'Jerry Springer' Vs. Arthur Miller Vs. 'The Underpants'
While most of us will gather around swimming pools, beaches, barbecues and other places afflicted by the unrelenting fucking glare of the goddamn sun this summer, the cool kids will hunker indoors. For there is a balm in our collective Gilead, far from the madness of pagan sun-worshipers: the theater.
An opera about Jerry Springer. Christopher Marlowe's 16th-century masterpiece on the archetypical Faust. Arthur Miller's heart-breaking saga of the underbelly of the American Dream. Maxwell Smart. A gay Jesus. Psychotic beach parties.
So, let's get to it. In alphabetical order are the various theatrical entities that will produce shows through September. (Yes, Virginia, while September may herald some arcane season called autumn in most of the country, it and its equally cruel neighbor, October, are the hottest, most fire-riddled and fucked-up months in Southern California. So it's summer here.)
THE CHANCE THEATER
Orange County's premier storefront has only one show on tap this summer, but it sounds deliciously brain-dead and salacious: Jerry Springer: The Opera, running July 9 to Aug. 7. It comes with its own measure of controversy, since not every community is gung-ho on a musical satire featuring tap-dancing members of the KKK, transgendered prostitutes and a reported 300 profanities. According to our good friends at Wikipedia (in a highly footnoted passage), the show ran for 609 performances in the United Kingdom from April 2003 through February 2005. Plus, it was broadcast on BBC Two in January 2005, eliciting 55,000 complaints, with fundie Christian groups mounting huge protests at tour venues and on the Internet. But the show goes on; a touring production traversed the U.K. in 2006, and it has popped up in at least nine American cities, the closest to Southern California being Las Vegas and San Francisco. 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 777-3033; www.chancetheater.com.
HUNGER ARTISTS THEATRE CO.
Our most literate storefront sticks to its guns this summer. Its production of the fine Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs through July 10. And from Sept. 9 to Oct. 2, its adaptation of Marlowe's The Tragical Life and Death of Doctor Faustus is on the boards. In between is a musical adaptation of the much-underrated writer Nick Hornsby's 1995 novel High Fidelity, running July 22 to Aug. 28. Though that novel also inspired a popular 2000 film, the musical's book, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, is based on the novel, so don't expect a John Cusack doppelganger here. 699 S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803; www.hungerartists.com.
THE GARAGE THEATRE
Long Beach's best storefront (hard to believe it's going on its second decade) has just one show on tap this summer, and it's another that might rub the Calvary Chapel crowd wrong: Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi. Running July 29 to Aug. 27, the production reimagines Christ and his disciples as something a bit more secular than straight. The original 1998 Broadway production launched protests and controversy. A production at Rude Guerrilla in Santa Ana shortly after failed to make a strong case that the play was actually any good, but perhaps time and distance have removed its dramaturgical warts. 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 433-8337; www.garagetheatre.org.
THE LAGUNA PLAYHOUSE
If you're a fan of Tony Bennett's music and can afford ticket prices that range from $30 to $70, you'll be at this show, which runs from July 5 to Aug. 21, like seals on carp. If not, save your ducats for something like your rent. 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-4033; www.lagunaplayhouse.org.
OC's most commercially savvy (i.e., it produces shows that people actually want to see, regardless of their high-brow quotient) theater is knee-deep in a production of the musical Chicago through July 30, but here's something completely different: Get Smart, Christopher Segal's 1967 adaptation of the pilot episode of the Mel Brooks-Buck Henry spoof of the international-spy genre. It's directed by Maverick Big Kahuna Brian Newell, who, among many other things, knows how to stage an entertaining production; it stars Shaun McNamara, who absolutely killed as Leo Bloom in the Maverick's kick-ass mounting of The Producers a couple of years ago. It runs Aug. 12 to Sept. 17. 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-7070; www.mavericktheater.com.
