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CalRep Kicks Off 2011-12 Season

Published: September 15, 2011

CSULB’s California Repertory Company (CalRep), since 1989 among the foremost educational theatre institutions in Southern California, returns this fall with a season of four plays dealing with personal and political exploration.

The company, comprised of graduate students, faculty and staff from CSULB’s Theatre Arts Department, will perform “The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer” by Carson Kreitzer, Sept. 23-Oct. 15; “Louis Slotin Sonata” by Paul Mullin, Nov. 18-Dec. 10; “Quills” by Doug Wright, Feb. 17-March 10, 2012; and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” by Tom Stoppard April 20-May 12, 2012. Cal Rep has taken up residence in the Royal Theatre aboard the retired luxury liner Queen Mary.

This year’s theme quotes from TS Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding”: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

“This expresses what I have experienced in 23 years at CSULB and as chair of Theater Arts,” said Joanne Gordon, artistic director of Cal Rep. “It expresses the need to create, to renew and to make something unique. These are the basic tenets of Cal Rep. Our four plays this season do exactly that, exploring new issues and returning to perennial concerns.”

The poetic connection links the season’s first offering with Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

“‘The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer’ is a wonderful play I have been looking at for several years,” explained Gordon. “Most people are familiar with the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who went from leading the Manhattan Project to being persecuted and demonized as a communist sympathizer during the blacklist. While a previous play, ‘In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,’ was based on the physicist’s trial transcript, this is a more fanciful piece. It deals with the power of creation versus the power of destructive impulses. It has to do with going into a new field where you don’t know where what you find will take you.

“It posses all the qualities of a Cal Rep play,” added Gordon, who directs “Oppenheimer.” “It is both theatrical and political. It deals with the most fundamental of issues, life and death, creation and art, but in a highly entertaining and theatrical way.”

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In “Louis Slotin Sonata” by Paul Mullin, the play examines one of the earliest victims of a nuclear accident in the person of a real-life Manhattan Project scientist exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. “Both plays are set in the same time period and both are very theatrical and non realistic,” she explained. “Both plays deal with the theme of ‘daring to disturb the universe’.”

“Quills” by Doug Wright arrives in February with its message of resistance to censorship as demonstrated by the infamous Marquis De Sade and his imprisonment following the French Revolution. “This play fulfills the mission of the department and goes well with the B Word Project, an examination this year on campus of censorship in our and other societies,” said Gordon. “This play examines how far censorship will go and far an artist will go to retain artistic freedom.”

The season concludes with Tom Stoppard’s comedy “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” which follows two minor characters as they wander through Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

“This is a perennial favorite that offers upbeat humor about two characters who must watch all the traumatic action of ‘Hamlet’ the same way 21st century Americans must watch events today,” said Gordon. “Like these two characters in the play we seem to have no input or control over the events that shape our world. This is an incredibly contemporary play.”

Gordon feels one key to the company’s success is its momentum. “We have a lovely venue on the Queen Mary and the company continues to receive rave reviews and good audiences,” she said. “I feel extremely proud of how the company is able to support challenging theatrical art.”

Gordon encourages the local community to take advantage of the Cal Rep season. “For the price of a movie, they can see live theater accompanied by an extraordinary design and fabulous acting,” she said. “Cal Rep’s cast is composed of returning theatrical professionals with substantial credits. The local community can see theater here that they cannot find anywhere else. It is not the standard escapist fare but real, challenging, provocative and interesting. This is an intellectually stimulating company doing work no one else does. Nowhere else, certainly not in the South Bay or Los Angeles, will audiences find this kind of theatre.”

–Richard Manly