Monday, September 24, 2012

The Laughs Go on After the Curtain Goes Down on "Absurd Person Singular"

It was party time—on stage and off—at First Night of Absurd Person Singular on the Segerstrom Stage September 14.

The party started on stage, in three separate kitchens on three consecutive Christmas Eves, and by the time the curtain fell, the audience—exhausted from almost two hours of non-stop chuckles—stumbled onto Ela’s Terrace to catch their collective breaths and prepare for the next party.  They were joined by the six actors whose performances had caused all the hysteria (Tessa Auberjonois, Robert Curtis Brown, JD Cullum, Kathleen Early, Colette Kilroy and Alan Smyth).

Also joining the fun was Director David Emmes and the brilliant artists who designed the 1970s sets (Sara Ryung Clement), costumes (Nephelie Andonyadis), lights (Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz) and sound (Sam Lerner)—jazzy music that was picked up at the party.

During the party—which featured hors d’oeuvres with a British twist amid a festive setting with bright red table linens, Floral Creations by Enzo and a chocolate fountain by Elegant Fondue—they sipped the signature cocktail, “Holiday Bliss” and talked (and laughed…and raved) about the show. 

Richard Taylor, Honorary Producer with his wife Jane, led the raves: "Being Honorary Producers for Absurd Person Singular was extra special for us because Jane was born in London and the play is such a hilariously entertaining British comedy. Who says the British have no sense of humor?"

"U.S. Bank has supported many wonderful SCR performances over the years," said Bill Cave, Market President of Honorary Corporate Producer U.S. Bank, "but I can’t remember laughing more than I did during the performance of Absurd Person Singular."

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Language, Business, Love: "Chinglish" Getting Rave Reviews

SCR’s co-production of David Henry Hwang’s hilarious play about miscommunication and cultural misunderstanding is getting great reviews during its current run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Audience demand there has even led to the show being held over for two weeks! Our top-rate production hits the stage at South Coast Repertory Jan. 25-Feb. 24 and then it heads overseas for the Hong Kong Arts Festival. We’re proud to co-produce the west coast premiere of Chinglish with Berkeley Rep.

Since its world premiere, Chinglish has earned high praise and enthusiastic reviews! Don’t wait—get your tickets now!

“Smart, irreverent” – The San Francisco Chronicle

“Sharp and intelligent” – San Jose Mercury News

“Chinglish is sexy, fun and hilarious!” –New York Magazine

“Well-made comedy” – Variety

“Crackling comic energy” – TheaterDogs

“One of the three best plays of the year!” – Time Magazine

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Setting the Stage" for SCR's 2012-13 Season

On September 8, 2012, South Coast Repertory’s Gala Ball "Setting the Stage" opened the theatrical and social seasons in Orange County with an event that took partygoers behind the scenes and turned them into stars—all to the beat of “JT and California Dreamin’”—while raising $500,000 for SCR’s Annual Fund.

The evening that captured all the glitter, and perhaps a little of the greasepaint, of an actual opening night was captured in photos—from the backstage bustle to the final curtain.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Theatrical Myth

Carmela Corbett and Alex Knox as Eurydice and Orpheus.
By Kimberly Colburn

In Eurydice, Sarah Ruhl uses a classic Greek myth for inspiration but turns it on its head. Traditionally, it’s the story of the musician Orpheus descending into the Underworld to rescue his wife, who died on their wedding day. Swayed by his beautiful music, the lord of the Underworld tells Orpheus he can take Eurydice back to Earth—as long as he doesn’t look back at her on the way out. Tragically, he fails in this mission and the two lovers are torn asunder forever.

Most versions of the story focus on Orpheus, with Eurydice merely a supporting player. In Ovid’s version of the story in Metamorphoses, she doesn’t speak at all and in Virgil’s epic poem she says only a few words after Orpheus has already looked back at her, whereas Ruhl’s version tells the story from Eurydice’s perspective. Eurydice loves words in contrast to Orpheus’ love of music, and she has a penchant for interesting people and ideas.

