A new view on views
Patch.com La Jolla
By Pat Launer
Stephen Metcalfe moved to La Jolla in 1989. As a playwright and screenwriter who’d put in his time in New York and L.A, he was happy to have his work produced in his beautiful new hometown.
The Old Globe presented or premiered a number of his plays (“Emily,” “Strange Snow,” “The Incredibly Famous Willy Rivers,” “White Linen,” “Loves and Hours”), and he became a Globe Associate Artist. In the meantime, he managed to write or rewrite the screenplays for “Pretty Women,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and many others.
Lately, he’s been busy teaching playwriting (USD) and screenwriting (UCSD), and working on a novel. But when he had a new play to premiere and “a whole new generation of theatergoers” to attract, he thought the perfect place would be the small, well-regarded Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
“I’ve been impressed with their work,” says Metcalfe. “They have the most eclectic season in greater San Diego.”
In December 2009, Cygnet presented a staged reading of an early version of “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Last February, there was another reading at the Pasadena Playhouse. Metcalfe did more rewrites and came back to Cygnet with his almost-finished product (he’s continued to tweak the script during rehearsals). He was pleased that the entire cast from the initial reading was available: Old Globe Associate Artist and UCSD professor Jim Winker; and Cygnet Resident Artists Manny Fernandes, Monique Gaffney, Francis Gercke, Veronica Murphy and Tim West, under the direction of Cygnet artistic director Sean Murray.
Like his last work, “Loves and Hours” (Old Globe, 2003), the play is set in La Jolla, though the town is never named. Metcalfe was inspired by a story he recalled about “the oldest houses in La Jolla, near the Shores, with magnificent views that were being wiped out. New people came in, bought properties and built up.”
Then a house near his own went on the market.
“We didn’t think the sale would affect the modest view we have. But we wondered what would happen if it did. The issue became personal.”
Metcalfe dived into research, which led him to a 1968 essay by ecologist Garrett Hardin, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons,’ which discussed “the damage that innocent actions by individuals can inflict on the environment,” ruining common areas or resources for everyone.
“The notion has been applied to climate change, the destruction of natural resources, wilderness, parks,” says Metcalfe. “It seemed to me that a view was also a resource that needed to be valued.”
He calls his drama-with-comical moments his “most intellectually ambitious play,”
“I try to keep it somewhat apolitical,” he asserts. “A man is dealing with the loss of his view, and he comes to see it as every bit as important to human beings as any other resource. I’d like to think it’s about something bigger than just the view. It’s about dealing with loss in a broader sense.”
The play’s centerpiece is a tired marriage under extreme duress. But despite the disruption to the family and the tragedy for the main character and an admittedly “unhappy ending,” the playwright considers the piece to be “somewhat uplifting.”
Metcalfe hopes that audiences come away “provoked. The greatest compliment would be that it becomes a topic of conversation.”
The world premiere of “The Tragedy of the Commons,” by Stephen Metcalfe, runs through February 20 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., in Old Town.
Performances are Wednesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm.
Tickets ($24-49) are available at 619-337-1525 or www.cygnettheatre.com
NOTE : On February 28, the Old Globe will stage a reading of Metcalfe’s next new play, “A World of Their Own,” based on the unique and isolated life of Marine families at Camp Pendleton