• Meet the Cast: "Poor Yella Rednecks"

    Tania Thompson
     | Mar 19, 2019
    Poor Yella Rednecks Cast

    THE CAST: Eugene Young, Maureen Sebastian, Tim Chiou, Samantha Quan and Paco Tolson.

    It was like a class reunion on the day rehearsals started for the world premiere of Qui Nguyen’s Poor Yella Rednecks (March 30-April 27, 2019, Segerstrom Stage). Actors Samantha Quan, Maureen Sebastian and Paco Tolson reunited after appearing in the world premiere of Nguyen’s first play here about his family, Vietgone (2015). Tim Chiou and Eugene Young joined the cast to dive into the world of Nguyen. And playwright Nguyen is paired once again with director May Adrales.

    The play is funny and poignant—much like the emotions that ran through Vietgone. Set six years after the end of that story, Poor Yella Rednecks finds Tong and Quang living in El Dorado, Arkansas, with their five year old son, illustrated by a puppet, named Little Man, and Tong’s mother, Huong. Little Man struggles in school, in no small part to Huong’s influence. Quang and Tong struggle with many issues including making a living, taking care of family, infidelity (she with her former boyfriend, Bobby, and he with a hook-up in Houston) and his still-living-in-Vietnam wife. But love may not be enough for Tong and Quang.

    “It’s about my family,” Nguyen says. “It’s about two people who are very much in love here in America, but also haunted by the ghosts of who they were in Vietnam. And as the title suggests, it’s about living in poverty in the ​deep South as Asian immigrants. That’s the heartbeat of the play, which I’m aware sounds heavy.”

    Watch the cast talk about Poor Yella Rednecks.

    Get ready for the show with these resources.


    Tim Chiou
    : Quang, Bully Chris
    At SCR:
    Yoga Play by Dipika Guha (world premiere)
    Other credits include:
    Two Mile Hollow by Leah Nanako Winkler, Tokyo fish story by Kimber Lee, The North China Lover, Snow Falling on Cedar and Year Zero. His television and film credits include “Silicon Valley,” “iZombie” and “American Koko.”
    Meet him in this video.


    Samantha Quan
    Huong, Thu, San, Cop
    At SCR:
    Vietgone by Qui Nguyen (world premiere, 2015) and the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading in 2018 of Poor Yella Rednecks.
    Other credits include:
    Vietgone (Manhattan Theatre Club). Also Masha No Home, An Infinite Ache, Peerless, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, Red Flamboyant, American Hwangap and B.F.E. Her film and television credits include 4 Wedding Planners, Sake Bomb, Good Grief, “Elementary,” “NCIS,” and “Castle.”
    Meet her in this video.


    Maureen Sebastian
    At SCR:
    Vietgone by Qui Nguyen (world premiere, 2015) and the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading in 2018 of Poor Yella Rednecks.
    Other credits include:
    Arabian Nights; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Thunder Above, Deeps Below; Now Circa Then; Lonely, I’m Not and Year Zero. Her television credits include “Law and Order: SVU,” “Elementary,” “Oasis,” “American Gothic” and “Revolution.”
    Meet her in this video.


    Paco Tolson
    Playwright, Immigration Officer, British Narrator, Little Man Puppeteer, Bobby, Bully Tommy, Grocery Boy
    At SCR:
    Peter and the Starcatcher (2013); Vietgone by Qui Nguyen (world premiere, 2015) and the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading in 2018 of Poor Yella Rednecks.
    Other credits include
    : Vietgone (Manhattan Theatre Club), Twelfth Night, The Unwritten Song, the Children of Vonderly, Soul Samurai, Men of Steel, Fight Girl Battle World, Agent G, The Winter’s Tale and Daedalus Project. His film and television credits include “Madam Secretary,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “The Code” and 7-Day Gig.
    Meet him in this video.


