• Katie Đỗ Finds Her Calling Writing About Complexities in Culture

    Brian Robin
     | Mar 23, 2022
    Katie Do

    Katie Đỗ grew up as the daughter of refugees in New Jersey, an Asian in a largely white community. She wrestled with that until she sat down one day and wrote. And wrote. And the one-time acting student at Rutgers realized this was her calling.

    “When I was in acting conservatory, we had a showcase at the end of it that was do-or-die. When I was looking for material, I wanted something for Asian American women that was written by an Asian American woman,” she said. “I couldn’t find anything from Vietnamese writers or anyone who looked like me and what their experiences were like. I started rewriting scenes of a play I wrote and they were really bad. But I went back and started writing and discovered I really liked writing.”

    Đỗ’s plunge into channeling her writing muses resulted in love you long time (already), her exploration into the quiet desperation Vietnamese women often experience. Through a Vietnamese mother and daughter, Đỗ explores immigration, infidelity and first love. How does one navigate love with all its sharp corners and quiet complexities?

    The play is one of the Pacific Playwrights Festival readings, April 8-10.

    Đỗ wrote love you long time (already) as a way to explore an issue that her searching mind could never grasp. One of which being the concept of infidelity in Vietnamese culture. Another being the communication gap that transcended learning language in a new country.

    She wanted to write about a Vietnamese woman and Vietnamese man talking about relationships where infidelity was present. But Đỗ understood this conversation would never happen due to a general communication gap, and “because of the way patriarchy works in Vietnamese culture.”

    “I wrote this play because I love Vietnamese women and have been around a lot of them,” she said. “Whenever there is infidelity around them, there is so much shame. I want Vietnamese women not to feel shame about infidelity. I really wanted to talk about infidelity in Vietnamese culture and its effects on mothers’ and daughters’ psyche and the relationship they’ll have toward men the rest of their lives.

    To explore this sensitive subject, Đỗ puts her characters in heaven. That gives love you long time (already) an ethereal quality that brings everything out in the open.

    “That was the start,” she said. “I had to put it on a different plane of existence. They would need the clarity of death to talk about it, the clarity of having lived their lives fully. I didn’t know all of this going in. I realized where I was going before I was doing it. I didn’t realize what I was doing when I first started writing this.”

    Learn more about the Pacific Playwrights Festival and buy tickets.

  • Naomi Lorrain Asks Questions Answered by Laughter, Exploration

    Brian Robin
     | Mar 23, 2022
    Naomi Lorrain

    Naomi Lorrain’s plays come from questions. Does unconditional love exist? What if you didn’t get together with the love of your life? Do you hate them? What happens to the love you have for them? Her musings begin with questions and the process takes her—and her cast and audiences—to the answers.

    That’s what took Lorrain into writing how to roll a blunt, her comedy that explores the questions Lorrain had about unconditional love, romantic and platonic relationships. Lorrain also tackles the tricky subject of how an artist maintains a relationship with their art without that relationship overwhelming the rest of their life.

    Directed by Colette Robert, how to roll a blunt is one of the selected readings at the Pacific Playwrights Festival, April 8-10.

    “This means the world to me,” Lorrain said from her New York home. “I started writing this play years ago, and I was in a place where I was always wondering if my art will ever go up at a place like South Coast Repertory. I’m ecstatic. … It is a dream come true and after the pandemic, it was a dark time for artists. When (SCR Literary Manager) Andy Knight called me, I was thrilled. I had just had a baby and I thought I have one lovely gift and this felt like another one. The timing couldn’t be more perfect because the play reading is on my first birthday as a mother.”

    how to roll a blunt is a comedy about two New York City struggling artists who share the same last name, but are not related. Lorrain takes you into their heads as they wrestle with everything from relationships to understanding the role of Black art in 21st century America. As you get to know Maya Wright and James Wright, you develop an appreciation for their coping mechanisms and the lengths they go to find appreciation for their work.

    Again, it’s born out of Lorrain’s constant questioning of the world around her. And because Lorrain writes comedies, there are influences from various television sitcoms. Lorrain talked about how she watched shows ranging from the 1970s-era “Good Times” to the 1990s-era “Frasier” for inspiration. Lorrain is such a “Frasier” fan that she joked that if the fictional radio psychologist in Seattle had a soul mate, it was her: a Black girl growing up in Arkansas with a single mom.

    “In New York, I felt like a lot of the Black playwrights who were getting love were writing plays about how hard it is to be a Black person in America,” she said. “I’m not blind to the struggles, but I do feel like there is levity in Black life. Art and play should be the reflection of the times and you should look at the entire truth of the times.

    “I write comedies … I like the medicinal properties of comedy. Shows like “Veep”. … When you talk about Black art and talk about Black pain, there’s Black pain in how to roll a blunt, but there’s also Black levity. I found that if I wasn’t talking about how hard it is to be a Black artist, it was a harder sell. … That is the thesis of this play; that is the question. Who loves this type of art? What kind of art do we love? Black pain, no matter what, people love it.”

