Reaching New Depths

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South Coast Repertory’s latest production explores a pool of raw emotions. – By Kinney Littlefield

South Coast Repertory dives deep into daring drama with the brash contemporary British play, “pool (no water),” May 4 – 6. Part of SCR’s way-fringe Studio series in its 94-seat Nicholas Studio, “pool” is provocative with a capital “P” despite its lowercase title. Written by Brit avant-gardist, Mark Ravenhill, the play follows a group of struggling New York artists who turn the near-fatal accident of an LA art-star friend into a twisted art project. “Mark Ravenhill’s work is pretty unflinching,” says Dave Barton, artistic director of the uber-edgy SoCal company, Monkey Wrench Collective, which produces “pool.” Spawned by OC’s late, acclaimed Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, Monkey Wrench also staged the show’s much-praised U.S. premiere in 2010. “Mark looks at our foibles unblinkingly,” Dave says of the plot’s fiercely funny-sad take on relationships, envy and emotional dysfunction, and its often-raw language. “If you’re open to seeing the darker parts of yourself, then it’s great fun.”

Now in its second season, Studio SCR is as much about collaboration with small, in your-face companies like Monkey Wrench as it is about counterbalancing more mainstream fare on SCR’s Segerstrom and Argyros stages. Coming up June 8 -10, Studio SCR presents “Anton’s Uncles,” an outré singing-dancing mash-up of Chekov’s classic “Uncle Vanya” from LA’s Theatre Movement Bazaar. That’s followed by “Cattywampus” June 22 – 24, a re-imagining of Strindberg’s equally classic “Miss Julie,” from writer and director Robert Cucuzza. “We want to introduce audiences to different ways of expressing what’s possible with live theater,” says SCR’s artistic director Marc Masterson. “We’re building partnerships, strengthening relationships and expanding our palette.”

The strategy seems to be working. Last year, on average, about 65 percent of Studio SCR’s audiences had not attended an SCR production before, says producing associate Oanh Nguyen, who has closely nurtured the fledgling series. “We definitely are bringing in new audiences for SCR and for these arts groups,” says Oanh, who is also artistic director of Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills.

Although SCR is the 800-pound gorilla of Orange County theater, it has not influenced Monkey Wrench’s production of “pool,” according to Dave. The company’s production process itself is a bit unusual. Actors randomly draw strips of  dialogue from a hat and shape their characters around those lines. “It’s shocking—South Coast Repertory has given us free rein,” Dave teases.

Studio SCR also gives cash-strapped producing companies a welcome bit of pocket money. “The majority of the box office goes to the artists,” Oanh says. “We do keep a certain amount of money to cover most of our hard costs, but not even all of them.” Then there’s the launch pad factor—SCR’s national cachet attracts attention to all its productions on all its stages, so a Studio SCR run could help a small production gain wider notice. “In OC, South Coast Repertory is the shining light,” Dave says. “As my business partner, Monkey Wrench’s Production Director Bryan Jennings, says, ‘Now we’re on the mountaintop.’ ” (South Coast Repertory, 650 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; 714-708-5555; NBM

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