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THEATER : AT HOME IN THIS 'BERG : Playwright Cecilia Fannon Prepares for a World Premiere in Her Own Back Yard

October 13, 1994|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a member of the Times Orange County Edition staff.

Mariners have long reported green icebergs in northern waters, but scientists for years re garded the sightings as illusory, perhaps a trick of reflection.

They were wrong.

"Green icebergs exist," Cecilia Fannon said. "In fact, they are . . . a very brilliant, emerald green. And, they're very rare."

The Newport Beach resident, interviewed last week, was explaining the metaphor behind the title of her new play, "Green Icebergs," which starts a week of previews Friday on SCR's Mainstage before its world premiere Oct. 21.

Some icebergs absorb plankton and other marine life. The accumulating weight can actually change an iceberg's balance and tilt it, exposing the green that was below the water.

"It doesn't happen to all icebergs--they say one in 100, maybe one in 200," Fannon said, adding that the process mirrors what happens to the two couples in her play. "They undergo this--well, I guess we could call it a sea change--and in a way are capsized and their lives are turned upside-down."

Fannon's own life, if it hasn't been turned quite upside-down, has undergone a sea change of its own in recent months. After writing five full-length plays in five years without a production, the sixth has gone from birth to boards in less than a year.

That process has involved seven drafts, two full readings and, now, all the last-minute trims and changes that come during the rehearsal process for a new play.

"It's wonderful. It's overwhelming sometimes," Fannon said in an interview in the theater's lobby. "It even impresses me that this whole lavish production stems from something on a written page."

Fannon was a free-lance technical writer 10 years ago when she moved to Newport Beach, and soon thereafter found some success in writing for television. Other aspects of her writing career, however, have required more patience. Two novels generated interest among publishers but remain unpublished; a major production company has contacted her about a screenplay she wrote, but she has seen no option money yet. Now, after previous plays performed well in competition, one is actually being produced.

"I think 10 years ago, I expected to be a produced screenwriter (immediately). . . . Absolutely, I would have thought, I deserve this," Fannon said. "Ten years later, I feel, 'Wow, this is really cool,' because now I can actually enjoy it, and it's less a matter of deserving."

*

At an afternoon rehearsal for "Green Icebergs," 10 days before the previews, Fannon watched intently, with one hand supporting her chin, and a script open before her.

"We're in the third week of rehearsals," said the director, David Emmes, during a brief break, adding that the actors are "just coming off the book"--meaning they can go through the scenes without their scripts.

Fannon is on hand to clarify any aspect of the script that may seem murky to the actors, and to smooth the play's edges with a line change here and there when necessary. Scenes may be revised all the way through previews.

"Just last weekend I took off, because I think there comes a time when you have to back off," Fannon said after the rehearsal. "I absented myself, and the end result was when I got home Sunday . . . there were 12 calls on the machine. So, I guess they were not weaned."

For world premieres, SCR usually brings in a playwright for the first and the final weeks of rehearsal. But because Fannon lives nearby, she has not only been available all through rehearsal, but has also through the long development process.

"I think it was an added benefit to have Cecilia in the neighborhood, if you will," Emmes said in a separate interview. "That was certainly helpful, to be able to meet from time to time and talk. It's been a very positive process, just to see the play continue to grow."

For the actors, as well, having the playwright on hand is an added resource.

"I really enjoy it. Because they're there, they can help clear things up," said Nike Doukas, who plays Veronica, a writer and one of five main characters in in the play. "When you're working on a play that's been done 15 times or 115 times or 1,015 times, you tend to just accept that this is the way it's done and you work through it. . . . When you know it's the first time, there are things that might not quite work or need some smoothing out."

Robb Curtis-Brown, who plays Claude (another of the leads), agrees.

"It's what I like about new plays, actually, is that they're still flexible. It's still in motion," said Curtis-Brown, who also performed in Richard Greenberg's "Night and Her Stars," another SCR premiere last year. "It's actually working really wonderfully. Cecilia has a real strong sense of what she wants."

Added Doukas: "She's really easygoing and very receptive. I get the sense from her that's she's enjoying hearing her play spoken by actors. I've always felt that playwrights get a charge seeing their words come off the page."

The admiration is a two-way street.

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