By Brian Robin
A Theatrical First
The question follows SCR Artistic Director David Ivers everywhere he goes. Why produce “Voices of America?” Why tackle the audacious and adventurous challenge of a rotating repertory with overlapping casts, one adaptable set and alternating performances?
And how did The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, a play written in 1939, pair with Appropriate, a contemporary play written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins? How did Ivers come to center the 2022-23 season on these two extraordinary plays?
“I have been asked this question by members of our staff: why these two shows together? And I didn’t know this before, but we can’t find these two shows done together before,” Ivers said. “You’re going to come to South Coast Repertory and have an experience nobody’s ever had before. I have had colleagues at other theatres come to me asking, ‘Ivers, can I steal this idea?’
“There are a couple of reasons why these two plays work together. The first is the very idea of them. … There is no better way to provide an example of how new works speak to classics than by putting them in conversation with one another. The second is at the center of these plays, there lines up beautifully the opportunity for artists, actors, designers, directors to fill their craft with the most virtuosity and the biggest challenge. Part of my job is saying to artists, ‘Do you think you can do this?’ If they say, ‘It makes me nervous,’ that’s one of my favorite answers. ‘Why does it make you nervous?’ (If they say) ‘I’m not sure I have the ability to do it,’ I say ‘Great. We should do it.’”
“Voices of America” takes theatregoers on an epic journey through compelling stories that resonate with any American: family, money, status, race and women’s roles in society, among others. The Little Foxes does this through the machinations of one family in turn-of-the-20th century Alabama. Appropriate does the same in current times, while using its Arkansas plantation-house setting as a distinct character.
Speaking of characters, six of the 12 actors cast for the two productions will appear in both. And “Voices of America” gives theatregoers the unusual experience of seeing both plays on the same day. Each play will take the stage four times a week. On Saturdays and Sundays, both plays will run—one in the afternoon, one in the evening. See both, or just one. The choice is yours.
“One night, you’re going to see six of the people duke it out in 1900 Alabama in The Little Foxes and the next night, you’re going to see them in Levi’s battling it out over the sale of the plantation house in Appropriate,” Ivers said. “I think you’re going to find nothing beats the experience of watching six actors duke it out in the afternoon, then come back that night for an entirely different experience looking through an entirely different lens and see them duke it out again. For me, this is the theatrical event of the season.”
Along with his mandate of programming existing plays with classic works, Ivers loves the concept of using these works—one written by a 20th century white woman and one by a 21st century black man—to show a mirror on today’s society.
“One tells us where we’re at now and one reminds us how far we’ve come—or more importantly—how far we’ve not come,” Ivers said. “Both are wrapped in the power of humor, of pathos. There’s a surgical, clinical, lethal strategy of fireworks in both of them.”
“Voices of America” runs Jan. 28-Feb. 26 on the Segerstrom Stage. Lisa Peterson will direct The Little Foxes. Delicia Turner Sonnenberg will helm Appropriate.