Just got back from a production of Pamela Gien's The Syringa Tree, directed by a good friend, Shaheen Vaaz, at Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena. It's the first production in her tenure teaching theatre at the private Catholic girls school, and I must say it was inspiring to watch a cast of high schoolers earnestly, hungrily throw themselves into the play, which retells the English Gien's childhood in apartheid South Africa and her fraught relationship with her family's maid, Salamina. Especially considering that there were only two actors of African descent in the cast, and no males, it was an astonishing feat of faith and discipline. Coaching the girls on their dialects, which ranged from black South African to Afrikaner to Anglo, were Emma Barton (whom I enjoyed so much in the otherwise silly Duel) and Paul Hepker, both of them Circle X affiliates.
Those who saw the 2002 Pasadena Playhouse production of Gien's play may wonder at talk of a "cast," since she performed it as a solo show there. Indeed, that's how the play was written and developed with director Larry Moss. Vaaz instead individually cast the play's 20 roles (and quintuple-cast the lead role of Elizabeth Grace, a.k.a. Lizzie Monkey). It works like gangbusters.
I imagine that when Pasadena resident Gien attends the production herself on Sunday, she'll see what I mean.