    Eugene Young
    Nhan, Cowboy, Little Man, Grocery Boy
    At SCR:
    Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Poor Yella Rednecks (2018).
    Other credits include:
    Cardinal, Alice in Slasherland, Twelfth Night, “Veep,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Criminal Minds,” “Unforgettable” and “Revenge.”
    Meet him in this video.

    Learn more about Poor Yella Rednecks and purchase tickets.

  • The Playwrights of PPF: Daniel Messe, Sean Hartley & Craig Lucas

    Tania Thompson
     | Mar 19, 2019

    Sean Hartley & Craig Lucas

    ​The Collaborators

    Daniel M​essé is the founder and principal songwriter of the band, Hem. In 2009, The Public Theatre tapped Hem to score Twelfth Night for Shakespeare in the Park (starring Anne Hathaway and Audra McDonald, directed by Daniel Sullivan), for which they were nominated for a Drama Desk Award. Messé is thrilled to be working again with Craig Lucas. In 2017, their last musical, Amélie, premiered on Broadway after successful runs at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Ahmanson Theatre (Los Angeles).

    Sean Hartley is the director of musical theater at Kaufman Music Center in New York City, where he curates, produces and often hosts the series Broadway Close Up and Broadway Playhouse. As a lyricist, composer and/or playwright, his productions include Cupid and Psyche (with composer Jihwan Kim, Drama Desk nomination), Little Women (Syracuse Stage, Village Theater), Love and Real Estate (with composer Sam Davis) and Snow (ASCAP Harold Arlen Award for Best New Musical.) His works for television include the Disney Channel’s The Book of Pooh and Bear In the Big Blue House. His works for children include Number The Stars (from the Newbery Medal book by Lois Lowry), Sunshine (from a book by Ludwig Bemelmans, music by John O’Neill) and Vashti!, and Holy Moses! (both with books by Bob Kolsby.) He teaches at Special Music School, One Day University and Lucy Moses School.

    Craig Lucas’s plays include Missing Persons, Reckless, Blue Window, Prelude to a Kiss, God’s Heart, The Dying Gaul, Prayer For My Enemy, The Singing Forest, Ode To Joy and I Was Most Alive With You. His screenplays include Longtime Companion (Sundance Audience Award), The Secret Lives of Dentists (New York Film Critics Best Screenplay Award), Reckless, Blue Window and The Dying Gaul. His libretti include The Light in the Piazza, Two Boys, Orpheus in Love, Three Postcards and An American in Paris. He directed the world premiere of The Light in the Piazza, Saved Or Destroyed, Play Yourself and the films The Dying Gaul and Birds of America. He received the Excellence in Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Madge Evans-Sidney Kingsley Award, the Laura Pels/PEN Mid-career Award, the Greenfield Prize, LAMBDA Literary Award, Hull-Warriner Award (Dramatists Guild of America), Flora Roberts Award, Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association Best Play Award (The Singing Forest). He has three Tony Award nominations.

    South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for many plays and playwrights, including David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel and Vietgone by Qui Nguyen and Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee.

    Among the five readings at the 2019 festival is Prelude to a Kiss, a musical by Daniel Messé (music and lyrics), Sean Hartley (lyrics) and Craig Lucas (book). This SCR commission is adapted from Lucas’s earlier play—also an SCR commission that premiered here in 1988, was a hit on and off-Broadway and became a popular film. We caught up with Hartley and Lucas to talk about their literary lives and get glimpses into their favorite writing spaces.


    Describe your favorite writing space.
    My favorite writing space depends very much on the project, as well as what stage that project is in. For theater pieces, there is nothing better than a small room filled only with my collaborator(s), and a decent piano. The room does not have to have a view, or even be particularly nice​in fact, the more tomb-like the better in most cases. Hot coffee and hard chairs are a plus, but otherwise the fewer distractions the better. The best work is almost always done when collaborators come  together to work in just such a room. Of course, it's also important to do preliminary work by myself sketching musical/lyrical themes. For those times, I do prefer a nicer space, preferably with a window, and filled with cats.

    Dan Messe

    Dan Messé's workspace.