    Through how to roll a blunt,” Lorrain wants her audiences to understand Black art isn’t a painful solo dimension. While you’re exploring those questions, you can enjoy a few laughs along the way.

    Learn more about the Pacific Playwrights Festival and buy tickets.

  • Director Lisa Portes Talks About Unique Challenges of "Clean/Espejos"

    Brian Robin
     | Mar 21, 2022
    Lisa Portes

    The moment Lisa Portes read the script for Clean/Espejos, it became more than a directorial assignment. It became—as she called it—“a science project.”

    And sinking her considerable directorial chops into Christine Quintana’s bilingual drama immediately became a challenge of love. So much so that Portes said her initial reaction was a combination of “Wow” and “How do I direct this?”

    “What I love about this script is how do you do this play? There’s a template for a Mamet play. There’s a template for a Shepard play. There’s even a template for a Lynn Nottage play,” she said. “You see those plays and you know as a director what kind of plays they are. This play is distinct and unique. Trying to find the vocabulary for how this play exists in space and time is like a science project and it does bring out the mad scientist in me and in our collaborators.”

    Written by Quintana with Spanish translation and adaptation by Paula Zelaya Cervantes. Clean/Espejos runs March 20-April 10 on the Julianne Argyros Stage.

    One of America’s most respected directors, Portes returns to SCR from her Chicago home nearly a year after directing the 2021 Pacific Playwrights Festival digital reading of Clean/Espejos. Even before then, she was no stranger to this theatre. Right after graduating from UC San Diego, Portes cut her teeth at SCR’s Hispanic Playwrights Project (HPP). At her DePaul University office, where she heads the MFA directing program, Portes has a picture of former HPP project director and SCR Artistic Associate Juliette Carrillo.

    “Returning feels particularly good because I’m returning to direct a world-premiere of a new play by a Latina playwright,” she said, noting the rare nature of Clean/Espejos’ rehearsal room.

    That room features eight women, seven of whom are bilingual. The only one who isn’t is actor Nell Geisslinger, who plays Sarah. And while she isn’t fully bilingual, Geisslinger understands and speaks enough Spanish to get by. She has to, considering that’s how she picks up her cues from the other actor in the play: Lorena Martinez, who plays Adriana. All Martinez’s lines are in Spanish, while Geisslinger’s lines are in English.

    The bilingual aspect of Clean/Espejos, the challenge of directing a play Portes described as “almost two solo pieces crashed together,” where the two characters are together in only three scenes, stretched Portes’ considerable directing ability in directions it never went before. And that’s why she couldn’t wait to don a directorial “mad scientist” lab coat for this project. There’s the design process: how do they create a Cancun resort that can double or triple as other destinations on the characters’ journeys.

    “I’ve directed for a long time and you often know what to do. But this project challenges us in every single rehearsal, so in that way, it’s really enlivening,” she said.

    And there’s Geisslinger and Martinez, two creative, imaginative actors familiar with their roles from their portrayal during last year’s PPF reading. Portes said the pair are mad scientists in their own way.

    “I was attracted to the science project, but more importantly, was seeing what Christine does with this play,” she said. “She sets up a situation where audiences have all kinds of assumptions. There’s two women. So, you go down the roster of movies with two women. Then, you read the play is set in Cancun and you go down a roster of assumptions about that. Then, you read one is a Canadian and one is Mexican, so you go down another roster of assumptions there. You may have thoughts about what kind of play this with two women and Christine defies all of that.

    “There is this dance of the seven veils there, where Christine peels away all of your assumptions like an onion about what is really happening, which is gradually revealed over time. It’s a thriller in a way. I call it a feminist transnational thriller.”

    Learn more about Clean/Espejos and buy tickets.

  • Outside SCR Returns With "Million Dollar Quartet"

    Brian Robin
     | Mar 21, 2022
    Million Dollar Quartet

    Back by popular demand, Outside SCR at Mission San Juan Capistrano returns this summer, July 30-Aug. 21 with Million Dollar Quartet, book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, original concept and direction by Mutrux.

    Million Dollar Quartet chronicles a momentous day in December 1956 when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis played a jam session for the ages.

    Directed by Broadway veteran James Moye, Million Dollar Quartet is the sole Outside SCR production in this second summer of partnering with the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano.

    “In Mission San Juan Capistrano, we found an ideal partner that shares SCR’s passion for community and culture,” SCR Managing Director Paula Tomei said. “As we head into our second summer of this initiative, we are excited to collaborate with them once again to share this extraordinary musical theatre experience with audiences.”

