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Fantasy and reality collide in ‘Future Thinking’

Actors Jud Williford, Heidi Dippold, Arye Gross, Virginia Vale and Enver Gjokav in the world premiere of "Future Thinking" by Eliza Clark.
Actors Jud Williford, Heidi Dippold, Arye Gross, Virginia Vale and Enver Gjokav in the world premiere of “Future Thinking” by Eliza Clark.
(Courtesy of Ben Horak, South Coast / Daily Pilot)

In the world of theater, a playwright writes the words and the director has to make sure the complex pieces of a production — the script, actors, set, lighting and sound — are a unified whole.

Especially for playwrights who are commissioned to write for a theater, the partnership is invaluable.

Eliza Clark and director Lila Neugebauer’s longtime collaboration continues March 25 at South Coast Repertory with the world premiere of Clark’s play “Future Thinking.”

Clark and Neugebauer first met when they took a playwriting class their sophomore year at Yale University 12 years ago. Since then, Neugebauer has directed a few of Clark’s plays.

"Future Thinking" playwright Eliza Clark
(Courtesy of South Coast Repertory / Daily Pilot)

“It’s a dream to work together,” Clark said, by phone between rehearsals. “Lila is phenomenally talented and I mean that for real. She reads my writing and makes it from being nothing to something. For me, it’s a match made in heaven. I’m thrilled.”

“It is joyful and wonderfully invigorating to work with someone I’ve known this long,” Neugebauer said. “There’s an intuitive shared vocabulary, and it’s just wildly fun.”

“Future Thinking” takes place near a large comic convention, often referred to as a Comic-Con.

Indeed, the reference was inspired by the real convention held each year in San Diego that showcases video games, television show and movies that have a comic book origin or fantasy element. People typically dress as their favorite characters.

The story centers on Peter, a pet photographer and middle-age Comic-Con aficionado who has violated a restraining order placed against him by Chiara, a television star and spoiled actress. Despite the court order, Peter is determined to live happily ever after with Chiara, who in the meantime is planning to ditch her stage mom and her bodyguard.

“I was at Comic-Con International, and in that crazy world, there was this interaction with a fan — not of mine — that I found fascinating and interesting and I wanted to grasp that world, that idea of a fan mirroring that celebrity,” Clark said. “I was interested in how the relationship between a fan and a celebrity mirrors a parent and a child.”

But Clark was also moved to write the play by a seemingly incongruent element of her life — her 18-month-old child. The storyline is also about the relationship between parents and children and the distance that can often form between them, she said.

Clark, a Los Angeles-based writer, has had her plays developed at Manhattan Theatre Club and Page 73 Productions in Brooklyn, N.Y., among several other venues.

She has also written for television, including “Extant,” produced by Steven Spielberg on CBS, and AMC’s “Rubicon.” She is in the process of developing Margaret Atwood’s “MaddAddam” trilogy with Darren Aronofsky for HBO.

Neugebauer, a New York-based director, has directed at theaters across the country, including the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Arts Nova Theater and off-Broadway at the Signature Theater in Virginia, where she earned a Drama Desk nomination for her work on “The Wayside Motor Inn.”

During their six-week hands-on experience at South Coast Repertory, Clark and Neugebauer made set design changes, finding the Segerstrom Stage at South Coast Rep too large for some of the more intimate scenes of the play.

Clark and Neugebauer said they are thrilled to be working with a cast that includes actors Heidi Dippold, Enver Gjokaj, Arye Gross, Virginia Vale and Jud Williford, who have a number of television and theater credits.

Dippold is returning to SCR after appearing in the world premiere of “Smokefall,” as is Vale, who played in “The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois.” Gross, whose SCR credits include “Our Mother’s Brief Affair” and “Brooklyn Boy,” currently plays Dr. Sidney Perlmutter on ABC’s “Castle.”

Williford played in the first two national tours of “Wicked,” and Gjokaj had roles in “The Walking Dead” and “The Avengers.”

As for what Clark and Neugebauer hope theatergoers get from “Future Thinking,” the two leave that up to the imagination, but they do want it to prompt a discussion.

“I’m always reticent to prescribe any desired feeling because they can be varied,” Neugebauer said. “But my hope would be people will want to call their kid or parent and have an honest conversation.”

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IF YOU GO

What: “Future Thinking”

When: March 25 to April 24; show times vary

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

Cost: Tickets start at $22

Information: (714) 708-5555 or visit scr.org


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