    As a kid, what story did you read in secret?
    I don't remember ever needing to read anything in secret at home. My brothers and I were raised by voracious readers, and one of my earliest memories is being read aloud to by my momhardly unique, except she would just read us whatever novel she happened to be reading at the time. I remember falling asleep to novels like The Poseidon Adventure (by Paul Gallico) and Ghost Story (by Peter Straub) not necessarily kid-friendly stuff, but I ate it up. We were also allowed to stay up late, just as long as we were reading quietly in our beds, so there was never any need to hide under the covers with a flashlight. I do have one memory of secretly reading a book in a high school math class. The novel was The Collector by John Fowles, and I remember being so upset by the ending that I let out an "Arrrgh!" right in the middle of Ms. Vinnick's lecture on quadratic functions.

    Describe your favorite writing space.
    These days, my favorite place to write is in my office at Kaufman Music Center. I come in an hour or so before I’m supposed to start work, or on a Sunday, and I put down all of the ideas that have been running through my mind. If I need a piano, I have all of these great Steinway grands in our music studios. I make notes all day long, wherever I am, so I always like to have pencil and paper with me, in case I get an idea.
    Hartley Workspace

    Sean Hartley's workspace.

    Another favorite place is the Hermitage Artist Colony in Manasota Beach, Fla. Nothing but a cabin and the beach. Craig, Dan and I spent a week there in January, with no distractions and 24 hours a day to talk and think and write. It was heaven.

    As a kid, what story did you read in secret?
    Late at night, when I was supposed to be sleeping, I seem to remember reading a Black Stallion book under the covers. When I was a teenager, and starting to realize I was gay, I probably read the play Boys In the Band in secret, not wanting to begin the discussion with my parents yet. And, I think probably once I wanted to read a Nancy Drew book, but was told that was for girls.

    When did you know that you wanted to write musicals?
    I was a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan in high school, and a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan before that, and I would fantasize writing musicals on Broadway from probably age 10 on. I remember some of the titles of my imaginary musicals: Consequences (which was kind of like Camelot) People Are Different (which was kind of like West Side Story) and Catch Me a Tiger Shark. Don’t know what that last one was supposed to be about, but I remember the tune of the title song.

    What play or musical changed your life—and why?
    A lot of shows have influenced me but I would mention two: the Peter Brook A Midsummer Night’s Dream production inspired me to look at the possibilities of theater in a new way. Seeing the mechanics behind the magic doesn’t have to spoil it, it can really enhance it. That kind of transparent theatricality is something we aspire to with Prelude to a Kiss.

    And the original cast album of Company gave me a whole new sense of what a musical could be. Instead of simplifying life in order to make it palatable, songs can embrace all the ambiguity and subtleties of life. Interestingly, when I actually saw the show in production I was a little disappointed. What I’d pictured in my mind from listening to the album was so much richer!

    What should we know about this adaptation of Prelude to a Kiss?
    One of the first decisions we had to make [in adapting] Prelude to a Kiss was whether to set it in the 1980s, when the original play was written, or in the present day. We chose the present day. Thinking about the neuroses and anxieties and political polarization of the world now has really informed the project. We live in a world of incredible anger, tension, fear and danger and yet we continue to meet and fall in love, just as people have throughout time. That’s the source of one of our songs, “Love in the Age of Anxiety”, which has become a kind of a theme song for the show. We recognize that love is fragile, but tough, and is always worth fighting for and that’s what we celebrate.


    Describe your favorite writing space.
    Any place where the phone can’t ring, people aren’t talking, there are no surprises, animals or children underfoot, no loud trucks, deliveries, or music playing. The moon would be ideal.

    As a kid, what story did you read in secret?
    I never had to read in secret, my family let me lose hours, days and weeks in books and never asked what I was reading. My parents liked to go to cocktail parties and play golf (badly) and so they were happy I had found a friend in books.

    When did you know that you wanted to be a playwright, composer or lyricist?
    I still don’t know what I want to be.

