Sissies, Small Towns and Shakespeare

Sissies, Small Towns and Shakespeare

There is only so much room in print or blog to review all the shows that merit attention even in a backwoods burgh like greater Orange County. So, while the OC Weekly may not get to full reviews of the following three shows on the boards at three of our local storefronts, it doesn't mean that they don't bear looking into.

First, there's Southern Baptist Sissies, which opened August 13 at OC's very own gay and lesbian theater, Theatre Out. Del Shores' comedy with a jaggedly emotional edge details the stories of four gay youths in Dallas Texas. Hopelessly Southern Baptist, and hopelessly gay, the characters are hilarious even when grappling with deeply serious issues of sexuality and religion.

The play premiered in Los Angeles in 2000 and swept all the major theater awards in Southern California. While a big audience hit, the material--surprise!--didn't sit well with Southern Baptist leadership. In 2007, when word that the play was being turned into a film, Tim Wilkins, a Southern Baptist minister and founder of a ministery that conducts "homosexual outreach," said any movie would likely lead secular audiences to conclude that evangelical Christians are "shallow thinkers and inept."

Uh...and your point, Mr Wilkins?

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Stages Theatre in Fullerton opened its production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town last weekend. A certifiable classic of the American stage, Wilder's mediation on life in small-town America didn't break the mold in terms of traditional attitudes toward the nuclear family, but it certainly incorporated a slew of unconventional techniques that, for a 1938 mainstream play, were absolutely innovative: minimalistic sets, dead characters speaking, a narrator that introduced a meatheatrical quotient to the proceedings..

One of, if not the most produced large-cast plays in American history, Wilder's play didn't exactly turn the notion of American small-town life on its head. But, in 2010, his attempt to express a belief in the essential value and joy of everyday life even in the face of hypocrisy and strife doesn't sound hokey, old-fashioned or sentimental: It sounds fucking envious.

Finally, at one of the county's most literate storefronts, the Hunger Artists Theatre Company, the frenetically intelligent words of one of the most gifted writers of English-language plays the past 40 years are featured: Tom Stoppard's Rosencranz and Guilderstern are Dead. The free-wheeling farcical comedy, which premiered in 1967, established Stoppard as a major dramatic force and catapluted him to international acclaim.

It wheels the spotlight on two of the greatest spear-carriers in theatrical history, two characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet who serve as nothing but thin plot devices in the original, but who are the major character in Stoppard's re-imagining, with Hamlet, Ophelia and the rest of Shakespeare's big players reduced to after-thoughts. It's equal parts high-end wit and comic philosophy and it's definitely a play that appeals to those who like a little bit of thought in their theater.

Theatre Out, Empire Theatre, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 826-8700. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Sept. 4. $15-$18. www.theatreout.com.

Stages, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton (714_ 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.Thru Sept. 19. $15-$18www.stagesoc.org.

Hunger Artists, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Opens Fri. Thru Sept. 17. $15-$18. www.hungerartists.com.


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