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SCR returns to the past to honor anniversary

August 29, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • John Arthur Davis and Leslie Jones in South Coast Repertory's "Tartuffe" in 1964.
John Arthur Davis and Leslie Jones in South Coast Repertory's… (South Coast Repertory )

South Coast Repertory will conclude its 50th season with the play that opened its first: "Tartuffe," the farce by French playwright Moliere about a religious hypocrite who charms his way into a family home.

It's the Costa Mesa theater's way of coming full circle, but the 2014 production won't likely bear much resemblance to the 1964 version. For one thing, the stage will have an actual curtain. For another, the actors will have more costumes and props than a single trunk can hold.

And third, no one will wait for the repertory to pack up and leave when the play is done. When SCR opened "Tartuffe" in November 1964, it borrowed the space from the Newport Beach Ebell Club, a local women's organization. Now, the 1.5-acre complex next door to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts looks pretty fastened to the ground.

In the last 49 years, SCR has grown from a fledgling company to one of Costa Mesa's, and the theater world's, premiere institutions. But memories of those formative years remain strong — especially since some of the theater's charter members remain on staff.

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David Emmes, who founded SCR with Martin Benson — and, like his partner, is set to direct a play this season — said the company chose its first piece largely for economic reasons. Another Moliere title initially caught the group's fancy, but "Tartuffe" proved easier for a group still scraping for dollars.

"We actually started rehearsing 'The Miser' in my garage for a while, and it was going to require, in order to do it, a kind of full-on Moliere production of it," Emmes said in a joint interview with Benson two weeks ago in SCR's administrative offices. "There would be setting demands, prop demands, costume demands that we couldn't really realistically deal with. And it was about that time that we punted on that and we went to 'Tartuffe.'"

This season's "Tartuffe," which opens May 9, is the last adult play on the 2013-14 schedule ("The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales," which wraps up the youth-theater series, opens slightly after). Between those 1964 and 2014 bookends, the company has occupied three locations, nurtured future Pulitzer Prize winners and nabbed a Tony Award, among others, for its efforts.

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'An unbelievably talented group'

That journey had to begin somewhere, and for SCR's founders, it began with a small troupe of players and a big pile of fruit.

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