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100th world premiere opens tonight

South Coast Reperatory stages 'The Piano Teacher,' which stars a Laguna Beach resident.

March 16, 2007|By Jessie Brunner

South Coast Repertory audiences will be the first in the world to meet Mrs. K, the lonely, but cheerful woman at the heart of the theater's latest production, "The Piano Teacher," opening tonight.

Under the direction of Kate Whoriskey and the guidance of playwright Julia Cho, Laguna Beach local Linda Gehringer is thrilled to have created the role for the Costa Mesa theater, and even more excited knowing the show marks the repertory's 100th world premiere production.

"When you come to a new play, it's especially great because you have none of that baggage of past actors and past performances — it's just you," said Gehringer, who once turned down the lead role in a production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" because, at 5-feet-10-inches, she couldn't imagine following in the footsteps of the more petite, Oscar-winning Vivien Leigh.

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"It is so exciting to know that you are bringing that character to life for the first time."

When she was first introduced to the script, Gehringer felt she had a fairly good understanding of the retired piano teacher she would come to portray, not because they were necessarily similar, but because of Mrs. K's authenticity.

Gehringer, a former piano pupil, also drew some ideas for the role from her grandmother, who taught piano for many years at the Detroit Conservatory of Music. During rehearsals, she toted a small, black-and-white photo for inspiration — her ancestor at the ivories, clad in a ruffled apron and high heels.

Concerned about losing her memory as she nears the end of her life, Gehringer's character journeys into her past by contacting former students to find out why her career as a piano instructor gradually came to an end.

Having a direct conversation with the audience, the character prompts theatergoers to take the same introspective approach, said the actress, whose career spans theater, television and film.

"There is so much humor and love in the show, yet there is also this uncovering of the real meaning of life and all its struggles," she said.

"The Piano Teacher" is quite a departure from the dramatic and colorful vision Whoriskey brought to her last South Coast Repertory show, "Life is a Dream." The director was careful to concentrate on the simplicity of Cho's piece by using minimal sets and costumes to highlight its characters.

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