Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Theater doesn't get better than this talented staff of professionals, headed by newly appointed theater chairman Eli Simon. These aren't tired, dusty academics: These folks teach, choreograph, write books, create new plays, write theater criticism and theory, direct all over the world, and program a mind-bogglingly diverse season. Not the same old same old of some university theater programs, but rather a healthy mix of classics, premieres, comedies, dramas and musicals, directed by both the staff and the students. You can see work by Tennessee Williams, Stephen Sondheim, Charles Mee, Naomi Iizuka, Shakespeare, Jean Anouilh and Cole Porter.
She's played the bad: the alcohol-guzzling hellion Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.She's played the good: the idealistic Helen Gahagan Douglas chopped into so much political mincemeat by an embryonic Tricky Dick in But Not for Me.But whether playing the whore or the saint, the accuser or accused, the victim or victimizer, Gehringer brings a grace, class and poise to her myriad characters that few actors can match. Gehringer, who lives in Laguna Beach, has been nominated for more OC Weekly Theater Awards than anyone, and she is one of the few two-time winners. She won in 1998 for Good as Newand in 2005 for perhaps her most stunning performance to date: SCR's Retreat From Moscow,in which she eloquently, acerbically and quite amusingly showed that even hectoring battle-axes are people, too. Oh, and consider this: Her great-uncle is Charlie Gehringer. Yes, that's right: Charlie Fucking Gehringer! You know? Major League Baseball Hall of Famer? Tried out for Ty Cobb? Suited up against Babe Ruth and alongside Hank Greenberg and Goose Goslin? Dominated the 1934 World Series in a losing effort? Probably could have found a cure for polio if he hadn't been so busy perfecting the sacrifice bunt?
They may not get the living wages, the multigrain bagels or cases of Perrier like those privileged souls who perform on the county's few professional stages, but actors who exercise their craft on the county's storefront- and community-theater boards work just as hardand some of them are just as talented. Case in point: Mr. Fraley. There's no other actor, union or otherwise, who's more versatile or watchable. The guy has created some of the most memorable performances in the history of Orange County's most continually interesting theater company, Rude Guerrilla. How versatile? He's played a gay Christ-like figure in Corpus Christi, and he's played Satan himself in The History of the Devil.But whether playing larger-than-life leading roles, Andy Warhol drag queens (Candy and Dorothy), psychotic medical experimenters (Cleansed),or leaders of ill-fated expeditions to the North Pole (Terra Nova),Fraley somehow manages to make all his characters achingly real. As sick, twisted, holy or profane as the role may be, Fraley imbues it with a convincing air of honesty, compassion and moral questioning.
Anaheim quartet the WillowzRichie James Follin (vocals/guitar), Loren Humphrey (drums), Jessica Reynoza (bass/vocals) and Aric Bohn (guitar/vocals)formed in 2002 and shortly thereafter had a couple of their tunes on the soundtrack to director Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. Rolling Stone and Spin are on their jock, too, but don't hold that against the Willowz. Heady accomplishments and kudos for such a young band, but the Willowz haven't let that inflate their egos or force them to bland out. Instead, they've rampaged back with Chautauqua (Dim Mak), a brash refinement of the slashing, tuneful garage rock of 2004's Are Coming and 2005's Talk in Circles. The Willowz understandably draw a lot of White Stripes comparisons: Both groups embrace rock's pre-Summer of Love innocence and bare-bones raucousness while showing respect for its blues and R&B progenitors. Follin's vocals resemble Jack White's, but the former's are even higher and more dynamic than the ex-Detroit star's; that could be down to the Willowz's habit of having Reynoza sing in unison with or slightly behind Follin's lines. Together, they cohere into that sexy snarl Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema mastered so well in Royal Trux. Thankfully, Humphrey is a better drummer than Meg White. In their earlier days, the Willowz busted a lot of familiar garage-rock moves, but did so with brash panache. The Willowz retain vestigial traces of that m.o., but they've clearly progressed, and in the process, they've positioned themselves as a unit destined to have a long, fruitful careerespecially if Michel Gondry keeps making movies.
Cypress thrash-metal marauders Hirax have been inducing tinnitus and whiplash among their tenacious fans since 1984 (the whiplash results as much from the furious headbanging Hirax's music inspires as it does from watching the revolving-door membership of the band over the past 23 years). Led by one of the few African-Americans in the genre, vocalist Katon W. De Pena, Hirax follow in the bombastic, speed-demonic tradition of groups like Slayer, Metallica and Exodus. The current lineup includes De Pena, Lance Harrison (guitar), Glenn Rogers (guitar), Steve Harrison (bass) and Fabricio Ravelli (drums). By the time you reach the end of this piece, that lineup could be outdated. Thick, thunderous and thwift, Hirax's music pummels and roils with apocalyptic intensity. Guitar solos scald and ululate like banshees, the bass is a perpetual blue-whale belch, the drums maniacally gallop and tattoo your ears like punch presses, and the vocals sound like the hoarse shouts of AC/DC's Bon Scott, if he'd eaten more raw meat during his tragically short, loud life. In this style of music, nearly every song strives to be a sonic facsimile of Armageddon. Hirax's versions of End Times just happen to be more convincing than most bands'. What's more, they record for Black Devil Records. Mercy!
Headed by brothers Alex and Rick Golson with David Scaglione and Cynthia Corley for more years than can actually be counted on two hands, all you need to do is simply plunk down the requisite unit fee, take the class and become totally immersed in the wonderful, back-breaking world of theater. Build a set with your bare hands and scavenged wood (plus a power tool or two)! Hang and gel lighting instruments! Direct a playyour choice! Edit sound! Learn how to operate a light or sound board! Costume actors in colorful retro clothing! Re-use props that have been part of hundreds of productions! Be privy to the myriad uses of flat black paint! Intimately understand the intricacies of running a snack bar! The Golsons and co. maintain just enough control to make things happen, but they allow their students to pass or fail on their own terms. Take the class enough times, and you'll know all you need to know to run a theater (Hunger Artists and Rude Guerrilla got their starts there).