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Connections make Orange County a hub.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The geography of West Coast theater can’t be found on any ordinary map: Orange County and Seattle meet, for example, in San Francisco.

To understand the relationship, just connect the dots.

David Emmes and Martin Benson were classmates of Daniel Sullivan in the early 1960s at San Francisco State College, studying with the founders of the Actors Workshop, Jules Irving and Herbert Blau, who helped launch the national regional-theater movement.

Emmes and Benson went on to create South Coast Repertory in 1964--the county’s only professional resident troupe--and Sullivan directed four SCR productions during the 1970s before becoming artistic director of Seattle Repertory in 1981.

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“Jules Irving kept telling us to go out and find our own spots,” Emmes recalls. “It was like a biblical injunction to go forth and multiply. He told us, ‘The choices aren’t only New York or Hollywood. Go start your own theaters.’ We were just bright-eyed and naive enough to think we could.”

Connect the dots.

Playwright Richard Greenberg, who gained national prominence with “Eastern Standard,” a satirical comedy that premiered at Seattle Rep in 1988 and made it to Broadway, has become an SCR favorite. He has had three world premieres at the Costa Mesa theater in recent years: “The Extra Man” (1991), “Night and Her Stars” (1994) and “Three Days of Rain” (1997), as well as the premiere of his Marivaux adaptation “The Triumph of Love” (1997). His latest new play, “Hurrah at Last,” will have its premiere at SCR in June as the closing production of the 1997-98 season.

Meanwhile, Sharon Ott, who staged “The Ballad of Yashiyo” at SCR in 1996, succeeded Sullivan in July as artistic director of Seattle Rep, where she remounted that production last season.

Unlike the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, which is busy importing plays from Seattle (see related story), SCR is exporting them.

Ott is “keeping a close watch” on SCR’s new version of Aristophanes’ “The Birds,” to open in January with Culture Clash, for a potential Seattle Rep transfer, SCR dramaturge Jerry Patch says. She is also “likely to do” a future production of David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child,” which SCR commissioned and co-produced last season with New York’s Public Theater.

The county’s theatrical connection to Seattle is so close that SCR associate artist Mark Rucker restaged his 1996 SCR production of “The Taming of the Shrew” in May at the Intiman Theatre, that city’s other professional resident company.

Rucker, who also directed Greenberg’s “Triumph” adaptation, used the same “Shrew” designers at the Intiman--longtime SCR regulars Ralph Funicello (set) and Shigeru Yaji (costumes). And he kept the SCR leads, Marco Barricelli and Cindy Katz.

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Connect the dots.

When Barricelli bowed out of the Intiman reprise for personal reasons, in stepped David Drummond, who appeared in SCR’s 1991 production of “You Can’t Take It With You,” staged by Warner Shook, a regular SCR guest director until taking over the Intiman as artistic director in 1992.

Moreover, Drummond made his Southern California acting debut in 1990 at the now-defunct Grove Shakespeare Festival in Garden Grove, playing the leads in “Much Ado About Nothing” and “As You Like It.” And he got his start as a playwright in Laguna Beach, where the Laguna Playhouse premiered his first play, “The Labors of Hercules,” in 1996.

In 1994 the Playhouse also had one of the biggest hits in its 75-year history with a satire about Christmas holiday shows, “Inspecting Carol,” written by Sullivan and the Seattle Rep company.

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The county’s Seattle connection goes further still.

Shook, who staged “Beyond Therapy” at SCR in 1987 and “Frankie and Johnny” in 1989 and again in 1990 on SCR’s road trip to Singapore, has just directed “Ambition Facing West” at the Intiman by Anthony Clarvoe, another playwright who has premiered new plays at SCR: “Pick Up Ax” (1990) and “Let’s Play Two” (1992).

What’s more, “Ambition Facing West,” which closes today, stars Kandis Chappell, who has been more closely identified with SCR over the past 10 years than any other female actor. She has won four of her five Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle acting awards for leading roles in SCR productions.

Connect the dots.

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Along with Chappell, Shook cast Jeanne Paulsen in “Ambition Facing West,” another actor who won an LADCC award at SCR and who played a major role last season in Greenberg’s Rucker-directed Marivaux adaptation.

“Maybe there’s just enough separation between Orange County and Seattle to let all of that closeness happen,” Emmes says. “I have a collegial feeling about West Coast theater generally. It’s a healthy artistic community. I feel that the most exciting theater activity in the country is happening from Seattle down to San Diego.”

Seattle Rep’s Ott and the Intiman’s Shook both cite SCR as their Southern California inspiration.

SCR is the “theater I go to most” in the Southland, Ott says. “I especially use them as a model.”

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Shook adds that Emmes and Benson were the first people he called when he got the Intiman job. He wanted their advice about creating a play-development program. SCR’s willingness to help was “sensational,” he says.

Or perhaps Emmes and Benson were only heeding British novelist E.M. Forster’s famous artistic credo: “Only connect.”


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