The Year in Floodlights and Grease Paint

Some highs and some lows of the 1998 theater season on Orange County and Long Beach stages, with a little San Diego thrown in just because we can.

JAN. 1: Only eight months to go before Rent opens at the Orange County Performing Arts Center! JAN. 10: The world premiere of Garrett Omata's intriguing look into religious faith, Mystery Play, opens at the Actors' Playhouse in Long Beach. The 27-year-old Omata, a seminary student, committed suicide before the play opened, ending what could have been a most promising dramatic career. JAN. 22: The Hunger Artists' flamboyant all-male take on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest gives the phrase bun-burying an entirely different connotation. JAN. 24: The Birds, an ambitious updating of the Greek classic, opens at South Coast Repertory. Adapted in part by the frenetically talented members of Culture Clash, the play rocks. JAN. 28: The second annual OCIE's-the Weekly's celebration of excellence in Orange County theater-is held in Dana Point. This gives us one more opportunity to say how much we loved Amy Freed's Freedomland, which earned our pick for best play of 1997. No doubt catching word of this honor, the people who decide the Pulitzer Prize for drama put the play on their shortlist. FEB. 1: The new musical Robin Hood and the White Arrow opens in Buena Park. The show is so bad that one reviewer splits during intermission and, moments after getting in his car, finds himself convulsed with laughter for an entire five minutes. MARCH 5: Inside Out, the hit off-Broadway musical, opens at the Laguna Playhouse, proving that the phrase “hit off-Broadway” does not mean “great show” or “compelling theater.” APRIL 1: No fooling: halfway to Rent's opening! APRIL 11: Tom Stoppard's Arcadia opens at South Coast Repertory, the only play on any local stage this year to tackle the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics and the history of English landscaping. MAY 7: Fullerton College opens Moby Dick-Rehearsed, a play unique in the canon of Western literature for being the only tale about a white whale-Dick, Moby-written by a white whale-Welles, Orson. MAY 24: My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine opens at the Sledgehammer Theater in San Diego. Playwright Nicky Silver agrees to change the title in midrun after Borgnine's attorneys threaten legal action. Silver decides not to change the title to My Marriage to a Has-Been Grotesque-Looking Old Fat Guy With No Sense of Humor or Perspective, opting instead for My Marriage to Marisa Tomei. Tomei does not sue. JUNE 1: Two more months to Rent! JUNE 18: South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival opens, highlighted by the first reading of Howard Korder's awesome new play, The Hollow Lands. JULY 8: Chicago opens at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Alan Thicke stars as the sleazy lawyer who gets a murderer off. And while we'd like nothing more than to say how Thicke stunk up the joint, the truth is that he rocked. JULY 17: Stages' founder, Brian Kojac, graces the cover of the OC Weekly, a large box of popcorn crowning his head in honor of the troupe's financing of its first feature film, The Last Drive-in. Interestingly, that cover is one of only three hanging in the Weekly's conference room. Just as interesting, the other two feature a gay weightlifter on the beach and a blindfolded man with a rubber ball in his mouth and a dog collar around his neck. Ruff! AUG. 1: Five more days until Rent! Aug. 5: Rent! Rent! Rent! Rent! Sucks! Sucks! Sucks! Sucks! AUG. 15: Oklahoma! opens at the Huntington Beach Playhouse. At least one reviewer gets a chubby. AUG. 21: Cats opens at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Didn't see it, but we bet it wasn't as bad as Rent. SEPT. 17: The Last Session opens at the Laguna Playhouse. Powerful, entertaining and proof once again that Orange County still has a long way to go before it's a truly livable place. Though the play is about a musician stricken with AIDS, the braintrust at the Laguna Playhouse intentionally downplayed the AIDS angle in advertising and promotion because it feared alienating the white-haired core audience. We don't blame the theater in the slightest. Choosing the play was risky enough. But it is a bit maddening to think that the major theater in the city with the county's most prominent gay population felt forced to soft-pedal a show's content because of reactionaries. NOV. 6: The Rude Guerrilla Theater Company opens its new downtown Santa Ana space with Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, perhaps the most adventurous opening of a new theater in Orange County history. NOV. 22: The Orange County Playwrights Alliance stages the winning entries in its first statewide new-play competition. The winner? Prince Gomolvilas' Donut Holes in Orbit, leading us to ask which is more creative: The playwright's name, or his play's title? NOV. 28: The Glory of Christmas opens at the Crystal Cathedral, evidence that “irony” and “hypocrisy” are still not in the Reverend Robert Schuller's personal dictionary. DEC. 14: Howard Korder's play The Hollow Lands receives its second reading at South Coast Repertory. An audience member is discovered surreptitiously taping the play. Why would some lowlife scum do such a sneaky, underhanded thing? Because I think it's awesome! DEC. 31: Have we mentioned yet how much we despised Rent?

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