    What play or musical changed your life—and why?
    Oklahoma! performed by my teachers. I was so frightened by their behavior, in their weird orange makeup under bright lights I felt that someone had to reorient the solar system to its correct axis or we would all spin out of control.

    What should we know about this adaptation of Prelude to a Kiss?
    It’s better than the play!

    The PPF concert-reading of Prelude to a Kiss, directed by Artistic Director David Ivers, is Friday, April 26, at 1 p.m., on the Segerstrom Stage.

    Buy Tickets

  • Theatre Conservatory Students Present "Harriet the Spy"

    Tania Thompson
     | Mar 18, 2019

    SCR's Junior Players

    Performances of the modern, popular classic Harriet the Spy are just around the corner—March 23-31 in the Nicholas Studio​—directed by Theatre Conservatory faculty member Mercy Vasquez.

    The Junior Players* are in rehearsal to bring to life the ​story of sixth-grader Harriet—an aspiring writer and a spy—who constantly records observations about everyone (and everything). When her classmates discover her secret spy journal full of unflattering notes about them, they all turn against her. This funny, heartfelt story is about growing up, compassion and the importance of looking beyond the surface.

    Learn More

    *The Junior Players are carefully chosen through auditions from students in the kids and teen acting classes at SCR’s Theatre Conservatory who have a minimum of two years’ experience.

    The cast pictured above (front row) Natalie Dien, Katie Lee, Maxfield Ney, Maggie Moland, Timory Taber, Natalie Bright and Maya Ferchaw; (back row) Piper Huntley, Julia Meads, Remington Walker, Philip Giglia, Grady Farman, Calvin Morgenstern and Kemper Rodi.

    A Refresher on Harriet the Spy

    More Than a Half-Century of Harriet the Spy

    Louise Fitzhugh’s enormously popular book is now 55 years old—and it is still a childhood favorite. Read this Washington Post article that looks back at the book and its place in children’s literature.

    When I Grow Up…
    For Harriet M. Welsch, her life goal was to be a spy: “…the best spy there ever was and I will know everything. Everything.” That’s how author Louise Fitzhugh wrote about Harriet’s sixth-grader goals and caught the world’s attention in Harriet the Spy.

    Harriet Author Inspires a Generation of Young Audiences Writers
    When Louise Fitzhugh wrote Harriet the Spy, she probably never imagined how groundbreaking it would be—from becoming a beloved classic to paving the way for a next generation of kid spy stories. Check out these titles and their connections to Harriet in this blog from Airship Daily.

    How ‘Toon Lisa Simpson Looked at Harriet
    More than 20 years ago, an episode of The Simpsons made a connection between Lisa and Harriet the Spy. Read about it in this article from The New Yorker.

    16 Things Harriet the Spy Taught Us About Life
    Harriet is all about exploring options. Find out about this and other lessons in this BuzzFeed article.

    Another Thing Harriet Loves
    Did you know that she found something she really liked? Tomato sandwiches! Check out this recipe for Harriet’s favorite tomato and mayonnaise sandwich.

    Buy Now

    Take Acting Classes Here
    Enroll your child in one of two Summer Acting Workshops in July or August 2019. Our summer theatre camps offer up a sampler of the classes we hold year-round. Members of Junior Players ensemble are students from our Theatre Conservatory. Let your child get inspired by watching Harriet the Spy and then get in on the act in classes this summer!

    Learn More and Enroll

  • Get to Know "Poor Yella Rednecks" Before You See the Show

    SCR Staff
     | Mar 14, 2019

    Poor Yella Rednecks Logo

    It’s a Sunday afternoon in South Coast Repertory’s Colab (Collaboration Laboratory), ​the room where all plays here start their rehearsals. The cast of Poor Yella Rednecks is working through a scene when playwright Qui Nguyen jumps up from his chair and helps choreograph a kung-fu fight sequence. Think ninja movie, but in slow motion. The actors and playwright talk through the why, how and where of each motion—from a fall, to a poke in the stomach, to a wide-arc kick, to a jump, to a tumble and more. The action and precision are part of Nguyen’s attention to detail in these iconic parts of his plays—inspired by the rap music and hip-hop dance that he grew up with, living in the American south with his immigrant parents.

