SCR’s Oz enters a whole new realm
The updated spin on “The Wizard of Oz” premiering at South Coast Repertory Friday night might have Dorothy Gale repeating the line that she’s not in Kansas anymore.
“OZ 2.5,” set to open on the Julianne Argyros stage, features a brighter, bolder and customized backdrop for the audience. The children’s classic written by L. Frank Baum 115 years ago, is set in a video game world. Dee, whose screen name is Dorothy14, joins her friends Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man through each level on her way to defeat the Witch of the Western Realm. She wins the game but wants to return to her homeland of prairie, wild flowers and tall grass.
Playwright Catherine Trieschmann wanted to create a familiar setup to the Baum’s beloved book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
The ruby slippers Judy Garland made iconic in the 1939 film will not be copied in the play since Treischmann wanted to return to using the original novel’s silver shoes.
Unlike the original Dorothy, Trieschmann’s Dee is a 21st century girl, who finds life in rural Kansas dull and unexciting. Since she can’t find adventure on the farm, she turns to her favorite video game, OZ 2.0, much to her Aunt Em’s dismay. The tornado hits and rather than seeking shelter in the basement, Dee stays outside to retrieve her tablet. The tornado hits her and she wakes up finding herself inside the computer game.
The journey down the yellow brick road begins and she meets the three unusual characters. With the help from her friends, she has to defeat the Witch of the Western Realm, but each time she makes a mistake, she loses a life and the game resets to an earlier level.
Dee begins to appreciate her simple way of life on the farm, misses her family and remembers that there is no place like home.
Trieschmann said she wanted to put a spin on the children’s classic after moving to the plains of western Kansas eight years ago. She reread the book and recognized her connection with Dorothy’s longing to escape a gray landscape. It’d be dangerous, she thought, to go away to a place that was bright and beautiful for a play.
The story’s adaptation features a set design of a wooden building cut-out, lit up in a fluorescent green, to mimic Emerald City. The video game’s scenery is flashed through a projector screen.
“We wanted to take out the nostalgic context and bring it to a hipper place,” said Kaitlyn Pietras, the play’s video and projection designer. “We wanted it edgy for young audiences.”
Pietras said she looked for neon and subterranean palettes instead of pastoral landscapes. She said she’s most proud of the video’s poppy field that she calls “exciting” and “strange.”
Already familiar with the original film, Pietras said “OZ 2.5" was the most fun she’s had on a project so far partly because she hasn’t worked on many children’s shows.
“It’s much more freeing,” Pietras said. “The whole world and the music is different from what you’d expect. The costumes are updated and fun. I can’t wait to see how kids react to it.”
The production features actor Larry Bates, who plays the lion. Bates has appeared in South Coast Repertory’s Theatre for Young Audiences shows before including as Wilbur in the center’s recent “Charlotte’s Web.” Celeste Den, who portrays Aunt Em and Wicked Witch, and Emily Yetter as Dee, both make their return to the SCR stage.
The cast and crew met Wednesday afternoon for a cast-in-costume rehearsal where they practiced the scene where the group enters the Emerald City. Though the costumes were not finalized, the stage’s scenery was complete with the kingdom’s white doors.
Set designer Francois-Pierre Couture said he knew audiences were already familiar with the film’s original props and backdrops, so he wanted to go in a different direction. He suggested a video game as the background since the plot is a reboot of images.
The play, he said, starts in Kansas, but transitions into a big reveal.
“The set has tricks and surprises that will be fun,” Couture said, calling from Los Angeles. “I just like everything about this story and its charm. It allowed for us to be especially creative because children are not too judgmental. They appreciate the surprise.”
He said he hopes audiences will enjoy a computerized design model that recreates a twist on the characters and plot.
“Expect the unexpected,” Couture said. “The whole production will work out very well.”
If You Go
What: “OZ 2.5"
When: Friday to June 7; 7 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 2 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Information: (714) 708-5555 or visit scr.org