Costume renderings for Her Father, Eurydice and Orpheus by designer Soojin Lee.
Ruhl also includes Eurydice's father as a key character, who died before the play begins and is therefore already in the Underworld. He has tried to write letters to Eurydice, but he can never be certain they’ve reached her. Eurydice, meanwhile, has become engaged to Orpheus. During her wedding reception, she meets A Nasty Interesting Man, who lures her away from the party with the dangling carrot of a message from her dead father.

Ruhl’s own father passed away from bone cancer when she was 20. “I partly wrote the play to have more conversations with him,” she says, “but I wasn’t consciously aware of that at the time.” These imagined conversations start with letters to Eurydice from her father. After her death, she is reunited with her father in the Underworld. The rules of the Underworld state that all souls who enter must be dipped in the river first—the river that causes you to forget names, stories and who you are. Her father has spent his time learning how to remember, but when he greets Eurydice it is clear that the water has washed her memory clean and he must patiently wait and see if she’ll ever remember who he is.

Gerard Howland's set rendering for Eurydice.
Eurydice’s entrance to the Underworld is noted in the stage directions as:
The sound of an elevator ding.
An elevator door opens.
Inside the elevator, it is raining.

The idea of an elevator that rains inside is one example of how Ruhl embraces imagination. She also references Alice in Wonderland when describing the Underworld because it is literally “the world we live in turned upside down.”

The elements of the fantastical were part of what drew director Marc Masterson to the piece. “You've got to love a play with a character called Nasty Interesting Man,” he jokes. “Ruhl is a unique voice and I love the poetry and theatricality of her storytelling.” When asked what he would want to tell the audience before seeing the production, he noted that “Eurydice is funny and sad and surprising in many ways. This is a Greek myth told for a modern generation.”

There have been many musicians, writers, and other artists who have been inspired by the myth. Ruhl purposefully didn’t read or see any other versions until after she had completed the first draft, relying instead on her memory and impressions of the myth. “I kept thinking about that moment when Orpheus looks back—to lose so much in such a small moment.” After the first draft, she spent two years refining the play, and began to discover just how many different artists have been inspired by this story. Ruhl has crafted a play that uses the inspiration of the myth to explore questions about love—not only romantic love, but the love between a father and a daughter.

About Sarah Ruhl

By David Myers, Shank Playwright in Residence

Sarah Ruhl exploded onto the American theater scene in the early 2000s and continues to be one of its leading authors.  She is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 and 2010; a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship; and, with this fall’s production of Eurydice, a playwright to grace SCR’s stages four times over the past eight years.

Ruhl has been praised for her unique ability to marry comedic lightness with moments of genuine and mythic pathos.  She traces her lineage more to Ovid than to Aristotle, and expresses a preference for stories with “small transformations that are delightful and tragic.”  Ruhl says “I like plays that have revelations in the moment, where emotions transform almost inexplicably … psychological realism makes emotions so rational, so explained, that they don’t feel like emotions to me.”

Ruhl’s birth as a writer is often connected to the 1994 death of her father.  She started writing poetry and then came to the attention of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, who was her professor at Brown University.  Vogel recalls reading Ruhl’s first writing assignment—in which Ruhl wrote about a father’s death from the point of view of the family dog.  Vogel says, “I sat with this short play in my lap in my study, and sobbed.”  At Vogel’s encouragement, Ruhl pursued playwriting.  She graduated from Brown, studied English literature for a year at Oxford, and then enrolled in Brown’s MFA playwriting program, where she again was under Vogel’s tutelage. In her final year of study, she wrote and workshopped Eurydice—considered to be her breakout play on the national scene.  It was later given its world premiere at Madison Repertory Theatre in 2003.

Mary Lou Rosato, Adriana Sevan and Mary Beth Fisher in The Clean House.
After first getting attention for Eurydice, Ruhl received widespread praise for her play The Clean House, which received its West Coast premiere at SCR in early 2005.  The play went on to be produced around the world, including productions at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, in 2006; Woolly Mammoth Theatre in D.C., in fall 2005; and Lincoln Center Theater in New York in 2006.  Other notable works include Passion Play; Dead Man’s Cell Phone, produced at SCR in 2008; and In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, produced at SCR in 2010.

