The dog days have turned into the cat’s pajamas (not the first tired metaphor in this piece, alas). The summer used to rival December’s procession of lame feel-good holiday plays for the worst stretch in OC theater, but no longer. One of the most interesting sets of plays to ever grace OC stages are on tap the next three months, a testament to the continuing evolution of our better houses and the continued growth of two homegrown festivals.
Fellowship! An online review will run whenever someone gets around to it, but if you’ve finally gotten over that three-part abortion of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and feel the need to revisit something that truly reflects J.R.R. Tolkien’s singular world, don’t check out this musical parody of the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But if you like silly, stupid, gleefully politically incorrect and hilarious theater with some of the finest local talent around, then please do. Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-7070; www.mavericktheater.com. Through June 30. $15-$30.
Into the Woods. Even for those of us who need to feel better about ourselves by claiming we aren’t as dumb as the idiots who like musicals, it’s hard to not adore—yes, adore!—James Lapine/Stephen Sondheim’s quite grown-up re-imagining of folk tales that cautions us to be careful what we wish for, for we might end up with an asshole in the Oval Office. What—it’s not about that?! STAGEStheatre, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484; stagesoc.org. Through July 21. $30-$32.
Ragtime. It will be interesting to see what the Chance does with this 1998 musical adaptation of the 1975 novel. The Broadway debut featured about two dozen actors, exploding fireworks and a working Model T, its visual extravagance juxtaposed against a story that revealed the fault lines of race and economic inequity in the first decade of the 20th century. The Chance keeps (second overworked metaphor) knocking big musicals such as this out of the park, and for this, it’s lassoed top-notch director Casey Stangl (hence said metaphor—geddit?), who has helmed shows at the La Jolla Playhouse and South Coast Repertory. Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (888) 455-4212; chancetheater.com. Previews start June 28; opens July 6. Through July 28. $25-$49.
New Swan Shakespeare Festival. The New Swan doesn’t do Shakespeare the reverent, staid boring way, nor does it compensate by making it bigger or more “contemporary” to make it relevant. As artistic director Eli Simon says, “New Swan doesn’t concern itself with spectacle or over-the-top entertainment—our theater is too small and intimate for that. We see Shakespeare’s plays as opportunities to examine what really makes people tick, why they are motivated to behave as they (we) do. Let’s call it a series of journeys into the heart of the human condition.” This year, the troupe tackles The Merchant of Venice and Two Gentlemen of Verona. New Swan Theater at UC Irvine, 4002 Mesa Rd., Irvine, (949) 824-2787; newswanshakespeare.com. In repertory, July 3-Aug. 30. $13-$57.
Richard III. Brian Kojac, who founded STAGES in the late 20th century and has influenced the artistic paths of more actors and directors in North County as anyone, hasn’t done much theater since the first time he adapted this Shakespeare play in 2009. But anyone who has seen him act in the handful of shows he’s done the past five years at the Maverick knows he hasn’t missed a step in terms of performing, and it’s safe to say anyone who chooses to both direct and star in a Shakespeare history play, as Kojac is doing with this one, still has ample thespian cojones. Maverick Theater; www.mavericktheater.com. July 12-Aug. 17. $10-$20.
New Work at the Wayward Artist.The Wayward Artist, OC’s newest troupe, jumps into new plays this summer with two. Strong Arm is an adaptation of Russian song-and-dance man (he really was funnier than so many of the solemn renditions of his work would indicate, or so those who say those kinds of things say) Anton Chekov’s The Seagull. According to the always-reliable press release, the play—about “a famous tennis player, her athletic superstar of a son, and her professional baseball-playing boyfriend”—“examines the life-changing consequences brought about by the complex web of professional sports and a mother’s love and sacrifice for her son.” That’s followed by Michael Mejia’s Three Letter Words, a “serio-comic drama of water-cooler gossip, complex gay relationships, and a deeply human story of love and loss.” Grand Central Arts Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (657) 205-6273; www.thewaywardartist.org. Strong Arm, July 12-28. $15-$25; Three Letter Words, Aug. 22-Aug. 31. $15.
The Who’s Tommy. An ambitious show for any theater—especially one for a community theater, even if it is a slice above the rest—but director Michael Serna is one of the best local directors around, so this is intriguing. Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-5269; costamesaplayhouse.com. July 19-July 28. $25.
OC-Centric. For the first time since its inaugural festival nine years ago, the county’s only local playwright festival is producing four one-acts. Co-producer Eric Eberwein says they are all “uncommonly fine one-act plays that tell uncommon stories: serious and funny plays about friendship, integrity, identity and community, notable in their diversity.” Chapman University’s Moulton Center Studio Theatre, 300 E. Palm Ave., Orange, (714) 902-5716; www.oc-centric.com. Aug. 15-Aug. 25. $12-$23.
Shakespeare Orange County. John Walcutt and company did amazing work and produced amazing results at the Festival Amphitheatre in Garden Grove since taking over in 2014 for Tom Bradac, who founded SOC in 1979. But it wasn’t enough for the city, which owns the venue and last summer signed a long-term agreement with Long Form Assembly to stage concerts there (the newly named Garden Amp did win this infernal rag’s Best Live Music Venue in its 2018 Best Of, so there is that), forcing SOC to move. But it landed as gracefully as a cat, partnering with Santa Ana College. The season kicks off June 29-30 with a Korean Festival, including a kids-oriented production of Romeo & Juliet and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, performed in Korean with English subtitles (talk about something different in local theater!). The company is also mounting Much Ado About Nothing (July 11-21) and Antony and Cleopatra (July 25-Aug. 4), but the real buzz is the Aug. 8-18 production of Zoot Suit, in observance of the 40th anniversary of Luis Valdez’s play about the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. The play killed in its LA debut at the Mark Taper Forum but fizzled in its Broadway run (only the second play by a Latin playwright to get that distinction), lasting only 41 nights (but Edward James Olmos did get a Tony nod). And that’s one more reason to say, “Fuck New York.” Santa Ana College, 1530 W. Seventh St., Santa Ana; www.shakespeareoc.org. Visit the website for ticket costs.
Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???