Monday, June 2, 2014

The Write Stuff: Karen Cruise Kirby’s Playgoer Journaling

Karen Cruise Kirby and husband, Dan.
Among SCR subscriber Karen Cruise Kirby’s favorite SCR productions are:

Noises Off by Michael Frayn: “It’s just hilarious! It’s so funny and slapstick and one of my favorite plays of all time. was thrilled when we saw that.”

Golden Child by David Henry Hwang: “It showed me something I was not aware of—these women living in China and what was done with them. The whole production was something brand new to me and it was kind of risky; but I appreciated something new.”

Chinglish by David Henry Hwang: “I thought that was hilarious! My husband said it was like Willy Loman goes to China. Another reason why we loved the play is that when we travel in Europe, we take pictures of funny sign translations.”

Wit by Margaret Edson: “Her play really hit me and evoked a personal response because I have friends who have had cancer.”
Karen Cruise Kirby has a routine following each play she sees: she writes down her impressions on the playbill page from SCR’s program. She keeps all of the playbills in a binder.

“Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I write a lot,” she says. “It’s for my entertainment and I do go back and look at what I’ve written.” For South Coast Repertory performances, Kirby has been writing her impressions about plays for three decades.

Following her evening with Tartuffe, she came home and started writing and kept writing.

“This was one of my favorite productions over several seasons,” she shared with Artistic Director Marc Masterson.  “Never have I seen Tartuffe done with such dark humor.”

Growing Up With A Love For The Arts
Kirby says theatre “makes you aware of where your life is in relationship to what’s going on onstage. It makes us look at humanity, and it’s uplifting. It’s so rewarding personally and fulfilling to be involved in that onstage world for two hours, where you are taken in and drawn into the story. I was a teacher for 38 years, so I know that storytelling is important.”

For Kirby, arts also are “in our family’s blood.”

“I was an emoting child,” she laughs. As a child, she and her friends would put on play productions and she was involved in dance. It came naturally to her, since her father was a singer and her mother a pianist. At the University of California, Irvine, Kirby earned a degree in drama (now theatre), with a minor in dance.

As a parent, Kirby instilled a love for theatre in her daughter (who now teaches theatre at Sunny Hills High School). In sixth grade, her daughter came home to report that her class had read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“She told me she hated the play!” Kirby recalls. So for the next eight years, Kirby took her daughter to Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., to see five plays in three days.

“So, yes—theatre has been a big part of my life for a long time,” she says. “And we have been with SCR for a long time as well.”

Karen's notes on her Tartuffe program.
Tartuffe—“I Could Do Nothing Less Than Express My Appreciation”
She wrote about Tartuffe extensively and sent a copy to Artistic Director Marc Masterson. Among her observations, she loved how:
  • “Tartuffe slithered on the ground like a serpent, a devil in disguise”
  • “Elmire melted within that voluminous dress until she was flat on her back”
  • “the two ‘twin’ maids were like bookends, and their running from place to place kept the play in constant motion”
  • “Cleante and Laurent were the yin to maids’ yang … Their affectations were the perfect foil as they portrayed acolytes to the false zealot, Tartuffe. Disrespectful, fawning, arrogant, they commanded the audience’s attention.” Read more from Kirby’s impressions here.

Theatre for Kirby and her husband, Daniel, is a shared experience, a tradition that goes back to when they married. At that time, they struck a friendly deal: he would teach her about NASCAR and she would teach him about theatre. They have been SCR subscribers for three decades now.

“Being a subscriber simply sets us up on a schedule to go see the plays,” she says. “It gives us an evening out together and it gives us something to talk about before and after the play. If we didn’t have a subscription, I’m afraid we would miss some of these great plays!”

She encourages others to “just give theatre a try—find something you can identify with. That first performance will give you a connection to what’s going on onstage and will be something that you appreciate, be it comedy, drama, suspense or a musical.”

