All Hail Elvis the Cute!

The play that launched a theater

"Someone who works theater or has been exposed to theater may want the envelope pushed," Newell said. "Those of us who love theater want to get aggressive and take chances. But in opening at a place like this, I'm relating to a public that that doesn't know anything about theater. That's why I hope that if they like what they see here—the intimate type of theater that isn't a Broadway show—they'll investigate what else is out there."

That position beautifully illustrates the dilemma of artistic responsibility: Aim for the widest possible audience by offering easily digestible fare? Or challenge an audience's sensibilities by turning their world upside-down? Write like Danielle Steel or Don DeLillo? Paint like Thomas Kinkade or Jackson Pollock? Play the guitar like John Denver or Jimi Hendrix?

Newell seems fine with his own answer: "I know some would say what I'm doing is a complete sell-out, like a dinner theater making the easy buck. But it's more important to me than that. I think entertaining is a responsibility, and when you want to appeal to a mass market, you have to be a little more responsible. If this is billed as a comedy and people come here after church, it'd be pretty embarrassing [if they were shocked or offended]. I'm promoting a show that I want everyone to enjoy. Down the road, maybe we can get more risqué, take more chances."

Newell may drive a while before he passes that signpost. The next project at the Maverick? A Christmas show, an adaptation of a novella called A Christmas Carol.

The King at the Maverick Theater at the Block at Orange, 20 The City Blvd. W., Orange, (714) 634-1977. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m. Through Dec. 21. $15-$18; Joel Beers talks to Brian Newell about theater and cinema on his radio show, Theater Rant, on KUCI-FM. Thurs., Oct. 3, 4 p.m. Listen in via live Internet stream at kuci.org.

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