Local, Only

Don't be surprised if David Wiener, a talented, emerging playwright whose plays have been produced from New York to London, gets dropped off at this weekend's South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival by his mother.

He's from here, his parents and a slew of friends still live in the county, and since Wiener is part of South Coast Repertory's acclaimed playwrighting soiree this year, he's using the occasion of the first reading of his latest play to go home again.

“Maybe we'll all go out for ice cream afterward, like my team used to do when I played soccer,” says Wiener—probably jokingly—who graduated from Irvine's University High in 1991.

Joining him in this year's festival are fellow emerging playwrights Julia Cho and Sarah Treem, plus SCR veteran Keith Reddin; all will receive staged readings of their latest works. Elsewhere on the program, Victoria Stewart's Leitmotifwill receive a workshop production directed by the wildly talented Jessica Kubzansky. It's a worthwhile proving ground: roughly 90 percent of the plays read or staged in workshop productions here have graduated to full-fledged productions at SCR and other theaters.

“In the theater community, SCR is one of the few places outside New York City that is definitely on everyone's radar,” says Wiener, now a New Yorker, adding that his own theatrical sensibilities were somewhat shaped by watching plays at SCR. “It has a tremendous record of developing new work, and not just in terms of granting commissions. They take care of writers when they're young, and they get promising young writers in the pipeline.”

Yet for all its accomplishments, the PPF—now in its ninth year—has been thin on Southern California playwrights. A handful of writers, Cho among them, have Los Angeles connections, but Wiener is the first from Orange County—and even he only started writing plays after attending Duke and the University of Columbia. (The reasons are somewhat obvious: the top playwrighting schools in the country, from whence SCR derives the vast bulk of its playwrights, are all east of San Bernardino.)

But even though Wiener, a two-time CIF soccer champ, never wrote a play while living on a quiet Irvine cul-de-sac, he says the experience shaped him. He says resolving the conflict between his own creative temperament and early life in suburbia infused his first successful play and the others since, including his latest, System Wonderland, the story of a struggling, fading screenwriter assigned a young, ambitious assistant to help hammer his script into place.

“You might think this ground has already been covered by other playwrights, but this isn't really about the Hollywood shark tank as much as it's a mythical look at generational conflict,” SCR associate artistic director John Glore says of System. “If anything, the metaphor is Greek, with the gods eating their young or vice versa.”

Like all playwrights trying to pay the bills, Wiener works continually on other projects, including screenplays, and has had his share of pitch meetings. “The first time I was in Hollywood, I was surprised at the amount of energy people put into promoting themselves and their unbridled ambition,” he says. “In New York it's more subtle. I don't know if it's a byproduct of not making as much money, but in the theater people are more focused on the thing they're making—something they think is important. Whereas in LA, although I know this is a huge generalization, I think people just want to be a part of something, anything, whatever form that takes.”

As does Wiener; he stresses that he didn't “want to write an indictment about Hollywood. Hollywood makes a lot of beautiful things in spite of the greed and ambition, and there are many people struggling to make something personal in a place” that only wants product.

This weekend, we'll all finally get some local product.


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