Ruhl’s poetic sensibilities and skill with language are present in her all plays.  In a 2008 interview in The New Yorker, Ruhl shared a story of her father taking her and her sister out for pancakes every Saturday morning when she was a child.  Her father would teach them a new word, along with its etymology.  This moment, and even some of his words—“ostracize,” “peripatetic,” “defunct”—appear in Eurydice, though Ruhl has recast the memory of filial affection against a mythic story of loss and longing.

Ruhl’s writing balances quiet intimacy with mythic grandeur: she brings a playful touch to the gravest of subjects without denying their complexity or trivializing their weight.  In the prologue to her Passion Play—which juxtaposes different interpretations of Christ’s Passion throughout history—Ruhl addresses the audience in her characteristic style:
We ask you, dear audience,
To use your eyes, ears, your most inward sight
For here is day (A painted sun is raised)
And here is night (A painted moon is raised)
And now, the play. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

SCR Earns Multiple “Scenies” from Stage Scene LA for its Best of 2011-12

StageSceneLA hands out “Scenie” honors to recognize “the breadth and depth of talent in Southern California Theater.” Last year, StageSceneLA reviewed more than 260 productions; scores were recorded at the time of each review. Those artists and productions that get the highest scores earn a “Scenie.” 

We’re excited that South Coast Repertory earned honors in multiple categories! Artistic Director Marc Masterson and Founding Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson all shared top directing honors.

Here are the SCR people and productions from 2011-12 that received “Scenies” – announced on Sept. 10, 2012.

Sight Unseen by Donald Margulies

David Emmes for Sight Unseen

How the World Began by Catherine Trieschmann
The Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote

Martin Benson for The Trip to Bountiful
Daniella Topol for How the World Began

Elemeno Pea by Molly Smith Metzler

Marc Masterson for Elemeno Pea

Cloudlands by Octavio Solis and Adam Gwon

Cloudlands — Adam Kaokept, Katrina Lenk, Robert Mammana, Addi McDaniel and Joseph Melendez

Dennis Castellano for Cloudlands

Lap Chi Chu for Cloudlands, Elemeno Pea and Pride and Prejudice

Drew Dalzell for Cloudlands

Cricket S. Myers for Elemeno Pea, Sight Unseen and The Trip to Bountiful

Cassie Beck, Jamison Jones, Katrina Lenk, Melanie Lora and Jonathan Nichols for
Elemeno Pea

Katrina Lenk for Elemeno Pea

Erin Anderson, Nancy Bell, Andrew Borba and Gregory Sims for Sight Unseen

Sarah Rafferty, Jarrett Sleeper and Time Winters for How the World Began

Charlie Robinson for Jitney
Jarrett Sleeper for How the World Began

Montae Russell for Jitney

Angela Balogh Calin for The Prince of Atlantis and The Trip to Bountiful

Tom Buderwitz for The Prince of Atlantis and The Trip to Bountiful

Matthew Arkin for The Prince of Atlantis
Brett Ryback for The Prince of Atlantis

Nike Doukas for The Prince of Atlantis

John Kapelos for The Prince of Atlantis

Lynn Milgrim for The Trip to Bountiful

Daniel Reichert for The Trip to Bountiful

Jennifer Lyon for The Trip to Bountiful

Donna Ruzika and Tom Ruzika for The Trip to Bountiful

Photos from top to bottom: Gregory Sims and Nancy Bell in Sight Unseen, photo by Scott Brinegar; Lynn Milgrim, Jennifer Lyon and Daniel Reichert in The Trip to Bountiful, photo by Henry DiRocco; Jarrett Sleeper, Sarah Rafferty and Time Winters in How the World Began, photo by Henry DiRocco; Jamison Jones and Melanie Lora in Elemeno Pea, photo by Henry DiRocco; Adam Kaokept and Addi McDaniel in Cloudlands, photo by Henry DiRocco; Matthew Arkin and Nike Doukas in The Prince of Atlantis, photo by Henry DiRocco.

