Architecture and sexual politics


    A universal theme will play itself out in Malibu starting this week: The power play between women and men, student and professor, and between professionals.

    “Private Jokes, Public Places,” by Canadian playwright Oren Safdie, debuts this week at The Malibu Stage Company. The setting is the world of architecture.

    Safdie has an intimate knowledge of this world–his father is Moshdie Safdie, the architect who designed Habitat for Montreal’s Expo 76, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and the Vancouver Library. And Safdie, who was born in Montreal, was headed toward his father’s profession as well. That is, until he decided to turn to playwriting. During college, he took a playwriting course as an option. That option replaced a career in architecture, and set him on a new one.

    His new passion brought him to New York where his off-Broadway play, “Jews and Jesus,” was produced. Safdie ventured into film and TV, writing a pilot for Castle Rock/CBS and the screenplay for “You Can Thank Me Later,” starring Ellyn Burstyn and Amanda Plummer, and has a new film in production, “De Facto,” to be directed by Jacques Fansten and produced by Denis Heroux (Academy Award nominee for “Alantic City”).

    Safdie approached Jacqueline Bridgeman, board member of the Stage Co., about “Private Jokes” while in town pitching film and TV ideas to studios.

    “I would go anywhere anyone wants to produce me,” said Safdie, whose one goal is to make more of a dent in the film and TV world–for financial as well as creative reasons. He recently moved here from New York.

    “It’s kind of necessary,” said Safdie. “I will always go back to New York, [but the] agents are here, and more film and TV.”

    A very in-demand director, Craig Carlisle, is directing the play. Carlisle currently has three plays running, while preparing for the opening of “Private Jokes, Public Places.”

    Safdie said the two know each other from New York. Safdie’s wife, M.J. Kang, plays the female student, Margaret. Fritz Michel, Rod McLachlan and Geoffrey Wade play the professors.

    “In some ways [the play] is about architecture,” said Safdie, explaining the story. However, the underlying tones are the sexual politics involved between the mentors and female students “on a very primitive level–the male jockeying for position with the female. The architecture jury is the surface.”

    Safdie said he did see this type of thing during his three years at architecture school.

    In the play, architect student Margaret is presenting her final thesis to some “super star” architects. “Then there’s her teacher, who it’s hinted she’s having an affair with,” explains Safdie, about the complicated ego/gender struggles involved. The architects and Margaret try to one-up each other as they go over her design of a modern urban swimming pool and “a pool is no longer just a pool,” described in a press release about the play.

    The story could happen just between males, said Safdie, but to maximize the drama he chose to make the student a female.

    “Women are now at least 50 percent in architectural schools,” he said, though, there are not many famous women architects.

    “It’s changing,” he said. “It’s kind of about that. This young student rises above that in some ways. It’s a commentary on the old guard and the new guard, or the changing of the guard.”

    Previews are Oct. 9-11 at 8 p.m. A benefit performance party opens the play on Friday at 8 p.m., with a buffet provided by Monroe’s and dancing to a jazz trio after the play.

    More information and tickets can be obtained by calling 310.589.1998.