Backstory: Behind the Orange Curtain

By Adam Greenfield, Associate Artistic Director

Rancho Viejo isn’t a real place. It is, as Dan LeFranc describes in the opening stage directions of his play, “a fictional affluent suburb in a temperate climate.” But while visiting my parents this past summer in the rolling, expansive suburban vistas of south Orange County, California, somewhere between Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita [left photo], I was pretty excited to stumble upon a road sign [middle photo] because a few years back, the first time Dan let me read a draft of Rancho Viejo, the world of this play instantly transported me back to the landscape I grew up in: the uncannily smooth, wide-open roads that wind endlessly through housing communities that would seem to be totally uninhabited were it not for the cars parked in driveways; the six-lane boulevards that cut a grid between endless, nameless corporate office plazas with tinted windows and sidewalks used by no one.  

So I took some photos around my hometown [see below]. And though the play will no doubt evoke Rancho Viejos all over America, these amateur shots reflect, to me, what is a unique and familiar cocktail of beauty and loneliness: all this emptiness, gorgeously lit by persistently great, unchanging weather and beautified by lush, perfectly manicured lawns and posh, faux-Tuscan shopping hubs. A vacation mecca for some, but to me a complicated, ever-contradictory land of peace and anxiety, of traffic and isolation, and impossible perfection. 

Or, as Dan LeFranc so beautifully wrote in the closing stage directions of his play Bruise Easy, stage directions which have lived on the cutting room floor until now…

“the neighborhood kids just stand there / and as they do / the marine layer burns off /and a blue-white light strikes the driveway / that sublime california blue we’ve seen in a million movies / the light breaks apart the shadows lingering over the neighborhood / and for the very first time / we see:

the homes next door / and the homes behind the homes next door / and the homes in front of the homes behind the homes next door / the homes with the same rooftop as this one / the same lawn / same stucco / same garage door / same driveway / and yeah / the same colors too /the homes that have been built everywhere / up every hillside / down every slope / right up until they reach that beautiful california coastline / and as the light shines brighter / these homes seem to unravel before us / forever and ever the neighborhood kids don’t watch the homes appear / but in each of them / they can feel / something we can’t quite see…like they can feel / the surfers stuffing quarters into the parking meters next to their favorite beaches / and the sixty-five year-old hippie jogging along the harbor with his ipod / and the gardeners ordering in-n-out burger at 10:30 in the morning / and the old woman feeding krispy kremes to the seagulls in front of her house / and the sixth-grader scrambling to finish her algebra homework before class / and the sunburns / oh there are so many sunburns / and flip-flops and cigarette butts and undeveloped rolls of film and / and / wait there’s more / hold on / there’s so much— / oh god / god is it / beautiful / but man / man / man / does it Hurt”