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Theater Notebook: Herbert Siguenza’s ‘Grand Master Funk’ finds a new home in Cygnet’s ‘Finish Line’ series

Playwright Herbert Siguenza.
Playwright Herbert Siguenza’s play “Grand Master Funk” will be presented as part of Cygnet Theatre’s 2022 Finish Line Commission new play readings Oct. 29-30.
(Nancee E. Lewis/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Also this week: the Old Globe’s Justin Waldman is leaving to lead a New Jersey theater and North Coast Rep’s David Ellenstein is helping out Laguna Playhouse

When San Diego Repertory Theatre abruptly suspended operations in June, one of the upcoming world premiere plays on its then-in-progress season — Herbert Siguenza’s “Grand Master Funk” — was left without a home.

Fortunately, the sci-fi fantasy by the Rep’s former playwright-in-residence has found new life as the centerpiece of Cygnet Theatre’s 2022 Bill and Judy Garrett Finish Line Commission, a program of three workshops and public play readings taking place on Oct. 29 and 30 at Cygnet’s Old Town Theatre.

“Grand Master Funk” will be presented at 7 p.m. Oct. 29. Also featured are Preston Choi’s “You Will Get Used to It” at 2 p.m. Oct. 29 and Ankita Raturi’s “No One Plays Badminton in America” at 2 p.m. Oct. 30. This is the first time the series has reopened to the public since the pandemic began.

Now in its sixth year and administered by Cygnet associate artistic director Rob Lutfy, the Finish Line commission series was the testing ground for two plays that will make their world premieres at Cygnet in 2023: Keiko Green’s “Sharon” and Kate Hamill’s “The Little Fellow (or The Queen of Tarts Tells All).”

The series is now presented in partnership with UC San Diego’s MFA Playwriting Program, which launched in 2020. Each year, one or two UCSD MFA playwrights are given a commission at Cygnet, which includes a weeklong workshop for their play, a public reading with public talk-backs, financial support, housing and transportation during the week and potential consideration for a world premiere production at Cygnet. Each year, the students’ work — in this year’s case, Choi and Raturi — is paired with that of a nationally known playwright like Siguenza.

“Grand Master Funk” had its first local public reading at the Rep’s 2021 San Diego Jewish Arts Festival and was scheduled for a full production last month at the Rep. It’s about famed science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov, who in his dying days is visited by an Afrofuturist space traveler who asks Asimov to write a final story that will save mankind from extinction.

Choi’s “You Will Get Used to It” is a dark Kafkaesque comedy about an office worker who discovers a giant, oozing hole in the wall but doesn’t feel authorized to get involved.

And Raturi’s “No One Plays Badminton in America” is about a pair of nationally ranked Indonesian teen badminton players whose partnership is disrupted when one of the girl’s families immigrates to America.

The readings and surrounding events are free, but seats must be reserved by calling (619) 337-1525 or visiting cygnettheatre.com.

Justin Waldman headshot
Justin Waldman, associate artistic director of the Old Globe, is leaving for a new position as artistic director of Two River Theatre in Red Bank, N.J.
(Courtesy of Two River Theatre)

Globe’s Waldman to lead New Jersey theater

Justin Waldman, who has served as an associate artistic director at the Old Globe for the past 11 years, has been named the new artistic director of Two River Theater in New Jersey.

Waldman joined the Globe staff in 2011, after serving as an artistic associate for two years at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. Before that, he spent eight years as an artistic associate at the Huntington Theatre Co. in Boston. Two River is known for its adventurous work.

Waldman will assume his new position on Nov. 1, succeeding former artistic chief John Dias. In a statement on the website for the Red Bank, N.J., theater Waldman said: “Two River has the unrivaled ability to highlight beauty, expand community and bring us all together with considered intention. To be its steward for a time thrills me and is a responsibility I hold with the utmost care.”

Two River board president Edward J. McKenna said the board was impressed by Waldman’s broad scope of work at the Globe, where he helped shepherd dozens of productions, including 35 world premieres and the Broadway musicals “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” “Bright Star” and, now playing in previews, “Almost Famous.”

“We are delighted to welcome Justin aboard,” McKenna said in a statement. “Justin is a consummate artist, a bold producer and a passionate leader of nonprofit regional theater. He deeply believes in the value of further developing Two River’s relationships with its community partners and is also firmly committed to catching the baton John Dias has passed, expanding Two River’s impact beyond its stages in order to reach a larger, even more inclusive audience.”

North Coast Repertory Theatre artistic director David Ellenstein.
(Courtesy of Aaron Rumley)

Ellenstein fills in at Laguna Playhouse

David Ellenstein, North Coast Repertory Theatre’s artistic director since 2003, is splitting his time this fall by filling in temporarily as interim artistic director at Laguna Playhouse.

The Orange County theater has launched a national search for a new artistic director to replace Anne E. Wareham, who announced her plans to step down last winter. Through Jan. 1, Ellenstein is working in Laguna Beach a few days each week, helping the board of directors plan the theater’s 2023-24 season and monitoring the productions scheduled through the rest of the year.

Founded in 1920, Laguna Playhouse has a $5.5 million annual budget. Over its 102-year history, the playhouse has had only a small handful of artistic directors, including Wareham and, before her, Andrew Barnicle, who led the Laguna theater from 1991 to 2010. Barnicle is a frequent guest director at North Coast Rep.

Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com.


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