The Kind of Worst of Times

Strong theater in a weak week

Photo by Lita PuyatA couple of weeks ago, it seemed every theater in Orange County was mounting something new, original, daring, fresh, inventive or provocative. That was very then, and this is very now. Name your least favorite theatrical smell, and chances are it's stinking up a local stage. Blanch at the kind of mystery thrillers that delighted your grandparents 40 years ago? Then try Arsenic and Old Lace or Ten Little Indians. Turn up your nose at the kind of tripe that packs in the seniors like an early-bird cafeteria special on the Entertainment card? There's Deathtrap, Neil Simon and Mister Roberts. Induced into catatonia at the prospect of watching plays that, by any standard, are masterpieces, but which have been done more often than our favorite starlet, Janine? Then avoid Arthur Miller's The Crucible and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

I don't intend with this cynical dissection to make light of the hard work poured into these shows by the people involved with them. Nor am I naive enough to condemn theaters that occasionally pull out theatrical warhorses in order to get asses into seats. That's part of the business of doing theater on small stages. But that doesn't mean those of us who yearn for something more exciting, stimulating and fresh have to like it—or keep our mouths shut.

And for all that, there's a handful of plays that defy the norm this week:

Gut Girls, Cal State Fullerton.A comic drama by Sarah Daniels set in the gutting sheds of a slaughterhouse at the Cattle Market in late Victorian England. A group of women working—-literally—at the bottom of the heap see their lives transformed by crusading do-gooders out to improve their working conditions. Look Back in Anger, Hunger Artists Theatre. John Osborne's play may have lost some of the electricity and political bite that helped revolutionize British theater in the late '50s, but it's still a powerful piece of writing centered on Jimmy Porter, one of the seminal anti-heroes of 20th-century theater. It's also produced by one of the youngest theater companies out there, Another Round Theatre Co. The Romance of Magno Rubio, Laguna Playhouse. This is the West Coast premiere of the Obie award-winning play by Lonnie Carter. It's based on a short story by Filipino-American writer Carlos Bulosan, who died in 1956—but not before his radical activism earned him a commission by FDR and a place on Joe McCarthy's blacklist. The romantic comedy deals with the lives of migrant workers dreaming of a better life, a thematic constant in Bulosan's work Frankenstein: The Prometheus Experiment, The Maverick Theatre. There's a review of this elsewhere, but any show that attempts to recontextualize this tale in Nazi Germany, with Victor Frankenstein in the service of the Third Reich's death lords, deserves some kind of shout out.

Also Worth Seeing: No Exit/What Would Bukowski Do(in which Stages Theatre mounts Sartre's existential masterpiece alongside a new play by Kirk Huff) and All My Sons at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. This Miller play is often produced on local stages, but any work that attacks the hypocrisy of middle Americans and the military-industrial complex in a time of war deserves some mention.

 
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