In a little more than a year, Orange County lost two of its edgiest, longest-established storefront theaters: The Monkey Wrench Collective, which closed in December 2011, and the Hunger Artists Theatre Co., which closed in November. Both announcements were disheartening because, together (if you count the Monkey Wrench's original incarnation as the Rude Guerrilla Theatre Ensemble), they shared a collective 30 years of producing (16 for Hunger Artists, 14 for Monkey Wrench) and offered scores of plays ranging from Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill to Samuel Beckett and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
But this is hardly a death knell for local theater. Sure, the Laguna Playhouse is just a rental these days, just another community theater in a very big space, but South Coast Repertory remains a formidable presence and gained an infusion of energy when Marc Masterson stepped up as artistic director in 2011. And three producing entities either opened in 2012 or greatly ramped up their offerings: Stage Door Repertory and the Galley Theater in Anaheim, plus the Mysterium Theatre in Orange. Time will tell if they can gain the traction to join the Chance Theatre, the Maverick Theater, STAGEStheatre and Theatre Out, all of which seem to be doing fine in these rough economic times.
The following is a list of the most intriguing plays being offered over the next six months or so in local theater:
CHANCE THEATER: The season kicks off with Triassic Parq, a musical parody of Jurassic Park told from the perspective of the dinosaurs (Jan. 25-Feb. 24). In April, the Chance stages a joint production of the groundbreaking play The Laramie Project and its follow-up piece, The Laramie Project: 10 Years After. In July, the Andrew Jackson musical (really) Bloody Bloody Jackson takes the stage, followed in late September by a rarely performed piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Donald Margulies, Time Stands Still, about a photojournalist who barely survives a bomb blast in Iraq. www.chancetheater.com.
MAVERICK THEATER: Brian Newell's fusion of cinema and stage is in full flower this year, as the first four mainstage shows all have something to do with film. Opening Jan. 11 is Yasmine Reza's four-character play God of Carnage, which was turned into a Roman Polanski film, Carnage. That's followed by Amadeus on Feb. 15, the musical adaptation of Legally Blonde on April 10 and the most interesting sounding of all: his adaptation of The Sting, which opens May 30. www.mavericktheater.com.
MYSTERIUM THEATRE: This ridiculously energetic producing entity will mount more than 20 shows in 2013, and while not all dates have been announced yet, productions will range from musical standards such as Hair and Damn Yankees to straight plays including Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out (which is actually about a gay, major-league baseball player) and Rashomon. www.mysteriumshop.com.
SEGERSTROM CENTER OF THE ARTS: The two biggest nationally touring musicals onstage in 2013 come early: Warhorse, which won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Play (and features life-sized horse puppets), opens Jan. 22, and the wickedly successful Wicked opens Feb. 20. www.sctfta.org.
SOUTH COAST REPERTORY: The play with the most interesting sounding title of the year, Stephen Adly Guírgis' well-received Broadway hit The Motherfucker With the Hat, opens Jan. 11. The Whale, a piece about a 600-pound man by up-and-coming playwright Sam Hunter, called by SCR founder Martin Benson "one of the most exciting new playwrights in American theater," opens March 15, while the frenetically talented Noah Haidle's latest play, Smokefall, opens its world premiere April 5. www.scr.org.
STAGE DOOR REPERTORY THEATRE: This space offers the theatrical adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 39 Steps, in which four actors play more than 150 characters. It opens March 23. That's followed by William Mastrosimone's intense 1982 psychological thriller Extremities, which opens sometime in May. Also of note are LA Misérable, a spoof on living in Los Angeles, and the always-entertaining Noises Off, both in the summer. www.stagedoorrep.org.
STAGESTHEATRE: Things get off to a very interesting start under new programming director (and OC Weekly arts critic) Dave Barton. Plays by two icons of mid-20th-century theater, Jean Genet (The Balcony) and Eugène Ionesco (The Chairs), launch the season in January. In March, Yasmina Reza, the author of critically acclaimed pieces such as Art and God of Carnage, comes to Fullerton with Live X 3. Barton's fondness of British playwrights manifests in April with two one-acts from Scottish writer Linda McLean, followed by two more one-acts from the brilliant mind of American playwright Howard Korder. In June, the theater will mount the musical version of Eating Raoul. www.stagesoc.org.
THEATRE OUT: As of press time, we could find only one show scheduled for Orange County's only gay-and-lesbian theater: [title of show], a musical about two guys trying to write a musical about a musical. It opens Jan. 11. www.theatreout.com.