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Restoration Opens at the La Jolla Playhouse

Above: Director Christopher Ashley and the creative team behind Restoration on the first day of rehearsals.

Audio

Aired 6/19/09

The La Jolla Playhouse stages the world premiere of Restoration next week. It's a play inspired by the true story of a woman who restored Michelangelo's David for its 500th anniversary. Award-winning actress/playwright Claudia Shear wrote and stars in Restoration. Arts producer Angela Carone checks in on the preparations.

DWANE BROWN (News Anchor): "Restoration" premieres at the La Jolla Playhouse next week. It's a play inspired by the true story of a woman who restored Michelangelo's David for the sculpture's 500th anniversary. Award-winning actress Claudia Shear wrote and stars in Restoration. Arts producer Angela Carone checks in on the preparations.

[Sound of machine shop]

ANGELA CARONE (Arts Producer): Behind the theaters of the La Jolla Playhouse, there's a large warehouse that serves as the scenic arts studio.

SCOTT PASK (Set Designer): There are knives around, a lot research materials.

CARONE: Scott Pask is the set designer for "Restoration."

PASK: Photographs of the sculpture from every angle, a lot of books that we've gotten from Florence that are very specific to the technical aspects of the restoration.

CARONE: It is here in this studio that large sections of Michelangelo's David are being constructed out of styrofoam.

PASK: And there's a chest and a stomach and a buttock and an eye over there on the floor [laughs].

CARONE: These body parts will soon be moved to the theater for tech rehearsals. Pask walks over and picks up a giant styrofoam hand, which still isn't quite right. He explains why the hand is so complicated to make.

PASK: It's just the posture of it and the way it's formed on his thigh. It implies a lot of tension and the emotion that is just in that hand. It's why this is such an incredible piece of sculpture.

[Rehearsal sound]

CARONE: While the designers work on the set, the actors rehearse in a nearby building.

[Rehearsal sound]

CARONE: Claudia Shear spent two years writing "Restoration." She's also playing the lead role, a woman named Giulia who's given the job of restoring the David. As part of her research, Shear went to Florence and interviewed people who see the statue every day.

CLAUDIA SHEAR (Playwright and Actress): Which I remember walking around the piazza a few times before I got the nerve up and I went over to this table and it was a grandmother, a mother and a daughter.

CARONE: Shear spent many hours talking to art historians and scholars, but it was a teenager who opened her eyes to a different way of seeing the David.

SHEAR: And then the grandaughter, who is about 16 years old, and you think about your average 16-year-old and she'd be like I don't know, I hate the David. And this girl was like, you know, his hand is so gentle. He's not holding a rock, he's not throwing anything. His hand is resting there, he's so gentle.

CARONE: The David is often surrounded by tourists, but Shear accomplished a rare feat. She arranged to spend time alone with the David, but only after some persistence.

SHEAR: I worked the phones like I cannot tell you, I got the guy who sells tickets. Eventually I got with Senora Falletti the woman who runs the Accademia, and she was probably like what in the holy hell is this? This woman with this appalling Italian, she can't use the subjunctive, what does she want?

CARONE: She wanted a sense of what it must have been like to spend a year alone with quote "the most beautiful man in the world." On the morning of her solitary visit, Shear rose at dawn and went to the Accademia to stand in the room with the David all by herself.

SHEAR: Basically I ran in and I remember throwing down my coat and my bag and I starting laughing. I started laughing. And I said hello, and then I went hello, hello! [laughs]

CARONE: Shear also met Cinzia Parnagoni, the woman who restored the statue in 2004 and who inspired this play. Parnagoni told her that restoring the David was the most profound experience of her life. Shear's Guilia undergoes a similar transformation in "Restoration."

[Rehearsal sound]

CARONE: Shear was last seen on Broadway as Mae West in the play "Dirty Blonde," which she also wrote. She says Mae West would have appreciated Michelangelo's David.

SHEAR: She liked men with muscles, she liked men with hair, and she liked men full stop. Oh, as Mae would say. [laughs]

CARONE: For KPBS radio, I'm Angela Carone.

BROWN: "Restoration" runs from June 23rd through July 19th at the La Jolla Playhouse. To see pictures from Angela's visit there, go to kpbs.org.

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