Yards and Yards of Red Silk Will Grace "Eurydice"

Eurydice’s beauty has many layers. Literally. Iris Marshall and Adriana Lambarri in SCR’s costume shop pattern and prepare 40 yards of dupioni silk—which will be joined with 17 yards of cotton—as part of the costume for one of the characters in the production. The best way to see it in its final form is to come to one of the performances, Sept. 23-Oct. 14.

Iris Marshall uses a cutter as she works on 40 yards of red dupioni silk. The fabric, along with 17 yards of cotton, will be used in a costume for SCR’s upcoming production of Eurydice.
In the Costume Shop, Adriana Lambarri marks a section of 40 yards of dupioni silk. The red cloth is part of a costume being prepared for Eurydice.
Using a chalk marker, Adriana Lambarri prepares a 40-yard-long swath of red dupioni silk for its use in a costume for Eurydice.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Comic Timing and Nuance Are Key in Ayckbourn’s World

Laughter Flows in Ayckbourn

Absurd Person Singular marks SCR’s ninth production of an Alan Ayckbourn play.  The first, A Chorus of Disapproval, was staged by Founding Artistic Director David Emmes in the 1989-90 season.  Emmes has gone on to direct five others, including this latest, making him SCR’s resident expert on the world of Alan Ayckbourn.

Joe Spano and Don Took in A Chorus of Disapproval.
Emmes has assembled a cast of SCR regulars—JD Cullum (Sydney), Kathleen Early (Jane), Robert Curtis Brown (Ronald), Colette Kilroy (Marion) and Tessa Auberjonois (Eva)—along with one newcomer, Alan Smyth, in the role of Geoffrey.  Emmes knows what’s needed to perform Ayckbourn properly:  during the casting process he looked for actors who would combine a sense of comic timing and nuance with a commitment to truthfulness and humanity in their performances.  Ayckbourn is himself a consummate director, and for 37 years was the artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough England, where he directed the first productions of most of his own plays; so he speaks from a wealth of experience when he says, “That is really the way you have to approach my plays. In general the more seriousness, the more truth you bring to bear on the characters the more they will bear fruit later.”  He adds, “In my own rehearsals I am somewhat of a joke in that I never allow us to dwell for a second on the subject of possible audience laughter. For, in truth, I have found that the more we disregard it, the more readily the laughter flows.”

In creating the physical world of the production, Emmes has worked with set designer Sara Ryung Clement to fashion three distinctly different kitchens that reflect the taste and social status of their owners.  A large turntable will facilitate the change of sets between acts.  (The first two kitchens occupy opposite sides of the turntable; the third replaces the first during the intermission between acts two and three.)

Costume renderings for Eva and Geoffrey by Nephelie Andonyadis.
The kitchen furnishings combine with Nephelie Andonyadis’s costumes to capture the look of the early 1970s, as Emmes has chosen to set the play during the era in which it was written.  Lighting designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz and sound designer Sam Lerner round out the design team.

For more information on Alan Ayckbourn and his plays, visit his official website.

Read more about Absurd Person Singular.

Absurd Person Singular finds humor in characters’ shortcomings

by John Glore

As we learned in grammar school, the term “third person singular” refers to verb conjugations for any subject who is neither you nor I—in other words, those other people.  Examples of third-person conjugations would include “she drinks” and “he philanders,” “he simpers” and “she snaps,” “he bullies” and “she flails.”  The third-person point of view is indispensable to reporters and tattle-tales—and without it, gossip would be impossible.

Of course reporters, tattle-tales and gossips have in common an abiding interest in the foibles of humankind.  Dramatist Alan Ayckbourn shares that interest and exploits it to hilarious and edifying effect in his plays (numbering 76 at the last count).  A consummate example is his early dark comedy, Absurd Person Singular (1972), celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and kicking off South Coast Repertory’s 2012-13 season on the Segerstrom Stage.

