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Director returns home to confront theater’s most cursed word

An ex-La Jollan now making a living in theater in Boston will return to town to direct the latest production at La Jolla Playhouse.

“The Scottish Play,” a rollicking comedy in which a director learns why it’s bad luck to utter the word “Macbeth” inside a theatre, will be directed by Melia Bensussen. An Obie Award-winning director, Bensussen previously collaborated with the playwright, Lee Blessing, at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference.

“I love working with Lee,” said Bensussen. “His plays are so witty and perceptive. As a collaborator he’s wonderful because he plays attention to what one says, and he’s honest about suggestions.”

Born in New York, Bensussen grew up in Mexico City, where she went to a Zionist/Jewish school that conducted its classes in Spanish and Hebrew. Eventually the family returned to America and settled in San Diego, where she attended La Jolla High School.

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She is currently the producing director of Emerson Stage in Boston, where she most recently directed her own musical adaptation of Sydney Taylor’s “All of a Kind Family.”

The Playhouse staff chooses directors for its productions in a seasonal planning session, said Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Shirley Fishman.

“Obviously, Des McAnuff can’t direct everything, as he has other projects,” Fishman said. “We find out what directors he wants to work with, we ask directors to give us a list of projects they’d like to do, we have plays we commission and we ask the playwright who they want to work with, but most of our plays come with a director attached.”

“When another director who was originally attached to direct ‘The Scottish Play’ had a scheduling conflict, we asked Lee whom he would suggest,” Fishman said. “He immediately said Melia. He had worked with her before, thought she was a good dramaturge and understood his work.”

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Bensussen was excited about returning to her past to direct the play.

“I remember when the theater started,” she said. “So it’s a wonderful treat to return to something I remember from the beginning. The Playhouse staff is so generous, capable and intelligent. It’s wonderful to be at such a successful and well-run theater because every theater has its temperament. The process for each play affects the product, and how people feel about each other while they’re working impacts the kind of performance an audience gets. That’s what’s so wonderful about theater: Everything is so interrelated.”

Bensussen said her experience as a writer strengthened her collaboration with the playwright.

“I have so much respect for a writer who has dedicated a career to playwriting for the theater,” she said, “along with a great appreciation and understanding of the text and working of a play that makes me grateful to work with such a craftsman.”

Taking the script from page to stage is a long, grueling process that involves many people.

“When we look for a director, we look for one who has a good dramaturgical handle of the material and a strong theatrical past with aesthet