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CalRep Begins Fall Season Nov. 2

Published: November 1, 2012

CSULB’s California Repertory Company, since 1989 among the foremost educational theater institutions in Southern California, returns this fall with a season of three plays dealing with love, con men and jobs from hell.

The company, comprised of graduate students, faculty and staff from CSULB’s Theater Arts Department will perform “BS: Bukowski. Sondheim, A Work in Progress” from Nov. 2 to Dec. 8, Moliere’s “Tartuffe” from Feb. 14 to March 9 and Adam Bock’s “Thugs” from April 19 to May 4. CalRep is beginning its fifth year performing in the Royal Theater board the retired luxury liner Queen Mary.

Theater Arts’ Joanne Gordon, a member of the university since 1989, is pleased she will crown her last year as department chair before entering the Faculty Early Retirement Program with her direction of “BS: Bukowski. Sondheim.” The work features the poetry of Charles Bukowski (1920-94) whose writing was influenced by the social, cultural and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles, and Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim whose works such as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Into the Woods” and “West Side Story” won for him an Academy Award, eight Tony Awards, multiple Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize.

“All my professional career, my research has focused on these two icons,” said Gordon, whose adaptation of “Love, Bukowski” earned her several award nominations by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, which also conferred on CalRep the Polly Warfield Award. She also won the 2010 Red Carpet Award from the Los Angeles-based Women in Theater.

As a renowned Sondheim scholar, she has directed a number of his works including the first Chinese language production of “West Side Story” in Beijing.

“It was 20 years ago when I attended my first Bukowski poetry reading and I’ve never stopped reading his work,” she said. “My own passions are articulated in these men’s work. BS is the culmination of my career at CSULB. These extraordinary artists whose work appears very dissimilar on a superficial level but, upon closer examination, share such common themes as the impossibility of loving and the impossibility of living without love.

“There is, in both their work, a need for love coupled with the acknowledgement that it is very painful to love and impossible not to love. Both artists are unrelenting in their dedication to their work. Their love of their art equals their love of people. Both needed to be artists and both need to be with other people. Both believe in the power of art and the power of passion.”

She is especially pleased by this year’s extraordinary graduate company of actors, many of whom have been featured in major roles on Broadway.

“Our 10-member cast includes three alums making a company that numbers five women and five men,” she explained. “Together, they bring to life this wonderful collage of two extraordinary artists.”

Next up is the 1664 classic comedy by French playwright Moliere titled “Tartuffe” which chronicles the hypocrisy of one of literature’s greatest frauds who ostensibly and exaggeratedly feigns virtue, especially religious virtue. Directed by guest artist Jim Anzide, it argues that in an age of Fox News and MSNBC, a tale of liars, cheats and con men resonates powerfully. “’Tartuffe’ is a recognized classic with themes as timeless as today’s elections,” said Gordon. “The period play may have been written in 1664, but it is resonant with contemporary relevance without changing a single word. Moliere’s satire is timeless.”

“Thugs” by Adam Bock and directed by Theater Arts’ Anne Justine D’Zmura, seeks to show how the banal banter of the water cooler gives way to a far more ominous and foreboding malevolence. Bock won a 2006 Obie award for “Thugs” and in 2012 a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for his work.

“Bock’s play is set in an office in a debilitating, dispiriting Dilbert-like world infused with something sinister happening on the floor above. It contains elements of a murder mystery,” she explained.

Gordon has nothing but praise for CalRep. “The company is doing wonderfully,” she said. “We have gone from strength to strength. I couldn’t be prouder of the history of this company and their evolution from a small classroom on campus to the Queen Mary. It’s been a very happy location for us. Our audience is a great combination of students and the local community. We have a great theater space; cozy, but flexible.”

Gordon encourages the university community to attend this fall season of CalRep. “There is no better bargain in theater,” said Gordon. “The admission prices are unbeatable. This is the only place the local community can see adventurous theater. I feel many other companies have succumbed to the domination of the dollar. They make easily accessible and escapist entertainment. We are dedicated to creating art and theater innovation in a challenging and entertaining way.”

–Richard Manly