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The Rep Doesn’t Rest on Its Series of Successes

The San Diego Repertory Theatre isn’t spending much time catching its breath after moving its once-strapped books into the black this year.

The appointment of Walter Schoen as the new associate producer at the theater in late July underscores a commitment to moving ahead to the next phase of its growth as a regional theater, according to Doug Jacobs, artistic director of the Rep.

This first official artistic addition to the original 12-year-old team of Sam Woodhouse and Doug Jacobs also marks a step toward restoring the staff cutbacks of a year ago when the Rep was at the height of its financial difficulties.

Schoen’s job is to work on research and development. That means the Rep is planning to formally commit more time, energy and talent for long-range projects, which won’t be under pressure to metamorphose into mounted productions. Some of this work will focus on well-known artists, Jacobs said. Other work might involve going into the community and catalyzing artistic collaborations among segments of the community: dancers, doctors, lawyers, poets, musicians . . . even, heaven help us, journalists.

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Schoen’s first association with the San Diego Repertory Theatre dates from 1979 when he was a graduate student in theater at UC San Diego, and took the role of the brother-in-law in a production of “Tartuffe,” in which Jacobs played the title role.

He kept in touch with the Rep in the next eight years as an actor, director and development person at the Denver Center Theatre Company and the Arizona Theatre, returning in 1984 to direct Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy” for the Rep. What brought him here to stay, he said, was not only the prospect of coming home to the ever-percolating Rep, but to the overall appeal of the San Diego theater scene, which has done its own share of exploding in the eight years since Schoen last lived here.

“In a one-week period I saw ‘Lulu,’ ‘Red Noses’ and ‘Coriolanus,’ and that’s a pretty wide range of theater,” Schoen said. “A community that would encourage that kind of artistic flourishing is unique in a lot of ways. That was a major factor in my wife and I deciding to return to San Diego. The range of possibilities is mind-boggling.”

A whole lot of breaking’s going on at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company these days. That’s no allusion to backstage bickering; we’re talking about on-stage written-in-the-script dramatic conflict that leads to records being shattered over actors’ heads in “Private Lives” at the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre and dishes being smashed under angry knife-wielding hands in “The Nerd” at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre.

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Where do they get those disposable props? Simple. The directors just ask Barbara Krepps, the property mistress for the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company. Her secret? “I do a lot of looking and asking and begging and borrowing.”

For the 200 78 rpm records ordered for the “Private Lives” run, she checked out the Salvation Army, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a garage sale that yielded 65 alone. For “The Nerd” dishes, she found “a grubby little store on Market Street” where they were being sold at $4 a dozen. She bought six dozen, but recently she had to pick up a few more when the show was extended to Oct. 8.

A veteran prop mistress for Edythe Pirazzini and the now-closed Mission Playhouse, Krepps recounts tales of scavenger hunts past with relish. There were the easy ones: when she provided her own lawn mower and gardening tools for “A Walk Out of Water.” There were the searches she feared would prove fruitless and weren’t, like the time she was asked for an 1893 typewriter for “Candida” and found it at the first shop she called in El Cajon. Then there was the time she looked all over town for an 1880 wheelchair for “The Little Foxes,” only to remember in the moment before admitting defeat that her neighbors across the street had one.

Krepps is looking forward to getting her new prop list Monday for the Gaslamp’s “Dance of the Mayfly,” opening Oct. 26. There is a kitchen set and she is already getting her adrenaline up for the upcoming hunt for the appropriate cooking utensils.

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“It’s fun, it’s a challenge,” Krepps said. “You poke around, talk to a lot of interesting people, and everyone is so nice about it. My major was theater and I don’t like to be on stage anymore. I’m an old lady and I lost it years ago. This is my way of remaining part of the theater community.”

Local director Bartlett Sher is not one to take it easy on his audience, but for those willing to put in some hard cerebral labor, “Madmen and Specialists,” playing at the San Diego State Experimental Theatre through Saturday, is worth the trouble.

Like his mentor, Robert Woodruff, for whom he worked as an assistant director on several productions, Sher has a keen eye for visual splendor, a unique ability to draw fire from a student cast, and difficulty when it comes to clarifying the purpose of his theatrical journeys.

His direction of Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning playwright Wole Soyinka’s story of his imprisonment during the Biafran War, obscures the philosophical debate in a wealth of surrealistic detail. But the detail is worth seeing on its own.

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Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical comedy, “Broadway Bound,” now starring Joan Rivers, is scheduled to close Sunday after 756 regular performances and 12 previews at New York’s Broadhurst Theatre. That will make Broadway uncharacteristically Simonless--at least for the two months until the playwright’s latest effort, “Rumors” finishes its run at the Old Globe Theatre Oct. 29, and resettles into the Broadhurst’s waiting arms for Nov. 8 previews with a Nov. 17 opening night.


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