    Million Dollar Quartet tells the story behind a seminal moment in rock history, when four rock-and-roll legends met by pure chance at Sun Records in Memphis. That spur-of-the-moment meeting turned into one of the most memorable jam sessions in the history of music. The Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper chronicled the session the next day under the headline “Million Dollar Quartet”.

    The music in Million Dollar Quartet transports audiences back in time to the dawn of rock-and-roll, with more than 20 celebrated classics such as “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Sixteen Tons”, “Long Tall Sally”, “I Walk the Line”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Hound Dog” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”.

    “To experience this inspiring story, bursting with the energy and music of four rock-and-roll legends, in the beautiful surroundings of Mission San Juan Capistrano will be truly special,” SCR Artistic Director David Ivers said. “Outside SCR was born last year out of the need for families to experience world-class theatre in a safe, engaging setting and to connect with one another—and for SCR to engage with communities outside our Costa Mesa home. After an enthusiastic response to our first Outside SCR in 2021, we are elated to return to the Mission and the Southland communities that welcomed us so warmly.”

    Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, the Executive Director of Mission San Juan Capistrano said, “Patrons of SCR will be enthralled with the Mission San Juan Capistrano’s unique setting and members of the Mission will be captivated by South Coast Repertory’s incredible theatrical production of Million Dollar Quartet. Together, we will marry our best assets to create something magical and worthy of experiencing. We can’t wait to welcome theatregoers who are discovering our partnership for the first time and seeing them leave with an experience to remember always.

    Tickets are now on sale and range in price from $25 to $42, with special pricing for those age 25 and under. A new feature this summer is reserved seating in our premium section. Check out the seating chart here.

    Learn more about Million Dollar Quartet and buy tickets.

  • Playwright Spenser Davis Fits "A Million Tiny Pieces" Together

    Brian Robin
     | Mar 07, 2022
    Spenser Davis

    Spenser Davis wants you to know he feels like an “old soul” when it comes to technology. At the same time, the playwright behind A Million Tiny Pieces says he’s an early adopter.

    An engaging, funny story about the creation of and the battle for the rights to the iconic video game, “Tetris”, A Million Tiny Pieces is one of the five plays chosen for this year’s Pacific Playwrights Festival, April 8-10.

    “I think I just have an appreciation for the first of something, even those things that happened to be about video games,” Davis said from his Chicago home. “But I think I’m constantly enamored by this technology, which was similar to theatre in a way. It requires your participation. It can’t be what it is without your active buying-in. You are quite literally in control as a player. I think there’s something about that that draws me to these stories about early video games in particular. Because they really do feel like they’re engaging in the same way.”

    Davis’ story engages you through the travels of two journalists tasked with ferreting out the story behind how this simple, yet highly addicting, video game of making falling pieces fit together got out of Soviet Union-era Russia and who owned the rights to it once it did.

    Davis received an Elizabeth George Commission from SCR to write A Million Tiny Pieces, a commission that couldn’t have come at a better time for him.

    “In 2020, just weeks after the entire industry shut down and I was let go from my day job, the team at South Coast Repertory commissioned me to write a play,” he said. “’Whatever you want to write,’ they said, ‘We’ll support you 110%.’ And gosh darn golly if they didn’t stay true to their word from that moment onward.

    “A commission is always a leap of faith for an organization, their way of investing in artists that fall within their particular mission. A Million Tiny Pieces is the result of their investment in me, and it means so much that they’re as excited about it as I am. And this is going to sound cheesy, but having the play featured at PPF feels a bit like coming home.”

    Commission in hand, Davis knew immediately what he wanted to write about. He said he was frankly shocked the story behind Tetris hadn’t been told already, outside of a YouTube documentary. He dived in during the depths of the pandemic and the words poured forth as he chronicled the tale of two journalists who were doing what few if anyone could during the spring and summer of 2020—hopscotch the globe in pursuit of a story. That story: who had the rights to this global gaming phenomenon?

    Davis knew about the power of video games and the concept of journalists fitting pieces together—just like Tetris demands of its players—to craft a story was irresistible.

    “At a time we felt so divided, I loved the story of a game that just by the love of it, brought the world together in a way,” he said. “This was an interesting idea that everyone could speak to: I’m addicted to this game, I don’t know what it is, but it has power over me. Secondly, it’s the first video game I remember my mom playing. She had the keychain version.”

    There’s nothing like a mother’s endorsement.

    To Davis, nor is there anything like creating a play or other work of art that borrows from another medium. To him, that was one of the essential features of A Million Tiny Pieces.

    “I am constantly in favor of pieces of entertainment and storytelling that borrow pieces from other mediums,” he said. “It becomes something more than theatre, it becomes something more than film. I love that. It allows for a new aspect of discovery. In a format as old as theatre, the fact there is still innovation by borrowing cinematic tools can only be good for that format.”

    Learn more about the Pacific Playwrights Festival and buy tickets.