Notable actors headline play readings at Malibu Stage Co.

Bruce McGill, left, and Don Most rehearse "A Walk in the Woods" by Lee Blessing, directed by Oren Safdie. Heather O'Quinn / TMT

The series of readings will consist of a mix of new plays along with a world premiere and an American premiere.

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

Veteran actors will take to the stage starting this weekend at Malibu Stage Co. as the organization presents its first ever play reading festival. The event is designed to raise both funds and awareness of the theater as the organization looks to develop a full season of plays.

The series will consist of consecutive Saturday performances with a mix of new plays as well as a world premiere of one play and the American premiere of another. Malibu Stage Co. board member and local playwright Oren Safdie said the series was initially concocted as a way for the theater’s artistic board to see plays and consider them for future seasons. Then the decision was made to enlist the talent of acclaimed actors and open it up to the public.

Safdie will direct veteran actors Bruce McGill and Don Most as they bring to life a reading of the Pulitzer Prize nominated “A Walk in the Woods” by Lee Blessing. The story revolves around an American negotiator (played by Most) and a Russian diplomat (McGill) as they attempt to reach an arms agreement by casually talking during a walk.

“This play I thought was very topical,” Safdie said. “Even though it was set during the Cold War, there’s something about these two negotiators that go on pretty much all the time.”

Safdie said it is a way to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of two negotiators with very different backgrounds and how they approach their occupation and relationship.

“I think it’s really fresh, too, in the way [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is taking Russia,” McGill said. “It has a whole new relevance. It’s a fascinating examination from one guy’s point of view of the national character of Russians and Americans.”

“The flow of the piece is extremely well written and it affords two actors a great opportunity to have some fun,” Most added.

Safdie also said the Malibu Stage Co.’s physical space is conducive to such a performance and to the other plays that were chosen for the play readings. He said the space looks like a 250-seat theater even though it has only 99 seats, and it makes for a more intimate setting for the audience and performers.

“In a 1,600 seat house it’s a whole different deal,” McGill, who has a stage background and was a member of several professional acting companies, said. “In a house like this, you can use any part of your voice. You can be honest. You don’t have the responsibility to project [your voice]. It’s a great theater.”

(McGill played D-Day in the film “Animal House” and has appeared in more than 20 television shows and nearly 80 films including “Courage Under Fire,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and “Runaway Jury.” He just completed production on the film “Cinderella Man” with Russell Crowe and RenĂ©e Zellweger, directed by Ron Howard.)

Most, who may be best known as Ralph Malph from the television series “Happy Days” that ran from 1974-1980, and has also guest starred in numerous television shows from “The Love Boat” to “Star Trek,” as well as worked in a number of films, has directed productions in the past at Malibu Stage Co. He said the space was an excellent venue to try out new productions and illustrated the point by saying Safdie had premiered the play “Private Jokes, Public Places” in Malibu that later went to New York and received rave reviews.

Safdie’s latest playwriting endeavor, “Frank Barth,” will also premiere at the festival readings with Ed Asner in the title role. Safdie said the play is semi-autobiographical and is taken from his days as a personal assistant to an aging writer chasing his dream of theatrical recognition.

McGill and Most agreed that it is important for film and television actors to return to the stage and to a setting that requires a different technique than work in front of the camera.

“Sometimes film and television actors like to get their hands on something that brings you back to the basics,” Safdie said.

“To revisit those muscles is different,” McGill said, who did his last stage performance of “Henry IV” at The Kennedy Center in the mid-1980s. “You have to think how to breathe and what to eat before the shows and all those things came back again and I got very excited.”

Malibu Stage Co. President and co-founder Jacqueline Bridgeman said the company desired to attract name talent to garner the attention of more Malibu locals and remind them of the wealth of talent and productions that are available here without having to travel outside the city.

“It is without a doubt the most beautiful, elegant 99-seat theatre in America,” Bridgeman said. “We are getting a devoted audience and the people that come are very impressed. We have people coming all the way from Monrovia just because they love our theatre.”

The play readings will begin this Saturday, 8 p.m., with the American premiere of “Darwin in Malibu” by Crispin Whittell and will run through Feb. 5. A $10 donation is suggested and reservations are advised. Malibu Stage Co. is located at 29243 Pacific Coast Highway and tickets can be reserved by calling 310.589.1998.