themes that simply don't exist today, most evidently changing Julie's domineering father to her husband” (cheekily referred to as “The Count”) “and replacing her famous pet bird with a kite,” he says.  Overall, his intention was to create an “emotional bluntness” that he associates with middle America. The re-write draws on current economic paranoia and the American dream of escape, which, for Julie and Jean, takes the form of driving to Florida in a Ford Pinto.

D.J. Mendel, Jillian Lauren and Jenny Greer.
Cucuzza has delighted in bringing the word of Appalachia to life in text, music, and dance. The language of the play is a “tangy stew of vulgarities and colloquialisms,” an “astute dialogue… that is both frighteningly real and entertainingly comic” (The New York Times). An eerie, bluegrass-style “dynamite mock-Western score” (LA Weekly) accompanies the 70-minute show, which also includes dance interludes in which Jean “clogs, jitterbugs, and slow dances with convincing spontaneity and emotionality” (Back Stage). 

As a fairly recent transplant from New York, Cucuzza noted how excited he is that SCR is taking steps to bring together its dedicated audience with adventurous artists via Studio SCR. “I've done a revision of the play to suit the Nicholas Studio and hope that it lands with force with a whole new audience.”

Cattywampus premiered at Cal Arts’ NOW festival in 2011, and then performed at the Obie Award-winning Incubator Arts Project in New York. It was called a “raw and raucous” updating by The New York Times, and “One of the Best Plays of 2011” by Stage and Cinema: Los Angeles.

Cattywampus will be presented in the Nicholas Studio three days only, June 22-24, rounding out the 2012 Studio SCR line-up. Learn more or buy tickets on our website.

Photos by Steve Gunther