By Brian Robin
How This Theatrical Event Spans Generations
Artistic Director David Ivers never knows where his next epiphany will come from. What he does know is once they come, they don’t let go.
Last year, among the pile of scripts waiting his attention was The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman and Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Two plays, written 80 years apart with similar themes familiar to all Americans: family, greed, money, status, race and women’s roles in society. The first is written by one of the 20th century’s most accomplished women-of-letters. The other, by a 21st century man who Ivers called “arguably one of the most important playwrights currently in the country.”
As soon as he read them, Ivers began digesting how they applied to one of his favorite elements of programming seasons—how extant plays speak to new works. But this epiphany on what to do with them didn’t hit him between the eyes until his eyes were closed. That’s when it woke him from a sound sleep.
“Boom, in the middle of the night, it hit me that here’s the perfect example of two incredibly important writers on the fabric of this country,” he said. “Both were artists unseen at South Coast Repertory. Both exploring thematically, things that are hugely important—and the plays speak to each other. A relatively new play by a playwright who is under commission at South Coast Repertory who we haven’t produced yet, and an extant play produced probably eight times on Broadway, arguably one of the American benchmarks of what makes a great play.
“I literally had a thunderbolt in the middle of the night. I came to our artistic staff later that day and said ‘Is there a reason we shouldn’t do these two plays together?’ … Both plays speak to each other in ways I think Orange County audiences and national audiences are going to find hugely intersecting.”
And the two very different voices of America featured in these plays went from making themselves heard in Ivers’ head to making themselves the centerpiece of the 2022-23 SCR season. Voices of America takes SCR’s tradition of producing extant plays alongside new ones and puts it in rotating repertory. The Little Foxes and Appropriate will alternate performances from Jan. 28-Feb. 26 on the Segerstrom Stage.
Each play will take the stage four times a week. On Saturdays and Sundays, both plays will be performed—one in the afternoon, the other in the evening. That means theatregoers can see both on the same day. Six of the 12 actors cast for the two productions will appear in both. And the plays share a single set, which will be modified for each play. Lisa Peterson will direct The Little Foxes. Delicia Turner Sonnenberg will direct Appropriate.
These two plays have never been produced together, much less in rotating repertory.
“For me, this is the theatrical event of the season,” Ivers said. “It’s a new experience for us and there’s never been a better time for new, for innovation. … I’m excited for this. I believe it is part of the key to continuing a theatrical experience that keeps you on your toes and keeps you engaged not only with our past, but with our future.”
Ivers views the meeting of existing work with new plays as a mandate to his programming mission. Finding examples of this that speak to the greater community is vitally important to him. SCR audiences saw an example of this last spring, with Thornton Wilder’s 84-year-old, iconic Our Town running on the Segerstrom Stage, while Mike Lew’s contemporary satire Tiger Style! ran next door on the Julianne Argyros Stage.
“SCR has a legacy of old plays meeting new. That’s been in inception from the beginning,” he said. “We constantly have developed a breadth and scale of plays—including Theatre for Young Audiences plays—that speak to each other and I want to draw that parallel and make it explicit. How does our new work speak to extant work and how are they in conversation with each other?”