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South Coast Repertory celebrates 20th Pacific Playwrights Festival

South Coast Repertory presents the world premiere of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” by Lucas Hnath,
South Coast Repertory presents the world premiere of “A Doll’s House, Part 2" by Lucas Hnath, directed by Shelley Butler.
(Tania Thompson /South Coast Repertory)

New dramas by award-winning playwrights, including Amy Freed, Lucas Hnath and Donald Margulies, will be part of the 2017 Pacific Playwrights Festival April 21-23 at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

The 20th festival will feature three fully staged productions, plus four readings of new plays.

The staged productions include Michael Mitnick’s new play, “The Siegel,” about modern love and the need to go back in order to move forward, running till April 23; “A Doll’s House, Part 2” by Hnath, who picks up from Ibsen’s classic with Nora returning home, running till April 30; and “Yoga Play” by Dipika Guha, running April 19-30.

To mark the festival’s 20th anniversary, South Coast Repertory is adding Guha’s “Yoga Play” as the third world premiere production to go along with four staged readings.

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Amy Freed, a dramatist who presented first and early works in the Pacific Playwrights Festival, poses a different idea on her comedic spin to Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” with an April 21 reading of “Shrew!”

Later that evening is a reading of “Anacostia Street Lions,” by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, who explores the Washington, D.C., neighborhood in 2049 AD with a neutralized feral cat population and a Big Brother-type figure who turns to the “undesirables” in the human population.

Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies is among the veteran playwrights whose work will be presented in the festival’s annual weekend of new plays.

“Long Lost,” running April 22, tells the story of a successful business executive whose long-lost brother walks back into his life and threatens to blow up everything.

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The readings will close with Lauren Yee’s “Cambodian Rock Band,” a South Coast Repertory CrossRoads commission, that follows Chum, a man who fled Cambodia and returns to his homeland 30 years later in search of his daughter. He is forced to play music with the best unknown rock band in Cambodia. The music is by Dengue Fever, a Los Angeles-based band combining Cambodian pop music with psychedelic rock.

South Coast Repertory artistic director John Glore, who co-runs the festival with literary director Kimberly Colburn, said the event will draw in a significant amount of theater professionals — a testament to the festival.

The festival, created in 1998, was designed to develop new works and expose them to representatives from theaters around the country in hopes of getting them staged. Theatergoers are given the chance to view works in their developmental stages, either in readings or in more polished workshop productions with costumes, sets and lighting. Since its inception, of the 123 plays presented in the first 19 years of the festival, all have gone on to productions at theaters nationwide.

Hnath, who has won an Obie award and whose plays have been nominated for Drama Desk Awards, made his Broadway debut with “A Doll’s House Part 2,” a play picking up after Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” concludes.

The play, commissioned by South Coast Repertory, follows Nora, a Norwegian homemaker who left her husband and children. In Hnath’s play, she returns to the family home 15 years later. It’s an exploration of repercussions, the rules of society and gender.

“In our play, we meet Nora well after that awakening but she continues to surprise us and herself while our Nora goes on a very different journey,” said the play’s director Shelley Butler. “I think audiences will feel a similar devotion to her as they discover how her mind works. Audiences also come back for Nora because she has been played by a line of brilliant actresses.”

Shannon Cochran, who plays Nora, said Hnath’s play asks more, leaving the audience to come away with more questions.

“I find that this play doesn’t have a feminist agenda — it’s slightly more complicated than that,” Cochran said. “It’s more global with us asking ourselves, ‘Are we able to communicate without stepping on others’ rights and do no harm?’ ”

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The festival’s special added production, “Yoga Play,” will discuss spirituality and business.

Guha, who was born in Calcutta and raised in India, Russia and the United Kingdom, was enlisted to create an original play in the SCR CrossRoads commission, a program that immerses playwrights into the diversity of Orange County.

Yoga was part of her school curriculum in India, and she and her classmates would hold poses on concrete floors, sans rubber mats. She had never taken an American yoga class until her 10-day CrossRoads residency in 2015. She grew interested in the culture’s commercialization and the merchandising of classes, clothing and accessories.

“At the time, I was moving to California, and I saw this westward rush to peace and money,” Guha said, calling from her home in Berkeley. “It was a strange intersection.”

The play follows Joan, who has been hired to stabilize a yoga apparel line, Jojoman, after its CEO is embroiled in a fat-shaming scandal.

It’s a story that deals with the longing and finding of a home in a larger way, authenticity and what it means to be true to who you are, Guha said.

Throughout her writing process, Guha and South Coast Repertory literary staff members tried various classes at Orange County yoga studios.

Guha said she was struck by the individualistic experience, the emphasis on the athletic physicality and music sounding through speakers.

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In India, there is no chatter in class, a teacher is given the utmost respect, and the class focuses on the accuracy of breath counts.

“I’m still processing the experience here, but it seemed like an intense self-focus, and it isn’t cheap,” Guha said, adding, with a laugh, “I’ve never had such abdominal pain.”

If You Go

What: 2017 Pacific Playwrights Festival

When: April 21-23

Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Individual readings, $17; full productions, $22 to $79

Information: (714) 708-5555 and scr.org.

kathleen.luppi@latimes.com

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi


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