Out, Damned Stage!

Where there's a Will . . .

While 95 percent of theater in Orange County gets done inside a box, come summer, we air it out at a handful of outdoor venues. That's a good thing if you're a fan of fresh air, but it sucks if even the thought of Shakespeare makes you think of your jammies. For whatever reason, local outdoor shows are usually always written by that prolific hack.

The county's best outdoor venue is the 550-seat Festival Amphitheatre on Main Street in Garden Grove. It's our only permanent outdoor theatrical venue, and it's a few minutes from what passes as downtown Garden Grove and its handful of bars. Just one show will be produced at the gorgeous tree-encircled space this year, Romeo and Juliet (Aug. 9-25). While yet another production of perhaps the most-staged play in Western civilization isn't something to get too excited about, it is produced by Shakespeare Orange County (www.shakespeareoc.org), which does the Bard about as best as he can possibly be done without narcotics or hallucinatory agents.

The outdoor bowl at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center is, along with the center as a whole, one of North County's best-kept secrets—mainly because of myopic leadership that doesn't realize the jewel it truly possesses, as well as the fact it's located in a residential neighborhood that squawks every time a light is turned on at the space after 8 p.m. But it does have a stage and seating for up to 400 people, and catered dinners are available before the performances. This year, the Muck Repertory Theatre (www.muckenthaler.org) will stage two weekends of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's most interesting comedy, literarily speaking, because it's so fucking melancholy.

Ain't nothing gloomy in the two shows from Shakespeare by the Sea (www.shakespearebythesea.org), especially if wife-beating and Jew-bashing rank high on your list of entertainment options. The company brings The Taming of the Shrew, the oh-so-funny brutality of Petruchio and his obstinate bitch of a wife, to Irvine's Turtle Park on July 15, and the crafty machinations of the hated and ridiculed Shylock in The Merchant of Veniceon July 22. The troupe mounts both plays in Corona del Mar's Grant Howland Park on Aug. 4 and 5.

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The only true Shakespeare festival in the county is Capo Shakes (www.caminorealplayhouse.org), the South Orange County Community Theater's annual summer homage. This year, they mount All's Well that Ends Welland The Comedy of Errors,and if you can describe the difference between both in less than 20 words, watch more TV.There's also the occasionally funny The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).

The festival is split between an indoor space and a portable stage erected in a flat park. Outdoor sight lines and volume are often compromised. But like most of the outdoor shows listed herein, they're cheap and they're outside, which means plenty of dark sky, the occasional pinprick of a star or planet, and the constant summery smell of burning hillsides.

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