Behind the Pageant’s Whodunit Theme

The paintings shall again come to life in Laguna Beach.

Pageant of the Masters

IF THE THEME FITS: When a major happening has been around for nine decades, it tends to garner not one but several reputations and touchstones, which simply means that no two fans may like exactly the same thing. Take The Pageant of the Masters, which bows on July 9 with a series of tableaux vivants. Yep, that does indeed mean "living paintings," and, yep, the Laguna Beach summertime staple is all about artfully costumed humans holding a pose inside famous works of art (or at least very convincing reproductions that have been enlarged for the stage). Many Pageant audience members love the grace employed in the poses, while others like to see a person inside a painting blink. Some adore seeing "The Last Supper" year after year -- it's the Pageant's grand finale -- while others enjoy seeing the Pageant parodied and homaged in popular culture ("Arrested Development" is a recent tribute-payer). But almost all Pageant patrons adore the annual themes, which tie each year's show together in one evening spanning ribbon. And "The Art Detective," the 2014 theme, feels particularly apt.

WHY? Figure there's a bit of detective work that goes on nightly at the Pageant, as audience members lean in, trying to catch a pose that isn't just so or an onstage performer in mid-sneeze. We're all gumshoes at the Pageant, keeping an especially keen eye on the stage. Diane Challis Davy, the Pageant's director, said the 2014 theme has inspirations in shows such as "The History Detectives" and the "Connections" series as well as the helmer's "love of Sherlock Holmes stories." Dan Duling, the longtime writer for the Pageant, adds that "the history of art is filled with whodunits, unsolved mysteries, and tales of discoveries that changed the way we look at the world. Behind every masterpiece, there are clues to other mysteries." Does this mean that every artwork selected for staging will be packed with magnifying glasses and tools of the detective trade? Probably not, but bet on an enigma, or an enigmatic element, within each work.

The 2014 Pageant of the Masters is on at the Irvine Bowl in Laguna Beach from July 9 through Aug. 30.

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