Lots of weird, existentialist, spoofy, disastrous, funny, deep, meaningful, stupid, overblown, overrated, excellent, outrageous, exciting, can't-wait-to-see-it, what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking-producing-this stuff on tap for what is shaping up as a heck of an intriguing summer:
THE CIVIL WAR We have no idea why Frank Wildhorn—who composed two garish but successful musicals, Jekyll and Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel—turned his attention to the skirmish between the Yanks and the Rebs. The show is subtitled "Our Story in Song," and this touring version stars Larry Gatlin, and we still haven't found anything to get excited about. Oh, wait! This is a newly conceived version of the show, which may not have flopped on Broadway but certainly stumbled. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-7878. June 6-11.
THE MINNEOLA TWINS Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) is a wonderful playwright, and this 1997 play has yet to be produced in these parts. It's about identical twins who battle each other from the so-called "docile '50s" through the so-called "tumultuous '60s" and into the so-called "conservatism of the '80s." Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, (888) 622-5376. June 22-July 2.
PACIFIC PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL This is South Coast Repertory's third-annual festival of new plays, and we really liked the first two. We enjoy sitting in a dark room and watching actors sit on chairs and read from scripts. Not because we particularly like seeing people on chairs reading, but there's something very powerful and enduring about words when they're written and read well, and most of the plays in this year's festival are written by very fine playwrights indeed—including Nilo Cruz, who wrote the very excellent Two Sisters and a Piano and returns with Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams, which not only has a killer title but is also set in Cuba during the pope's 1998 visit. And there's Amy Freed's The Beard of Avon. Freed, who wrote the amazing Freedomland, has written a new play that sounds like a big goof on the age-old debate of who really wrote Shakespeare's plays. There are eight other plays included in the two-week festival, and there's always great talent on hand to make the words sing. South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555. June 15-25.
NO EXIT Something about the summer gets the wacky thespians at Rude Guerrilla all worked up about French radicals. Last year, it was a one-man show about Jean Genet; this time around, it's Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, an intense drama about three people stuck in a room for eternity, which coined the phrase "Hell is other people." And believe us, we know what that means. Empire Theater, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. June 23-July 16.
TROUBADOUR THEATER COMPANY If you don't see this stupendously talented, hyperenergetic creative company perform its annual Shakespeare shtick this summer, then you're just a big dick. There isn't a more energetic, fun and just goddamn funny way to spend a summer night than watching Troubadour rip Shakespeare apart and put him back together again. They're musical, they're physical, and they're pretty good actors. This year's spoof? A Midsummer Saturday Night's Fever Dream. Need we say more? Grove Theater Center's Festival Amphitheater, Garden Grove, (714) 741-9555. July 7-8; July 14-15.
THE GHOST SONATA This marks Sledgehammer Theatre's 2000-2001 season opening, and that's good enough for us. Couple that with the fact that Scott Feldspar (Sledgehammer's guiding force for years and years until a couple of years ago) is directing and the fact that this is the great, foreboding but rarely produced playwright August Strindberg's most cynical, malicious account of man's ill-fated nature, and that makes for a Big Deal in these parts. Sledgehammer Theatre, San Diego, (619) 544-1484. June 25-July 23.
CABARET Before American Beauty, Sam Mendes directed this revival of Kander and Ebb's popular musical about a bunch of degenerates in Nazi Germany. We saw it in New York and fell asleep during the second act, but that might have less to do with the quality of the show than with our drunken discovery of a giant, empty room with sexy red walls and soft, inviting couches. But we do remember it was sleazy and kinky (the show, not the room), and the score has always been one of our guilty pleasures. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-7878. Aug. 8-13.
TITANIC This is the dumbest idea for a musical ever. Lots of people get on a ship. Ship goes down. Lots of people die—except now they're singing about it. Yet it won four Tony Awards in 1997 for best book, best score, best sets and best musical. What the fuck do they know about theater in New York? It's a dumb idea, and the competition that year among musicals was pretty grim. But we're so sick of this overused, overdone metaphor (Titanic as a symbol of man's hubris, blah-blah-blah) that we might see this show just to take off our trousers and piss on the stage. We're usually feeling mighty bitter in August anyway because that's the month we were born and we think life sucks because no one ever calls us devilishly handsome or impishly cute. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Aug. 22-27.
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