    Later in this rehearsal day, Maureen Sebastian and Tim Chiou—who portray the playwright’s parents, Tong and Quang—work through a scene between their characters that ends with a rap by Tong. A music track plays through the room’s speaker system to give her the pacing for the words. For this new play in rehearsal and development, each day brings newness, excitement and fun. A lot of laughter permeates the room.

    So, what else ​should you know about Qui Nguyen and Poor Yella Rednecks?

    The Story
    Though occasionally​ called Vietgone 2, Poor Yella Rednecks is a play that stands on its own. It opens with the character of the Playwright interviewing his mother. At first she resists his questions, but then sets some ground rules. First, he can’t only write about happy romantic things (This is a reference to his 2015 breakout hit Vietgone, which covered the story of his parents meeting in a refugee camp in Arkansas after the fall of Saigon). Second, she wants to sound like he does. He protests that he’s got a potty mouth, but she insists—launching the convention that the Vietnamese characters sound like R-rated action heroes. Her third rule is that the American characters speak the silly way she hears them. The Playwright agrees, and they launch into the interview. Right away, the Playwright finds out it wasn’t the story of “love at first sight” he had been led to believe, because his father (Quang) was already married when he met his mother (Tong). The play then jumps into the past, showing through a rap-duet the pot-smoking proposal Quang pops on Tong and her delightedly stoned acceptance.

    Jump forward six years, and Quang and Tong are living in El Dorado, Arkansas, with their five year old son, illustrated by a puppet named Little Man, and Tong’s mother, Huong. Little Man struggles in school, in no small part to Huong’s influence. Quang and Tong struggle with many issues including making a living, taking care of family, infidelity (she with her former boyfriend, Bobby, and he with a hook-up in Houston) and his still-living-in-Vietnam wife. But love may not be enough for Tong and Quang.

    SPOILER ALERT! Here's a full synopsis of the play. BUT if you don't want to know how it ends, don't read it!

    The Inside Scoop
    Nguyen is known for shows full of kung-fu fights, "random ‘90s hip-hop dance breaks, immature puppets, and even more immature jokes." Those are all in Poor Yella Rednecks. But this play is also his most personal yet.

    “It’s about my family,” he says. “It’s about two people who are very much in love here in America, but also haunted by the ghosts of who they were in Vietnam. And as the title suggests, it’s about living in poverty in the ​deep South as Asian immigrants. That’s the heartbeat of the play, which I’m aware sounds heavy.” Read more from Nguyen and director May Adrales.

    The Cast Talks About the Play
    Cast members Tim Chiou, Samantha Quan, Maureen Sebastian, Paco Tolson and Eugene Young talk about Poor Yella Rednecks "means" and what it means to them.

    Qui Nguyen on​ Rap Music, His Sense of Humor, Martial Arts and Adult Language
    Nguyen is a jumble of pop culture. As described by The New York Times, he “consumed comic books (Spiderman was his hero), studied martial arts (Bruce Lee was an idol) and participated in freestyle rap battles. He joined the drama club in high school because ‘there are cute girls in theatre' in rural Arkansas." We find his sense of humor to be insightful and devastatingly funny. Here’s more on what shapes him as a writer.

    • “I first fell in love with rap when I was freestyling on the corner with my friends. It’s part of who I am. My brain doesn’t think in terms of melody. It’s an extension of being a writer, picking up words and seeing how I can play with the rhythms.”
    • “I used to use humor, to like, distract people from the fact that I’m Asian. I wouldn’t let them get to me ‘cause I’d get to them first. … It’s self-protection. The same thing that got me into martial arts. It’s verbal martial arts.”
    • “When my parents told me stories about Vietnam, they told me the real stories, what actually happened. But what I imagined was kung​-fu movies. Because the only things I ever saw [growing up] that had a lot of Asian people in it, were kung-fu movies.”
    • “When I hear stories about my mother’s fortitude, about the sh*t that she’s gone through, it always gives me perspective. I’m like, 'Oh, I had a sh*tty day today because I couldn’t finish my draft.’ And my parents are like, ‘Well, our sh*tty day at your age was we lost our entire country and everyone we knew.’”