According to Ayckbourn, the title came to him before the play itself, on an elevator ride in 1971.  In fact he originally had a different play in mind for it, but when that idea didn’t pan out, he liked the title too much to throw it away.  Generic as it is, the title would arguably fit just about any of Ayckbourn’s plays; but it happens to fit this one particularly well, at least in spirit.  Like all of Ayckbourn’s work, Absurd Person Singular is built on a realistic foundation, and finds humor in the shortcomings of its characters and their inability to communicate effectively with one another.  But ultimately the play reaches an almost absurdist pitch at times—especially in the final moments of the third act, when four of its six characters are compelled literally to dance to the tune of a man they once dismissed as an ineffectual boor.

Alan Ayckbourn
From the beginning of his career, Ayckbourn has shown himself to be a master of dramatic construction, and has typically approached the task as though working out a three-dimensional puzzle.  Absurd Person Singular takes place on three successive Christmas Eves, in three different houses, in the midst of three holiday gatherings attended by three married couples.  But rather than set the three acts in sitting rooms—where the party-goers initially gather—Ayckbourn places the action in the kitchens of each home, “backstage, as it were.”  He explains, “Nowhere in the house says more about a person's habit and background, the nature of their day-to-day existence, than their kitchen.”

In the first act, Sidney and Jane prepare for the arrival of two couples they don’t know very well.  Sidney, a small-time businessman with grand ambitions, has chosen the guests strategically:  they may be able to help him build the bourgeois empire of his dreams, if he can only get on their good side.  The stakes are high, and he has no patience for Jane’s scatter-brained bustling, although his mistaking bug spray for air freshener contributes to the household confusion.  Once the guests arrive—architect Geoffrey and his wife, Eva; banker Ronald and his wife, Marion—one mishap follows another and matters quickly spiral into comedic chaos.  That doesn’t stop Sidney from declaring the party a success as the act comes to a close.

Act Two takes place in the kitchen of Geoffrey and Eva, who are so preoccupied with their own marital discord that they’ve forgotten they’re hosting a party due to begin at any moment.  Having learned of Geoffrey’s latest infidelity, Eva is at the end of her rope—but the arriving party guests, Sidney, Jane, Ronald and Marion, mistake Eva’s attempts to end it all for efforts to tidy up and make repairs in the kitchen, and soon everyone has joined in to help her get things back in ship-shape condition.  The second act of Absurd Person Singular shows Ayckbourn at the height of his ability to devise clockwork farce—built of miscommunication and physical comedy—that never forsakes the human dimension of his characters.

The third act strikes a much more muted tone.  We find ourselves in the kitchen of Ronald and Marion, in a home that has seen better days.  The heating has been on the blink for some time, and Marion is in the throes of a drinking binge—again—but Ronald remains clueless as to the reasons his life has fallen into such disarray.  Eva, fully recovered from last year’s suicidal despair, is on hand doing her best to help Ronald take care of his dipsomaniacal wife.  When Geoffrey arrives it becomes clear that the tables have turned in his marriage:  Eva is now in control, as he struggles to recover from a professional cataclysm involving a building he designed.  The four of them settle in for a quiet Christmas Eve, but their “silent night” is soon disrupted by the uninvited arrival of Sydney and Jane, now riding high after two years of good fortune.  They’re determined to turn this unplanned gathering into one more party, and the newly successful and confident Sydney knows just how to pump up the festivity.

Alan Smyth (Geoffrey), Kathleen Early (Jane), JD Cullum (Sidney) and Colette Kilroy (Marion).
In the end, and intermittently throughout, the amusing and unsettling interactions that constitute the three Christmas Eves of Ayckbourn’s play do acquire an absurd edge.  And the six characters who spend those evenings together are indeed singular in more than one sense:  distinctive and eccentric, yes—but also alone, each character isolated from the others by persistent breakdowns of understanding and sympathy.  Those breakdowns yield plenty of humor, but in the end they also suggest an idea about the human condition that operates as a constant force in the world of Alan Ayckbourn:  For all the social conventions that have arisen to smooth the edges of human relations—and for all the brilliant, supple communicative ability we have achieved through language—we remain to some degree inept in our attempts to understand one another.  Like it or not, from the perspective of other people any one of us can easily be reduced to the absurd person singular.