Conflict-of-Interest Summer Theater!

Go to my festival. See my play. Read my column

There are lots of reasons this summer to get off your lazy, good-for-nothing asses and see some live theater. The Grove Shakespeare Festival returns to the festival amphitheater in Garden Grove for the first time in nearly a decade, producing high-quality Shakespeare. The Troubadour Theater Co. returns to Orange County this June with their latest riff on Shakespeare, a rock-inflected Comedy of Errorscalled The Comedy of Aerosmith.The Chance Theater returns its director's festival this July, First Chance Fest 2004, which will include plays by such diverse writers as Mólière and Caryl Churchill. The Insurgo Theater Movement launched a new midnight season with a bunch of stuff I'm too lazy to actually look up at the moment. And, of course, Elizabeth Howard's Curtain Call Dinner Theater is staging Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoatsometime in the summer.

And there's lots of other stuff that every theater company will no doubt want you to see.

But in all honesty—and with total impartiality—the single biggest reason to see a play this summer is the Orange County Theater Festival. Sure, I'm intimately involved in it. Sure, I'm the artistic director and executive producer. Sure, I'm also theater critic of this very paper you're holding in your ink-stained hands. Sure, this is a blatant, undeniable and absolutely indefensible conflict of interest.

But screw it: this is going to be big, folks. And if I'm a schmuck for saying so, I'm a liar on the scale of George W. Bush if I fail to tell you: this is the single most ambitious theatrical undertaking in the history of Orange County Theater in terms of size, scope and number of productions. And it all happens at one of the most unheralded venues in the county, the 246-seat outdoor amphitheater at Muck Mansion, also known as the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, located in a pastoral neighborhood in Fullerton.

There are four plays on tap for the festival, each of which will run eight nights. All four are encore presentations, all of which received reams (heh, heh) of critical acclaim. And audiences packed in like sardines (most nights) to see them.

The most gratifying thing to report, however, is that all four plays are products of the county's fertile (heh, heh) storefront-theater scene. One—Rube! a play about baseball legend Rube Waddell, not so coincidentally written by a local playwright with the same last name and first name as myself—was originally produced at Stages Theatre last year. Two others—a clowned-up version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrewand Lord Sheridan's 17th-century comedy The Rivals, given a 1930s speakeasy feelwere produced at the Insurgo Theater Movement, with Shrewalso being staged at the Hunger Artists Theater Co. and the Maverick Theater. And the fourth, an all-male Importance of Being Earnestset in swinging '60s London, was first staged at the Hunger Artists' old space in downtown Santa Ana.

In addition to these plays, we're also raising the bar in terms of theater involvement by inviting any and all theater companies—storefront, community, professional, gay, lesbian, transgendered or any other enterprising troupe—to our four festival days, which will run the first Sundays of each run. These Sundays could include new-play readings; strolling entertainment; sword swallowing (heh, heh); fire eating; flea circuses; puppet shows; large-bosomed women screaming, "huzzah"; and lots of other stuff that may or may not be really, really cool, depending on your perspective. And they're all free. But the show's aren't. But they're worth every dime. And it's not many dimes we're asking for. 150 to be exact. But only 100 if you're part of the OC theater industry. That's dimes, for those of you who've already forgotten what we're talking about.

But the heart of this thing—besides the fact that we're not exactly rolling the dice on the plays, since they've all been staged before and will be returning most of their casts—is a genuine celebration of Orange County theater. When the Weekly started some eight years ago, you could count the number of producing entities that were staging interesting fare on one paw. There are now easily 15 theaters or companies producing plays that are a far cry from Oklahoma!and Neil Simon. Although those are still around as well. And we love them with every vessel in our black hearts.

There's a lot of information on the festival at a bitchen website called octheaterfestival.com (designed and maintained by hoganoriginals.com, a website-design company actively looking for more work. And, yes, the person behind that company is also my publicity manager, but if you haven't already figured out that this entire article is a grotesque conflict of interest, then you're stupid. I mean, it's not like Patrick Gwaltney, a guy I married last year in New York—that is to say that I married him to a woman—is my technical director and is also directing Rube! And it's not like Kimberly M. Fisher—who kicks more ass than just about any person west of Texas and is also Kate in Taming of the Shrew—is my business manager).

Anyway, tickets are $15, but there are discounts available by visiting octheaterfestival.com. Picnicking will happen every night, there'll be pre-show entertainment, and we might be offering box (heh, heh) dinners certain nights. And there will be lots of other tricks up our cumulative sleeves. We're just not sure what they are as yet.

 
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