    Costume Design is Personal
    Designer Valérie Thérèse Bart’s family emigrated from Vietnam to France to the U.S.—a refugee journey similar to that taken by playwright Qui Nguyen’s family. Read about how research for the play’s costume designs got personal for her.

    Why We’re Excited for this Play
    Associate Ticketing Services Director Amber Sanders talks about Poor Yella Rednecks in this video.

    Learn more about Poor Yella Rednecks and purchase tickets.

  • Party Play: "Photograph 51"

    Beth Fhaner
     | Mar 12, 2019

    Photograph 51, Anna Ziegler’s play featuring a strong female protagonist, opened at an especially appropriate time: on International Women's Day and at the start of Women's History Month. Based on a true story, Photograph 51 presents an intriguing portrait of British chemist Rosalind Franklin, whose groundbreaking role in the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure is still often overlooked.

    Intelligent and thought-provoking, Photograph 51 captivated the attention of the First Night audience and never let up, delivering an hour and 40 minutes of extraordinary performances, sharp dialogue and heartfelt emotion under the direction of Kimberly Senior. Along with some laughter—and some tears—theatregoers showed their appreciation with enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation.

    Led by Helen Sadler (Rosalind) as the complex and courageous scientist making her way in a male-dominated field, the entire ensemble delivered impressive performances while giving audiences a glimpse into the scientific research labs at King’s College London in the early 1950s. The cast also includes Giovanni Adams, George Ketsios, Anil Margsahayam, Riley Neldam and Josh Odsess-Rubin.

    Honorary Producers and First Night attendees Jean and Tim Weiss greatly enjoyed seeing the play and commented, “The news around us has finally put a microscope to how women are- and have been treated, not only in the workplace, but as equal citizens in today's world, and this play shows us that it is indeed not ‘news’ at all, that, in fact, this unconscionable behavior has been part of our fabric for a very long time. Kimberly Senior’s minimalist presentation helps us focus solely on the characters in the play, and the actors do not disappoint. Learning from playwright Anna Ziegler that this play has been around for a number of years made me think of her as an early foot soldier in the exposure of the unequal treatment of women, and through her terrific writing, made those who read and watch the play, recruits.” 

    Guests who attended the cast party at the Center Club, which was a co-sponsor of the event, were welcomed to the elegant space with beautiful, springlike floral arrangements consisting of pink tulips, soft pink-tinted hydrangeas and white snapdragons.

    The celebratory soirée’s menu featured an assortment of flavorful bites including passed hors d’oeuvres such as tomato soup shooters with mini grilled cheese sandwiches, chilled jumbo shrimp with spicy cocktail sauce, and smoked chicken on pecan crostini with fig jam. Partygoers also ​enjoyed assorted domestic cheese platters and vegetable crudité platters, as well as assorted dips, artisan breads and crackers.

    In addition to the ​tasty appetizers, First Nighters also savored British-inspired fare such as a fish and chips station with house-made tartar sauce, malt vinegar and ketchup. A mini shepherd’s pie station—with truffle mashed potatoes—was also a big hit with the festive crowd.

    The evening’s signature cocktail was dubbed “The Double Helix”—a delicious beverage comprised of brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice. This cocktail is usually known as a Sidecar. It was a popular drink in the 1950s.

    For a sweet finish to the evening, guests indulged in a scrumptious assortment of lemon bars and vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, while also enjoying hot drinks from a coffee and tea station.

    First Night theatregoers were delighted to have the opportunity to meet director Kimberly Senior, playwright Anna Ziegler and the entire cast. All the while, lively conversation and laughter continued to swirl around Photograph 51, a compelling, poignant drama about one woman’s groundbreaking role in the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure.

    Learn more about Photograph 51 and buy tickets.