Monkey Wrench Collective's original production of "Pool no water"
Monkey Wrench Collective's original production of "Pool no water"

A Sign of the Apocalypse? Monkey Wrench at South Coast Repertory's Studio SCR

In charting its course to becoming one of America's premiere regional theaters, South Coast Repertory has been awfully busy. There's the craft of cultivating writers, the art of producing plays, the business of raising funds and paying the bills. Along the way, it's helped smaller, local theaters from time to time, primarily in loaning set pieces or other technical stuff. 

But late last year, the theater announced the formation of Studio SCR, in which the theater would allow Southern California artists the opportunity to stage short runs of their work in SCR's Nicholas Studio, an approximately 99-seat theater that SCR uses mainly as a rehearsal space.

(Previously, SCR has opened the space to Anaheim's Chance Theater, which mounted its critically acclaimed productions of The Who's Tommy and Jesus Hates Me in 2010 and 2011. That relationship was forged in no small part to the Chance's Artistic Director, Oanh Nguyen, named an SCR producing assistant in 2010).

This year, SCR has invited seven groups of artists with Southern California ties to stage three-night performances. And one in particular was quite astonishing: The Monkey Wrench Collective's production of Mark Ravenhill's "Pool (no water)" which opens tonight.

It's astonishing because the Monkey Wrench, along with the Santa Ana-based Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company, that spawned it, offers an aesthetic  far removed from the (usually) well-heeled, urbane and sophisticated fare of South Coast Repertory. The range of playwrights that Artistic Director Dave Barton (who doubles as an arts critic for OC Weekly), unveiled on his stages have never seen light at SCR. Sarah Kane, Ravenhill and the host of other in-yer-face British playwrights and other wildly left-of-center, provocative, sexually-and-politically infused writers that MWC and RTG have trafficked in might give a huge chunk of SCR's audiences, cerebral conniptions.

Yet, here Barton and cohorts are at SCR with the Ravenhill play they mounted in Fullerton in 2010 as an American premiere. (The company mounted its last show in December in Fullerton and is now working on producing in Los Angeles). In typical Ravenhill form, it's a black comedy in which a famous artist invites several friends to her home only to suffer an awful accident. Rather than a grief session, her friends ponder the possibility of making the occasion a piece of performance art. As longtime Orange County theater writer Eric Marchese wrote, "Like most of Ravenhill's angry-young-man, in-your-face dramas, this one is Darwinian: The world is a cold, unfeeling place where only the strongest, most aggressive, and most cunning survive."

The play received stellar reviews and the same cast returns, including Jessica Lamprinos in the lead role as the most successful artist of the bunch whose fame draws nothing but condemnation from her associates.

The idea behind SCR's studio series is to give smaller companies a chance to benefit from far more well-appointed facilities and technical elements, while hopefully exposing those companies' work to audience members who might not be aware of them. It's a temporary step for MWC, but affords it an opportunity to display its unique, for Orange County, aesthetic in a space owned and operated by one of the biggest fishes in the professional theater pond.

SCR's Nicholas Studio, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555.  Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $35, $15 for students.


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