It's not uncommon to see the name Shakespeare pop up on the schedules of many a theater during the summer. The epic scope and huge casts involved in his plays make them ideal for outdoor performances, where a troupe isn't limited by such obstacles as walls.
But Shakespeare in the summer is usually devoted to his whimsical comedies, complete with cross-dressing, mistaken identities and loads of sexual entendre. Not this year, at least not in OC. Four of his bloodiest plays—Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello and The Tragedy of King Richard III—will receive productions this summer, although only the latter two will actually be performed outside.
In total, 11 of the Bard's plays will be produced on OC stages, along with an ample dose of non-Shakespeare for the rest of us. Here's a breakdown of the 10 coolest-sounding:
The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow
The programming on the mainstage of the Long Beach Playhouse usually lists plays by Neil Simon or about Sherlock Holmes. Which is why the inclusion of Rolin Jones' brilliant 2003 play about a neurotic young woman who creates a robotic persona to travel the world is an astonishing choice. Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage, www.lbplayhouse.org. May 19-June 16.
To Hades and Back (Again)
While the county's most literate storefront is producing the done-to-death Art—and how in the world will it pull off a Shakespeare history such as Julius Caesar in that tiny space?—this Katherine Murphy play, while classic in nature, sounds like a hoot. It's billed as a "pointed, poignant and horrifyingly funny take on Aeschylus' classic tragedy The Oresteia, the mother of all patricidal Greek drama." Nothing screams funny like offing one's parents, so this should be a fun date night. Hunger Artists Theatre Co., www.hungerartists.com. June 1-24.
Summer Shakespeare Festival
The Mysterium Theatre gets really ambitious this summer, staging four Shakespeare plays in rapid succession: The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Othello and Much Ado About Nothing. Each show runs over three weekends. Mysterium Theatre, www.mysteriumshop.com. June 9-Aug. 26.
The Long Beach Playhouse's Studio Theater has really branched out in recent years, offering homeless theater troupes the chance to perform in its upstairs space and choosing far more literate and adventurous plays. This one, by LA-based writer Jose Rivera, involves a woman hitch-hiker who turns into a mystical creature. Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theater, www.lbplayhouse.org. June 9-July 7.
Any play billed as able to "repulse and convulse at the very same time" qualifies as interesting. But the fact it begins with an animal sacrifice makes it imperative to see. The "darkly comic evening in which the line between civilized and primal man is blurred" all happens at an annual dinner party among friends. Garage Theatre, www.garagetheatre.org. June 29-July 27.
West Side Story
Does the world need yet another staging of this 55-year-old musical, one of the most recognizable plays ever? Of course not. But the Chance Theater has demonstrated a remarkable ability to stage musicals in recent years, including The Who's Tommy and Sunday In the Park with George. So when it says this will be "a completely re-imagined and unexpected staging," who are we to disagree? Chance Theater, www.chance.theater.com. July 6-Aug. 22.
The puppet musical was produced earlier this year at Theatre Out to rave reviews and packed houses. The blend of childish theatrics with very adult subject matter (Porn! Drugs! Porn and drugs!) seems to slay the crowds wherever this show is mounted. This production is courtesy of 3-D Theatricals. Plummer Auditorium, www.3dtwhows.com. July 13-29.
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The Tragedy of King Richard III
Shakespeare Orange County is the area's only troupe exclusively dedicated to the bard. Artistic director Thomas F. Bradac knows his stuff and ensures there are always ringers in the key roles. Playing the sociopathic, power-hungry Richard in this production is John Walcutt, who played a doctor in one episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (amid some other 200 film and TV appearances). Garden Grove Festival Amphitheatre, www.shakespeareoc.org. July 20-Aug. 4.
If there's a number in the year, then there's a strong possibility Brian Newell will roll out the most produced—and successful—OC-generated theater production not called A Christmas Carol. His homage to Elvis Presley, in which the king is put in deep-freeze in 1977 and wakes up in the here-and-now, debuted at STAGEStheatre in 2002. It ran four months at the Maverick's first space at the Block and returned in 2006 at the Maverick's current Fullerton digs. Somewhere in there, it was produced in Buena Park and Brea. Maverick Theater, www.mavericktheater.com. July 20-Sept. 15.
This Fullerton troupe's staging of 12 Angry Men (Aug. 10-Sept. 16) may take on added resonance due to the current trial of police officers in that city, and The Great American Trailer Park Musical (June 8-July 29) sounds like a hoot. Whatever you do, don't see Hate (Aug. 18-Sept.15), a play about white supremacists arrested in connection with a bombing. It sounds like it'll just harsh your buzz, even if the playwright (who is me!) says he's revamping the 15-year-old play to address a certain death of a certain homeless man in that city last year. STAGEStheatre, www.stagesoc.org.
This article appeared in print as "The King, the Bard and More! Ten plays to watch this summer."