[Summer Guide] This Offbeat Summer Theater Season Features Camp and Carnage

Camp and Carnage
Fire will burn, burn, burn, and stomachs will churn, churn, churn in this offbeat theatrical off-season

Summer is always the leanest theatrical time of the year. Professional stages usually close shop or offer one special engagement; many others find it hard to lure audiences with anything more adventurous than a Shakespeare comedy or tried-and-true musical.

But that doesnNt mean OC theater this summer is a wasteland. In fact, the more intriguing shows on local stages the next few months all share some kind of odd parallel with a show out of Long Beach in July: Cannibal! The Musical. TheyNre all either musicals, campy satires of B movies, use the phrase “a pound of flesh,” or involve a name very similar to the protagonist in Cannibal!:Alferd.

WeNre not going to vouch for any of their merits, since theyNre not open yet. But this much is certain: Combine all their subject matters into two plays, and you wind up with a couple of doozies—acid-dropping female hippies who listen to Johnny Cash while in prison and Frank Sinatra-loving merchants turned U.S. presidents who eat their political opponents. And, if the real stuff were being smoked onstage, everyone in the audience would be pie-eyed and awfully hungry by the final curtain. Just, please, no finger food.

In order of appearance:

Ring of Fire
The West Coast premiere of a musical culled from nearly 40 songs written or performed by an American artist who truly deserves the title of icon: Johnny Cash. This isnNt a dramatization of CashNs life as much as itNs a forum to use his songs as the narrative thread to tell a story about a dirt-poor musician following his dreams and talent in order to find his soul. Reviews have been mixed, but if youNre a fan of the Man in Black, it might do the trick. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, (714) 994-6310; www.lamiradatheatre.com. June 5-21.

Reefer Madness
The musical satire of the 1938 cult-classic film is usually a slam-dunk at the box office. It did great in its original Los Angeles production in 1998—winding up off-Broadway—and also did boffo box office in its STAGEStheatre production three years ago. ThereNs no reason to think it wonNt be equally successful in another Fullerton theater, especially considering the Maverick has a fine track record of adapting kitschy, campy cinematic fare to the stage, as in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Night of the Living Dead. Maverick Theater, (714) 526-7070; www.mavericktheater.com. June 12-Aug. 2.


My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra
Fans of HobokenNs favorite son will get more than their fix in this musical revue of SinatraNs songs. ThereNs no story, and this isnNt really a play. Rather, it consists of two men and two women hanging out in a nightclub and spontaneously breaking into song, either as bartenders, flirtatious couples or soused-up losers in love crying into their drinks. Those who havenNt developed an appreciation for Sinatra might be hard to convince to shell out the ducats, but the Laguna Playhouse usually strikes gold with its one yearly summer production, and this one probably will be no different. Laguna Playhouse, (714) 494-ARTS; www.lagunaplayhouse.com. July 7-23.

The Chance Theater does musicals as well as anyone in Orange County, if not Southern California, and this time around, it tackles one of the genreNs biggest. This ode to recreational drug use, anti-war protests and buck-ass-naked hippies is in its 40s now, but apparently it isnNt slowing down. It played more than 2,000 performances on Broadway in the late N60s and early N70s and opened as a revival on the Great White Way this March. It immediately earned eight Tony nominations and garnered an appearance on some late-night TV show hosted by David Letterman. The Chance Theater, (714) 777-3033; www.chancetheater.com. July 10-Aug. 16.

Presidential Hopeless
Considering the name of the president in this play by local playwright John Richardson is Roy Ubu, weNre guessing it borrows more than a little from Alfred JarryNs Ubu Roi. That 1896 play, as everyone knows, was a landmark in the development of the so-called Theater of the Absurd. In this one, President Roy Ubu is a small-time mayor and former karaoke lounge singer promoted to the highest office in the land. Sadly, that doesnNt sound so absurd. STAGEStheatre, (714) 525-4484; www.stagesoc.org. July 18-Aug. 9.

Cannibal! The Musical
Before he helped to create an animated world in which characters defecated from their mouths and ate with their rectums, Trey Parker made a musical “film” very loosely based on the “story” of Alferd Packer, the only person ever put on trial in the U.S. for eating another humanNs flesh. The low-budget film languished in obscurity until South Park exploded, and Troma Entertainment, a powerhouse in the world of distributing low-budget films, rereleased it in 1996. This is the stage adaptation of the film musical. ItNs never been produced in Southern California. Come see why not, or maybe to ask why. Garage Theatre, (866) 811-4111; www.thegaragetheatre.org. July 24-Aug. 22.

The Merchant of Venice
The most literate of the offerings on local stages this summer also ranks among the finest of ShakespeareNs plays. ItNs the venerable chestnut about the scheming, manipulative Jewish merchant scorned and verbally abused by his fellow Venetians. The subject of endless analysis over the years centering on whether Shakespeare wrote a cruelly bigoted play or a noble defense of human dignity, itNs often overlooked that the tragic story of Shylock is built within a structure of a good, old-fashioned romantic comedy. Shakespeare Orange County, (714) 744-7016; www.shakespeareoc.org. Aug. 6-22.


Women Behind Bars
What is there not to like in Tom EyenNs riff on 1950s sexploitation movies? ThereNs sadism, masochism, lesbianism, chain-smoking and gum-snapping. No wonder this story of a naive young woman framed for robbery and twisted into a bitter drug dealer after eight brutal years of incarceration has been translated into Hebrew. Some things sell in any language! STAGEStheatre, (714) 525-4484; www.stagesoc.org. Aug. 21-Sept. 20.

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