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South Coast's Mr. Versatility

John Glore's many talents find good use with the company: as playwright, literary manager and dramaturge.

May 23, 1999|JAN BRESLAUER | Jan Breslauer is a regular contributor to Calendar

Depending on how you look at it, John Glore is either in a great place, or a bind. He has a dual career in the theater, as a playwright and a literary manager-dramaturge for South Coast Repertory. But those two roles could as easily conflict as complement each other.

"There are ways in which it feeds me, and certainly I feel well-nourished by my dramaturge's knowledge of the great plays," he says. "But there's a lot of creative energy that goes into being a good dramaturge. And to the extent that I spend that creative energy on someone else's play, I'm not spending it on something I could be working on. I've just learned to live with the good and the bad of that situation."

Glore's latest play, "On the Jump," premieres at South Coast on Friday, directed by Mark Rucker. The production, along with nine workshops and nine staged readings of other artists' work, make up the company's second annual Pacific Playwrights Festival, which runs June 10-20.

Clearly, one advantage of being a dramaturge is that you're familiar with a range of theatrical styles, which might help account for the versatility of tone in Glore's previous plays produced at South Coast. "The Company of Heaven" (1993) was an exploration of the nature of spirituality in a material age, as seen through the experiences of two strangers who have separate otherworldly visions on the same quiet night in the English countryside. His 1997 adaptation, with Culture Clash, of Aristophanes' "The Birds," updated the classic to present-day California and turned it into a fractured satire.

"John allows his material to determine the voice, the way that Kubrick did in his films," says Glore's South Coast colleague, dramaturge Jerry Patch. Still, as a literary manager-dramaturge, Glore does see a common thread through his own work. "It seems like everything that I write about in one way or another deals with the sense of loss that's inevitable in life," he suggests, "and the various ways we've concocted to try to fight that inevitability."


"On the Jump" focuses on a woman who is robbed and abandoned on her wedding night--by the man she's just married. Down and out, she finds a bridge and thinks about ending it all. But forces intervene to prevent her suicide, and she is cast on a course of redemption and adventure.

The tale is taken from an unproduced screenplay by Glore's wife, Amy Dunkleberger. "She wrote it in the late '80s, and it was always my favorite of her stories," says the congenial writer, 43, seated in a coffee house near his Silver Lake home. "Part of my original impulse was to try to rescue a story that I loved. But if it had only been that, I never would have gotten anywhere."

What attracted Glore was the story's refreshing lack of cynicism. "I was exhausted with Postmodernism and irony and was just ready to work on something that would be fun, that would be about telling a good story," he says. "Whatever I may believe about the serious potential of the theater--and I do believe that theater has the potential to illuminate human experience--I also fundamentally believe that it's meant to be a place to have fun. It's about playing."

Inspired by films from the early part of the century, the plot embodies a kind of optimism rare in contemporary writing, which Glore finds appealing. "I basically have an optimistic worldview, which is perhaps partly because it's never been seriously challenged in my personal life," he says.

"Fundamentally, I do embrace a feeling, not necessarily that things happen for a reason, but that you have to be patient, and that eventually you will end up where you need to be, if you respond in the right way to the challenges and opportunities that come your way."

"And that's essentially what the main character has to do," he continues. "She endures this long chain of hardships and challenges and doesn't let them defeat her, and then ultimately realizes that they led her to where she needed to be."

Once he began working on a stage version of the story, around 1994, Glore also started to see its resemblance to one of his favorite theatrical genres--the romance. "I began to notice the similarities it had, not just to those old movies, but also to great plays that I love," he says. "I love the Shakespearean romances, and the sense of fatalism and optimism and hope that is contained in those plays."

"This play's subtitled 'A Romance.' It's a fairy tale. It's a play in which unexpected, almost magical things happen, and in which a character seems to have died and then returned from death, which is a common story element in those plays. So [the Shakespearean romance] became a model that I could look to, to remind myself that greater playwrights than I have felt that they could indulge themselves with these kinds of stories."


Admittedly, Glore knows Shakespearean romance better than many playwrights. A theater and literature major at Reed College in Portland, Ore., he went on to study dramaturgy at the Yale School of Drama, graduating in 1981.

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