Feed Your Head: Three Great Plays by Really Smart Playwrights

South Coast Repertory has produced hundreds of plays by hundreds of playwrights in its 47 years. And it's a theater that takes its playwrights very seriously. From day one, SCR has committed itself to producing highly literate plays that emphasize language over flash. That's borne out by the legion of world premieres it's produced over the years, as well as in its choice of older plays. And with the exception of William Shakespeare, whom the theater has tackled 17 times, no writer has seen the spotlight more on SCR's stage than George Bernard Shaw, a prolific and brilliant writer and the only person who could boast of winning both an Academy Award (his screenplay for Pygmalion, in 1938) and a Nobel Prize (for literature, in 1925).

Shaw's Misalliance, which opens the theater's 2010-11 season this weekend, is SCR's 13th Shavian production. On the surface, it doesn't seem like much: Wealthy English people lounging around a country garden droning on about love and marriage.

But, like most Shaw plays, the plot--as well as the character development--is subordinate to his ideas. It's actually a satire about the fading of Victorian England and its stuffy class and moral restrictions, and the dawning of a new age with empowered women and organized political opposition to the status quo.

Shaw was a devout feminist and committed Socialist, and his take on each reverberate throughout Misalliance's farcical structure.

But as smart as it is, it's also a quite funny play, the kind that SCR co-founder Martin Benson, who, along with partner David Emmes announced earlier this year that he will be stepping down as co-artistic director)  has directed to great success over the years (he directed a production of the same play at SCR in the 1987-88 season).

This time around, Benson is hooking up once again with Dakin Matthews, one of the finest stage actors in Southern California. Matthews, who contributed a stellar performance in Shaw's Major Barbara, which Benson also directed, in 2002, seems tailor-made for the stuffy role of John Tarleton, underwear magnate and amateur philosopher.The cast also includes J.D. Cullum, another terrific Los Angeles-based actor, and SCR founding artist Richard Doyle.

This is also the last weekend to catch two other highly literate plays by highly intelligent playwrights: Tom Stoppard's absurdly frenetic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Paula Vogel's  Desdemona: A Play about a Hankerchief. Both plays take a highly inventive look at Shakespeare classics, the first imagining Hamlet from the point of view of minor characters, the second retelling  Othello through the eyes of female characters eclipsed by their male counterparts. Both are playing in repertory at the Hunger Artists Theatre in Fullerton.

 Misalliance at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555. Opens Sat. Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Thru Oct. 10. $20-$66. www.scr.org.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Hunger Artists Theatre, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Closes Sun. $15-$18. www.hungerartists.com.

Desdemona: A Play about a Hankerchief, Hunger Artists Theatre. Sat., 5 p.m. Sun., 4 p.m. $12-$15. Closes Sun. www.hungerartists.com  


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