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Rewriting History : 'Orange Trees,' South Coast Repertory Children's Play, Is Reborn

November 10, 1988|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Times Staff Writer

"Orange Trees," a South Coast Repertory Theatre children's play about Orange County history, is starting to build a history of its own.

Commissioned by the Costa Mesa theater in 1976, the musical by Doris Baizley and Diane King toured local schools in 1976 and '77. The play, updated with new scenes and new songs, returned to county schools in 1986 and '87.

Now it comes to the Orange County Performing Arts Center's Founders Hall in a production by SCR's Young Conservatory Players, and director Diane Doyle has brought in a whole new set of changes.

"I took the thing and messed with it some more," Doyle says. Essentially, she has turned the play around: While last year it started with the first Mass at Mission San Juan Capistrano (in 1776) and ended with modern-day gridlock, it now begins with the traffic jam and works backward in time.

"I'm having a blast trying to make the play work backwards," Doyle says. As assistant director of last year's touring production, she saw that a new show-closing musical number, "Gridlock," got the biggest response from audiences.

So now the show opens and closes with the song, with the five youngest cast members enacting a traffic jam with bicycles, skateboards and a Big Wheel. "I'm relating to their little lives," says Doyle. "They're caught in gridlock, and they can't figure out how they got there."

That sets the stage for a fanciful retelling of events in county history, including a horse race from the days of the Spanish ranchos, and pioneer aviator Glenn Martin's record-breaking 1912 flight from Newport Beach to Catalina. There is also a scene, set in 1835, from Richard Henry Dana's book "Two Years Before the Mast."

"I think it will make them understand that something was here before 1980," Doyle says. "Each kid is a part of history." The play was revived to help mark Orange County's celebration of its founding in 1889.

In past productions, the musical's many roles were shared among five adult actors. Now there are 15 cast members: five child and five teen-age members of the Young Conservatory Players and five members of the adult conservatory. In another change, the action now takes place on a stage-size map of the county.

Doyle started teaching classes in the Young Conservatory 14 years ago and has directed the program for 9 years. The conservatory provides acting training to people ages 8 to 17. After 3 years of training, students are eligible to join the Young Conservatory Players.

"It really gives the kids incredible skills," Doyle says, not only in acting but in building the confidence to deal effectively with life in general.

Also, says Doyle, "they're allowed to be silly." And that goes for adults, too: "That's what I like about this job. I don't have to be a grown-up."

"Orange Trees" by Doris Baizley and Diane King will be performed in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Nov. 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 1 and 3:30 p.m.; Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. For ticket information, call (714) 957-4033. The South Coast Repertory Young Conservatory Players season will continue in 1989 with James Thurber's "Many Moons," March 4-12, and with the premiere of John Glore's "Folktales Too," May 6-14.

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