Malibu Stage Co. presents summer season

Daniel J. Travanti will star in "The Last Word …" a play by Oren Safdie.

The theater company kicks off its summer season with an Oren Safdie play.

By Ryan O’Quinn/ Special to The Malibu Times

Local playwright Oren Safdie is teaming up with the Malibu Stage Co. once again to present a world premiere play. The company’s summer season will feature three plays and will kick off July 9 with Safdie’s latest work, “The Last Word …”

The Malibu theatre has been a good omen for Safdie in the past. His last full-length play, “Private Jokes, Public Places,” premiered here and moved on to Broadway where it received rave reviews.

“The Last Word…” is the final product in play form of his well-received staged reading of “Frank Barth” that premiered at Malibu Stage Co. in February with Ed Asner in the title role. Veteran actor Daniel J. Travanti will be assuming the character of the playwright in this rendition while Peter Smith returns as the playwright’s assistant in the two-man show that was a crowd pleaser during the theater’s play reading series.

“When I was at Columbia University I got a job working as an assistant to an elderly Viennese playwright,” Safdie said, telling the story of how the play came to be. “He really left an impression on me and had this great sense of optimism.”

The story revolves around an aged retired advertising executive struggling to succeed as a playwright. The play is set in the present day and follows the course of a New York University undergraduate applying for the job of personal assistant to the playwright and their roller coaster conversations that range from the Holocaust to girlfriends. Safdie said the playwright about whom the story is based is 97 years old and still takes the subway daily to his office in Greenwich Village.

“It’s pretty amazing seeing it come to life and seeing these two great actors do this,” said M.J. Kang, assistant director and Safdie’s wife. “They’ve been off book since day one and the actors are able to build so many layers [to the characters].”

Travanti, a two-time Emmy and Golden Globe winner for TV’s “Hill Street Blues,” said he was drawn to the script after the first reading.

“The big difference between film and theater is simple,” Travanti said in an interview last week. “In theater, the material and high quality is the first intent. I’m doing theater because the material is good.”

Smith and Travanti had worked together previously at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and Smith suggested Travanti for the role. They sent the script to Travanti who temporarily relocated to Los Angeles from Lake Forest, Illinois to play the role.

Smith also recently relocated to Los Angeles from New York and said the timing was right following a few years of commuting for pilot season. “It’s hard to ignore L.A. if you actually want to make a living in this business,” Smith said.

Safdie’s words and the experience of two great actors turn a play about a job interview into a poignant, often comical journey of two very different generations from opposing points of view coming together and teaching each other through the course of general conversation.

“The person about whom Daniel’s character is based had a lot of ups and downs,” Safdie said. “I always end up befriending elderly people for some reason. I think that’s my link to the past.”

Safdie, Kang and the actors will have had about three and a half weeks of rehearsal when the play opens and the play will have a four-weekend run. Safdie said this rehearsal process was different from the original play reading because the audience at a reading tends to be a little more forgiving.

“Just being at these rehearsals makes you enjoy life and even look forward to aging,” Kang said. “Oren is so great because of what he’s been able to do with respect to the older generation. You can learn so much from these characters and how rich they are.”

“The Last Word…” will preview July 7 and 8 and opens July 9. It will run Thursdays through Sundays until July 31.

The Malibu Stage Co.’s summer season also includes George Bernard Shaw’s “Candida,” directed by former associate director of San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, Brendon Fox, which opens Aug. 12 and runs through Sept. 4, and Craig Lucas’ 1984 comedy-drama “Reckless,” directed by Donald Reiker, opening Sept. 30.

The Malibu Stage Co. theater is located at 29243 Pacific Coast Highway and tickets can be reserved by calling 310.589.1998. Tickets are $25. A discount of 20 percent is offered to subscribers of all three plays.