COSTA MESA — A melting pot is fine if you're whipping up fondue. But asa way to mingle people of diverse cultures and values, well, the pot is basically a crock.
That's the way Burger, the quintessential California surfer, sees things in "Finding Home," South Coast Repertory's 1994 Educational Touring Production. Written by Michael Bigelow Dixon and SCR dramaturge Jerry Patch with music by Diane King Vann, "Finding Home" takes Burger's struggle to fit into an unfamiliar culture without sacrificing his own identity, and uses it as a parable to acquaint children with the challenges faced by local immigrants.
"Finding Home," which is intended for kindergarten through sixth-graders, recently began a four-month tour of Southland schools backed by a grant from the Mervyn's/Dayton-Hudson Foundation, underwriter of the Touring Project for the past 15 years. Two free performances for the public are scheduled: Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. on the SCR Mainstage and April 30 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center as part of the annual Imagination Celebration. For Tuesday's show, reservations are suggested.
The musical premiered in 1984 and has been touted by SCR officials as the most talked-about show in the Touring Project's 25-year history. The primary reason, they say, is that until "Finding Home," the touring shows centered on larger, external themes and issues such as communication, fitness and the computer age, and this show turned the focus inward, exploring the impact of immigration on a young person's emotions. Such subsequent shows as "Face 2 Face," which examined peer pressure, and last year's "My Mom's Dad," a musical study in intergenerational strife, continued the trend.
According to Patch (co-author Dixon, a former literary staff member who left SCR in the mid-'80s, was not involved in the revisions), the current version of "Finding Home" differs only slightly from the original: A new song was written for the finale, the musical style was funkified here and there, and the dialogue was fine-tuned to keep up with current jargon. And yes, in case you remember the original and were wondering about them, those wacky vegetable hats are still there, although designer Dwight Richard Odle has broadened the we-are-all-growing-in-the-same-garden theme with the addition of more diverse wearable flora.
In the 45-minute show, Burger rides a monster wave to the unknown and not entirely welcoming shores of Aboland, where he must navigate language, rituals and customs that are, like, totally foreign. And, because the natives are big on conformity, Burger ultimately must decide whether he will jump into the official Aboland melting pot or hang on to his own surfer dude identity.
As Patch points out, the subject of immigration and assimilation is more of a headline-maker today as it was in the early '80s. According to census figures compiled by the County of Orange Department of Immigration, more than 63,000 documented foreign-born residents entered the county between 1982 and 1984, while more than 122,000 entered between 1987 and 1990.
"Finding Home" has been directed by John-David Keller, the SCR resident actor and director who has been staging the touring shows for 23 years, and it features four professional actors.
Keller said "Finding Home" is less about immigration \o7 per se\f7 as it is about values of tolerance between people of all ages and cultures. "If we can express to children of elementary-school age a message of tolerance for people who are different, then we are hitting the right note at the right age," he said. "The basic message is that various cultures can exist harmoniously together, rather than just be assimilated into our culture.
He paused, then added with a laugh, "Whatever that is."
As a companion project to "Finding Home" in 1984, SCR released "Second Lives," a book of interviews with recent immigrants, most of them Asian or Hispanic. Before Tuesday's show, two of those interviewees, Chu (Vu) Collins and Mouachou Mounanoutoua, Laotians now employed as county social workers, will conduct a seminar, along with a representative from the Orange County Human Relations Commission, an elementary school principal and Keller.
\o7 * "Finding Home," South Coast Repertory's 1994 Educational Touring Production, will be performed Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. on the SCR Mainstage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Also April 30 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, as part of the annual Imagination Celebration. Both performances will be free. For reservations for Tuesday's show, call (714) 957-2602. \f7