There was an Anaheim before it became Disneyland-land, and Anaheim Home Companion sets out to find and bring this small-town history back to life. It only half succeeds, filling nearly two hours with faithfully retrieved trivia but failing to resuscitate the people who lived it.
A team of writers from the Chance Theater borrowed its premise from Garrison Keillor, presenting facts and characters from old-time Anaheim through a fictional radio broadcast from 1953. Turns out, the town was much more Mickey Mouse before Disney arrived. There are real possibilities in this pre-freeway community that relied on frost-endangered orange groves, imposed Communist-fearing loyalty oaths, and was dominated by a beat-walking police chief, a myopic high school football coach and a long-time mayor so comfortably ensconced that he couldn't see it was all about to end.
But Anaheim Home Companion should have borrowed more, and if not from Prairie Home Companion, then how about from Green Acres? As it is, its collection of snapshots never adds up to a family album or even a scrapbook. There's not enough human context to turn the characters' eccentricities into personalities, making it pretty much impossible to care about them. Even a subplot about the against-company-rules love interests among the radio station employees fails to generate passion.
That's sad, because we're not that far removed from these people—barely a half-century. The massive change that has so disconnected our eras in such a short time should seem strange, and maybe even tragic. There's room for poignant, dark, affectionate, campy comedy in this play. But instead of going deeper, it's satisfied to present us with the stark outward differences as self-contained comic or dramatic devices, then stands back and joins us in a, "Well, isn't that somethin'!"
All that said, Anaheim Home Companion is a reminder of the ghosts that lay beneath all of Orange County's fresh pavement, from the beautiful re-creation of an old radio studio to performances like Jonathan Lamer's genial emcee and Sylvia Cervantes' control-freakish stage manager. That was quite a world they lived in. It would have been nice to get to know it better.
ANAHEIM HOME COMPANION, AT THE CHANCE THEATER, 5552 E. LA PALMA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 777-3033; WWW.CHANCETHEATER.COM. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH DEC. 17. $22-$25.