Malibu Stage Co. play readings offer eclectic slate

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The company’s regular season will open on April 14 with the comedy “Life x 3” written by Yasmina Reza, award-winning playwright of “Art.”

By Ryan O’Quinn / Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Stage Co. play reading series is in full swing and is gearing up for another full season of plays. This week’s presentation of “In the Shade of the Lemon Tree” by Patrick Cunningham is the second in a series of four that will run on consecutive Saturday evenings through March 18.

Local playwright and Malibu Stage Co. board member Oren Safdie noted that this year’s play reading series will be a mixture of new plays, classics and, as usual, will include celebrity performances.

Safdie said the series started last year as a way for the company’s artistic board to hear plays and consider them for production during the regular play season. The decision was also made to open the readings to the public and enlist the talent of acclaimed actors.

Last week’s first installment in the series featured Malibu author, producer and playwright Robert Ahola’s “Judas Agonistes.” The play revolves around a young man who has been institutionalized after he is convinced that he is the reincarnation of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.

This Saturday night the reading will be the first public reading of “In the Shade of the Lemon Tree.” Playwright Cunningham said the concept is one that has been with him since a trip to Peru in 1958. This is Cunningham’s first full length play.

“Patrick was a real swashbuckler and world traveler and definitely quite a character,” Safdie said. “He wrote a play very quickly and I was quite amazed. I thought it really flowed well and the actors that were cast are all very taken by it.”

“I was a great fan of Hemmingway and in the back of ‘Death in the Afternoon’ he extols the bullfighting capabilities and the virtue of a guy named Sidney Franklin, who was probably America’s first bullfighter,” Cunningham said. “I was going to USC at the time and I got interested in bullfighting. One time I decided I’d like to write about this so I wrote Franklin and he said come on over (to Seville, Spain). So I went over there and one thing led to another.”

Through a series of right- place, right-time events, and what he described as pure luck, Cunningham met many of the famous Spanish bullfighters and learned the basics of the sport. Cunningham received notoriety as an amateur bullfighter during his time in Spain.

Cunningham also traveled around the world and enjoyed various successful careers before finally moving to Santa Monica.

“I went down to the Amazon in ’58 and went to Lima first,” Cunningham said. “The trip consisted of going to the top of the Andes at 17,000 feet and then you’re on your own. You have to get down to a river that is the border between Brazil and Peru. Down there, it’s a very primitive area with very primitive people. While I was in Lima, I read a story way back in the dungeon regions of this [Peruvian] newspaper.”

The story revolved around a local man who had predicted the date of his own death and the townspeople’s reactions to the proclamation. Cunningham’s story is set in Mexico and is loosely based on the story he read in the Peruvian newspaper nearly 50 years ago.

“You know life is timing. [This reading] is a great boon for me,” Cunningham said. “The best thing you get out of a reading is you learn a lot. The actors bring life to it and you see that this line works and this one doesn’t. I’m going to get more out of this than anybody.”

On March 11, veteran actress Katharine Ross (“The Graduate”) will be one of the readers of the award-winning play “Lettice and Lovage” by Peter Shaffer.

The play reading series will end on March 18 with the dramatic comedy “Do Not Go Gentle” by Sol Saks. The story centers on the point of view of an elderly woman who is placed in an old person’s home. Saks is a writer and producer best known for creating the television series “Bewitched.”

Safdie said the Malibu Stage Co. regular season will open on April 14 with the comedy “Life x 3” written by Yasmina Reza, award-winning playwright of “Art.”

Tickets for the play reading series are $10. The Malibu Stage Co. is located at 29243 PCH. Performances begin at 8 p.m. More information on the play reading series or the full season can be obtained by calling 310.589.1998