Impressions of Tartuffe From the Playbill Journal of Karen Cruise Kirby

Suzanne Warmanen and Steven Epp in Tartuffe.
A South Coast Repertory subscriber for three decades, Karen Cruise Kirby writes her impressions about each production on the program’s playbill. Read more about Kirby to learn about her love affair with theatre.

Here are excerpts from her thoughts about Tartuffe.

“[Tartuffe] was one of my favorite productions over several seasons, with the exception of Midsummer. Never have I seen this done with such dark humor.

“The Tartuffe character as played tonight reminded me of Iago: sinister, deceiving, without moral character. Religious symbolism was everywhere, some so subtle and some not so much. It bared the religious zealots as charlatans with the delicacy of a hammer.

“Loved how Tartuffe slithered on the ground like a serpent, a devil in disguise, and how Elmire melted within that voluminous dress until she was flat on her back, symbolic of how she was succumbing to him. The staging was like watching a series of Chagall paintings set to a ballet.

“Each scene segment led to another, which led to another, as all participants in each scene posed for not only a visual but a balanced composition effect.

“The characters, as they posed onstage, became part of the scenery. This was especially true of Dorine, whose grey costume blended in with the set when she was moved to the background. However, the lighting design created a stark contrast when she was center stage and center of the action. The other two “twin” maids were like bookends, and their running from place to place kept the play in constant motion.

“Cleante and Laurent were the ying to the maids’ yang. The two women fluttered about; the two men moved in measured, precise motions that ended in affected poses. The men’s shoes were characters themselves and paid homage to the French shoes of the period when men posed to “show a leg.” These two men flowed from one show-a-leg pose to another. Their affectations were the perfect foil as they portrayed acolytes to the false zealot Tartuffe. Disrespectful, fawning, arrogant, they commanded the audience’s attention. I kept wondering what obnoxious, offensive action was coming up next from them. They did not disappoint.

Steven Epp and Luverne Seifert in Tartuffe.
“I found the movement of the chairs fascinating. They were different sizes, different styles, and only one of a kind. One was used as a prayer rail. The chairs, like the maids, were in constant motion and provided movement to the play. There was a sweet choreography going on with those chairs, especially when the one was pulled out from under Elmira as she tried to sit down. The chairs were on, then off, then moved to alcoves. They were dragged stage left, dragged stage right, and dragged right off the stage. At the end of the play, it is a chair that is the final step to reach the lock to the doors. Was that a stairway, a chairway, to heaven?

“The set … provided an exquisite backdrop for the costumes. Orgon, always in black, stood out in stark contrast to the grey. The vibrant reds and blues of Marianne and Elmire stood out against the grey, their colors intensified by the contrast. Elmira’s blue gown, like the men’s black shoes, gave homage to the era of the play. The gown’s volume gave movement and depth. It gave her power because it commanded so much of the stage. She controlled the space as she controlled the movement of the gown. That made her melting into the floor a powerful, visual impact. She went from a woman in control to a woman flat and intimidated.

“Dorine (Suzanne Warmanen) commanded that stage. The interaction between Orgon and her, when she refused to shut up, was not only hilarious, the comic timing was impeccable. When she spoke, we listened because she was the voice of reason. I wanted her to keep talking!

“Damis (Brian Hostenske) seemed to be doing an OAA (Over Acting Anonymous) but on reflection, I realized his contortions and gyrations were in direct contrast to the measured movements of Tartuffe’s sycophants.

“Tartuffe (Steven Epp) had an impeccable command of his character. I had a visceral reaction to this guy. I hated him. He oozed false piety. His underlying evil was evident as he professed his faith. It is a testament to an actor when the audience can buy into the multi-facets of a character. This was a three-dimensional portrayal. Thank you, Mr. Epp.

“I am 30-year subscriber. Rarely do I give a standing O. I did so tonight as soon as Ms.Warmanen took her bow. She, along with Mr. Seifert and Mr. Epp, gave outstanding performances. I could do nothing less than express my appreciation.”