Were Big in Aimes, Iowa!

Copenhagen comes to Laguna before going national, Ayn Rand comes to Long Beach, and Captain Nemos a freakin terrorist

Photo by Cristofer Gross/SCRMichael Frayn's 2000 Tony Award-winning play Copenhagen opens Saturday at The Laguna Playhouse. The play, a historical "imagining" of a 1941 meeting between two nuclear physicists working on opposite sides of the race to create the first atomic bomb, will run for a month in Laguna before touring the country. Then it'll play at regional theaters in 24 cities. In every one of those towns—from South Bend, Indiana, to Raleigh, North Carolina—patrons will see the Laguna Playhouse name prominently displayed all over the playbill.

But are the fortunes of a Laguna Beach theater advanced by name recognition among Iowa hog farmers?

"It can't hurt to have your name all over the country," said Andrew Barnicle, the Laguna Playhouse's artistic director. "We're not looking to get rich off this, but we do think the tour will pay for itself."

But money and notoriety aren't the reasons the Laguna Playhouse decided to risk mounting Copenhagen, its second national tour. (In 2000, the theater's production of The Belle of Amherst, starring Julie Harris, also toured the U.S.) Barnicle said the real reason "was so we could gain the rights to do the play here first."

There's a pecking order when it comes to producing big plays such as Copenhagen. The play's backers "want to get as much income and as much prestige as possible, so theaters like us have to wait in line with everyone else," Barnicle said. First in line, therefore, are the big regional theaters in the biggest markets.

Had the Laguna Playhouse decided against mounting Copenhagen's national tour, the play might have come to Orange County months or even years later. But agreeing to handle the national tour following its own January production gives the Laguna Playhouse the right to boast that it's the first resident professional theater to produce this Very Big Play.

The Laguna Beach production features the original Broadway direction of Michael Blakemoreand includes a cast that has been training in New York for a month. The Laguna Playhouse is supplying the set, designers and all the infrastructure needed to mount the show. Here's hoping that a big play about a big bomb doesn't bomb on the road.

Since we're on the subject of technology run amok: for decades, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was seen more as soft-boiled fantasy or even a children's story than as a cautionary tale of the dangers of unchecked scientific creation. But recent translations of Verne's book reveal a more provocative piece of art. That's one reason Bob Jensen and Ed Mast, two men who have never shied away from subjects filled with big ideas and bigger issues, have adapted Verne's book into a 45-minute play.

"Verne was an incredibly imaginative man, and the most recent translations of his novel reveal just how accurate he was with some of his projections about the technology that would come," said Jensen, a Fullerton Collegetheater instructor whose playwrighting credits include Wallenberg. "At the same time, Verne raised themes about how science could be used and the dangers of its misuse."

Just as compelling from a theatrical point of view is the novel's most notorious character: Captain Nemo, the technologically brilliant warrior captain of the high-tech submarine Nautilus.

"Looking at it from a contemporary perspective, Nemo is a terrorist," Jensen said. "He wanted to eradicate war, and his method of doing so was by waging war. When Verne was writing [in the 1870s], he was looking at the buildup of armies all over the world and realized the senseless carnage that could occur. Nemo is a very complex character with great scientific vision, just a great character to wrestle with."

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea opens at Fullerton College in late January for a week-long run before touring some local high schools.

Speaking of Fullerton College: local playwright Johnna Adamsis one of four writers whose work will be included in the college's 12th annual Playwrights Festival (Jan. 3-18). Adams, a graduate of South Coast Repertory's Advanced Playwrights Workshop, will have her play Cockfighters performed on Jan. 15.

South Coast Repertory, Part Two: one of our favorite directors in the Western world, David Chambers, returns to SCR with Molière's comedy The School for Wives. Chambers, an East Coast-based director, fits in about one show a year at SCR—his past efforts include The Hollow Landsand Old Times.The last time Chambers tackled Molière at South Coast Repertory resulted in an amazingly stark and brooding Tartuffe.

The School for Wivesis anything but stark. "This is an earlier play than Tartuffeand, as a result, is far more in line with the [physical comedy] of the commedia dell'arte tradition," Chambers said. That doesn't mean this production will be a cavalcade of crotch grabbing, fart jokes and big-breasted scullery maids in low-cut blouses, though. Where Tartuffeexamines religious hypocrisy, Chambers says The School for Wivesexplores the "labyrinthine mind of one character who is under the microscope for the entire play."

That character is Arnolphe, an obsessively jealous man who believes the only way he won't be emasculated by a woman is to seal his bride-to-be in a cloister so that she'll be too naive to betray him after they are wed.

In Chambers' mind, the play is about one man whose paranoia illustrates our universal susceptibility to "delusions and obsessions and our ability to create them on the flimsiest of circumstances when our vanities and our needs collide with one another."

It's a treat for local theatergoers to get a director of Chambers' talent and reputation, and it's particularly cool since Chambers is currently immersed in an enormous artistic undertaking: an opera about Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. That will be performed in St. Petersburg in 2003 as part of that city's 300th anniversary.

Finally, speaking of St. Petersburg (and, really, who ever misses the chance to speak of lovely Leningrad?): a play by another of that burg's most famous products, Ayn Rand, opens Saturday at the Long Beach Playhouse, The Night of January 16th. The courtroom drama was a modest hit on Broadway in 1935, primarily because of its gimmick: audience members are selected as the jury, and it's up to them to decide guilt at play's end. Much more compelling than some stale courtroom drama, filled no doubt with stale Objectivist philosophy, is the surprising Orange County connection to Rand we uncovered whilst researching the play. According to the Irvine World News, Woodbridge High School in Irvine produced the same play last month. Turns out the student who played the judge, Kira Peikoff, is the daughter of Leonard Peikoff, a retired philosophy professor who knew Rand for 30 years and who was the subject of Ned Madden's 1997 OC Weekly cover story "Selling Selfishness: Leonard Peikoff keeps Ayn Rand alive."

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