MONKEY WRENCH COLLECTIVE
Richard Stein, who helped turn the Laguna Playhouse from a gussied-up community theater to a major regional theater (before it unfortunately shifted into reverse the past year), directs the weirdest-sounding show of the summer: Damnee Manon, Sacree Sandra. The Michael Tremblay piece features interweaving monologues centered on sex and religion. One is delivered by a drag queen; the other by a religious zealot. Oh, like those are mutually excusive. . . . It runs June 24 to July 24. 204 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-1400; www.monkeywrenchcollective.org.
SEGERSTROM CENTER FOR THE ARTS
Two big productions of nationally touring productions are on the boards at the county's glitziest venue. From July 14 through Aug. 7, it's Mary Poppins, which has been appearing in Europe, on Broadway or somewhere in the world since its initial West End Production in 2004. It's the same tour that sold out the Ahmanson in 2009 and should be great for kids and fans of the original movie. The rest of us might want to save the $50 to $100 for something else. Like a car payment.
From Sept. 6 to 18, the boards host the national tour of the 2008 Broadway revival of perhaps the greatest American musical, West Side Story. The first Broadway revival, in 1980, disappointed Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book, so he attempted to contemporize it in 2009, revamping some of the cornier parts (such as the rather silly-looking and -sounding gang members), as well as weaving Spanish into the dialogue and score. 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787; www.scfta.org.
SHAKESPEARE ORANGE COUNTY
One thing you can count on during OC summers is a couple of high-quality professional Shakespeare productions at the most gorgeous venue in the county, the Grove Theater Center's Festival Amphitheater. The two shows on tap this year include The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (July 7 to 23) and The Comedy of Errors (Aug. 4 to 20). One is filled with cross-dressing, mistaken identities and dick jokes; the other with political intrigue, grandiose speeches and brutal stabbings. You decide which is which. 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 590-1575; www.shakespeareoc.org.
SOUTH COAST REPERTORY
The county's greatest contribution to world theater launches its 2011-12 season in September. On the larger Segerstrom stage is a play that really seems to need to justify its existence, an adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (Sept. 9 to Oct. 9). Some 2,000 words would seem warranted to dismiss this, but we'll use just one: yawn. Much more enticing is the Sept. 25 to Oct. 16 run of a world-premiere play on the more intimate Argyros stage, How the World Began, Catherine Trieschmann's take on a battle in a Kansas school centered on the debate between evolution and mindless stupid ignorance. 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org.
You couldn't dream a more diverse collection of shows this summer than what OC's most venerable storefront is offering. Through July 16, it's mounting late-night (they begin at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays) adaptations of The Twilight Zone. Get your tickets early because this is one American cultural institution that still has plenty of legs. As far as mainstage shows, its production of the campy musical adapted from the campy film The Little Shop of Horrors runs through July 24. Then comes American theatrical royalty, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (Aug. 5 to Sept. 11), one of those rare literary dinosaurs that deserves every iota of praise it has received. In the late-night slot Aug. 13 to Sept. 10 is The Underpants, Steve Martin's take on a 1910 farce. Finally, as summer ends (Sept. 23 to Oct. 30), check out Charles Busch's ferociously jaded and incredibly smart and funny take on 1960s-era summer beach movies, Psycho Beach Party. 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Ste 4, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484; www.stagesoc.org.
This young, decently funded, creatively oriented company took over the producing responsibility at Fullerton's Plummer Auditorium from the Fullerton Civic Light Opera earlier this year. It will hopefully step up the game from run-of-the-mill musicals. But we'll have to see what happens after it begins choosing its own shows; Always, Patsy Cline, which runs July 15 to 31 is an insipidly cloying holdover from the former regime. Not to demean a legend of American music such as Cline, but this show stinks. Trust us: We reviewed it and cringed. More info at www.3dtshows.com.
Orange County's gay-and-lesbian theater company is running Andrew Lippa's musical The Wild Party through July 2. Based on a full-length poem written in the Roaring '20s, the musical won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best off-Broadway musical in 2000. Theatre Out also stages a short play festival, "Briefs," from Aug. 12 to 28, featuring a selection of new, short plays with gay and lesbian perspectives. 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 826-8700; www.theatreout.com.
This article appeared in print as "Jerry Springer Vs. The Underpants: And more from OC and Long Beach stages this summer."
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