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David Auburn’s Tennis Play ‘An Upset’ Comes to Beverly Hills

An Upset play
Courtesy of Spartin Brown

David Auburn’s short play “An Upset” came to life Saturday night at a unique location — the iconic Sheats-Goldstein Residence in Beverly Hills.

“I was a semi-pro tennis player in France and Italy years ago and I just love the sport,” explained Ryan Sweeney, who is starring and producing.

Directed by Jeffrey Meek, Sweeney plays an older, argumentative American tennis pro who finds himself pitted against a younger Romanian player, portrayed by Troy Clevenger. Sweeney and fellow producers Chris Schembra and Andrew Sokolsky are planning for performances in Paris, London and New York with the goal of reaching the big screen eventually.

“There really hasn’t been a great movie about tennis and the play is so good — sort of an undiscovered gem,” Sweeney said after the performance concluded before several hundred on the tennis court.

Auburn won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2000 play “Proof,” which was adapted into a 2005 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal and Hope Davis.

Saturday night’s performance, held in honor of Easter Seals, marked the first play ever performed on the Sheats-Goldstein property, recently donated by owner James Goldstein to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The residence, built in 1963 by Frank Lloyd Wright disciple John Lautner, is known by film buffs as one of the key locations in the 1998 Coen Brothers film “The Big Lebowski.”

With its sweeping vistas and minimalist style, the house is often used for fashion shoots plus the occasional such celebration such as Rihanna’s birthday. Goldstein (pictured above with Schembra), an investor in real estate, said Saturday that he bought the residence in 1972 mainly because his Afghan hound Natasha needed more space.

“We were living in an apartment in West Hollywood so buying this solved that problem but this has been my passion,” he noted. “The house was not in the best condition when I bought it, so I brought in John Lautner to supervise and I’ve been involved in every aspect of construction ever since. I want the house to inspire great architecture.”

Goldstein’s other passions are often on display at Staples Center, where he has courtside seats for Lakers and Clippers games and wears designer outfits with a snakeskin hat. “I’m going to be on the road a lot going to playoff games in the next two months,” he added.

Sweeney said that Goldstein’s passion for tennis was essential to getting the play performed at the residence. “I think initially that he may have thought that I was Ryan Sweeting, who’s a ranked tennis player, but he’s been absolutely great at letting us perform this,” he added.

Schembra, who recently became a member of the board of the Easter Seals Foundation, has been active as a Broadway producer behind “The Little Flower,” starring Tony Lo Bianco. Saturday night’s event was curated through his charitable 747 Supper Club, which began last July and has held nearly 40 events as a means of combining food and community.

“We’re definitely going to take ‘An Upset’ on the circuit in the coming months because it’s such a good play,” he noted.