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Artistic Insight on the Outside

Creative Process Is Exposed in a Plein-Air Production of 'Sunday in the Park With George'

August 15, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Is art really necessary in our lives? For a clue to the answer, check out two coincidentally connected attractions at the Festival of the Arts in Laguna Beach: the Pageant of the Masters' live tableau representations of great art works and Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park With George" at the Forum Theatre.

"Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," Georges Seurat's masterpiece, is one of the Pageant's several "builders," or, tableaux assembled person-by-person so the audience can see how they come together.

At matinees during the pageant (and evenings after the pageant closes), audiences also can watch Seurat's painting materialize as part of Sondheim's musical. It's a mostly fictional account of the painter's struggle to bring the work into being and of its repercussions in the art world over the past 100 years.

George Quick, who is directing this production by his Music Theatre Company, says the juxtaposition of the play with the pageant was coincidental. The troupe already had selected the play but, having left the Grove Theatre Center after a couple of seasons, was looking for a new venue. Someone on the festival board suggested the Forum.

Quick sees this as a fortunate development: Now, he notes, people who come for the live reproductions of artworks also can see a play about creating an artwork and what that does to a person and the choices people make.

"That's the essence," he says, "of what the festival is about. The audience can gain more insight in this context. You can't come away without a huge impression about the importance of art in our lives.

"It's a critical time for art in this culture, in this country, and probably will be for some time. This kind of thing can only help people realize that art is not something to be shunted aside. It's an essential part of our lives, not a luxury. We're not human beings without art. Why do we write? Why do we paint? Why do we do all of these things? It's what makes us human. It's the expression of our spirit, who we really are."

Quick's Music Theatre Company has gained a reputation for its small-scale productions of musicals, many of which were blown up in size for Broadway. A small, young company, MTC is trying to specialize in immediate, intimate chamber pieces, he says. Audiences, Quick says, have come to expect this approach, to be able to register the faces of the performers and really see what's happening on stage, instead of watching spectacle.

"Sunday in the Park" originally was staged at New York's Playwrights Horizon, a 150-seat theater, and Quick is confident that the show--like MTC's production of "Man of La Mancha" last year at the Grove--will communicate better in its natural size.

"Most musical theater, when it is allowed to be small and intimate and immediate for the audience, suddenly becomes real theater where people just happen to be singing, instead of 'Aw, shucks, it's musical theater.' That's the kind of stuff we're interested in doing, what drew us to this piece. Even though people think of 'Sunday in the Park' as a huge undertaking, in some respects it sits in the palm of your hand."

* What: "Sunday in the Park With George."

* When: Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 31; Aug. 28 at 2 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 7 p.m., Sept. 1 through 15.

* Where: The Festival of the Arts Forum Theatre, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway or the Santa Ana (5) Freeway to the Laguna (133) Freeway and head west; the freeway will turn into Laguna Canyon Road. Or take the Pacific Coast Highway to Laguna Canyon Road and go east.

* Wherewithal: $20-$26. Children under 4 not admitted.

* Where to call: (714) 957-8587.

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