But Where Are the Giants?

SCR's Play Strindberg is almost brilliant

It doesn't end there. SCR's familiarity with the giants of modern drama (beginning in 1880) is amazingly thin, with the most innovative and challenging dramatists virtually absent. Along with DŁrrenmatt and Strindberg, you'd have to add Luigi Pirandello (no productions); Bertolt Brecht (two non-musical productions, none since 1986); Samuel Beckett (one production, Waiting for Godot); Jean Genet (none); Eugene Ionesco (none); and Ibsen (the oft-produced A Doll's Houseand Hedda Gabler).

There's a similar syndrome in SCR's selection of great American playwrights. SCR launched its much ballyhood American Classics Series, for which they get lots of grant money to produce great American plays. Thus far, those plays have all been great: Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Thornton Wilder's Our Town and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men-all great plays, all absolutely done to death. But you'll look in vain for Edward Albee (no productions) and O'Neill (two productions-neither his best or most provocative-A Moon for the Misbegottenand his only comedy, Ah Wilderness!).

There's nothing wrong with biases in programming-theaters thrive and die because of them. SCR founders Martin Benson and David Emmes are quite open about theirs: they love Anton Chekhov, Harold Pinter and George Bernard Shaw, three modern giants who have received 22 productions among them. They're not big fans of "experimental dramatists."

You can't fault Benson and Emmes for ignoring certain plays or playwrights. Nor can you fault those of us who wish this immensely talented and financially blessed theatrical giant would challenge themselves and us with an occasional reminder of the works that made the Giants of the Modern Stage true giants.

Play Strindberg at South Coast Repertory's Second Stage, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Through April 11. $18-$43.

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