The Best Theater in OC 2015

Take a look at the greatest examples of theater and performing arts we could find for this year's Best of OC Issue.


Best New Play Festival: OC Centric
This is the fifth year of Orange County's lone festival for new plays from greater OC-area playwrights, and based on reading the scripts, it was the finest collection to date. All received full-fledged productions, including four one-acts and two full-length productions. The one-acts included Leonard Joseph Dunham's deceptively deep comedy about young and mature love, Love's Lost Words; David Scaglione's disturbing take on the things we secretly want to say to our partners but don't (or do we?), Spoken Allowed; and Joni Ravenna's equally disturbing Corrupt Impressions or the Dangerous Ones. The full-length shows included Diana Burbano's Fabulous Monsters, about a couple of aging punk rockers trying to grab that brass ring one more time, albeit with far shakier hands, and perhaps the most fleshed-out of the plays, Robert Riemer's dark, twisted, funny, fucked-up Grace Note, about a family that makes yours resemble the Cunninghams. They were a joy to read and further proof that artistic director Tamiko Washington and associate artistic director Eric Eberwein deserve their own stars on the Orange County Theater Walk of Fame (we're thinking somewhere off Bake Parkway in Irvine, only because it was always a laugh passing a freeway exit named Bake on the way to a Dead show at Irvine Meadows . . .).

Best Theatrical Ensemble: Avenue Q
Avenue Q is part of the relatively new wave of anti-musicals that poke fun at musical conventions while also adopting most of them. This mash-up of Sesame Street and Gen-X reality is a bit overrated (unlike its contemporaries such as Urinetown and The Book of Mormon), but that wasn't the fault of director Stephen Hulsey or his wholly committed cast at the Maverick Theater. There wasn't a weak link, with each performer (Tyler McGraw, Rachel McLaughlan, Kevin Garcia, Michael Rodriguez, Adair Gilliam, Tara Alkazian, Bachi Dillague, Curtis Andersen and Jilly Pretzel) creating defined characters in human and puppet form, but also blending seamlessly into a greater whole. McLaughlan, as the primary female love interest, and Gilliam, as a scene-stealing Gary Coleman-turned-building superintendent, get the best material, but everyone contributed fantabulous performances.

Best Theater Programming: Garage Theater
Long Beach's finest storefront theater doesn't produce many plays; for instance, this year it has only produced three. But two were world premieres, and the third was the local premiere of Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries. Head honcho Eric Hamme and his intrepid band of creatives get this nod for the recently concluded Darkside. Legendary writer Tom Stoppard created the piece, based on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, as a radio play for the BBC. When Hamme heard about it, he contacted the BBC and Stoppard, then got the clearance to turn it into its first staged production, one the Garagelings murdered in the best of ways. It was a big ol' existential, prog-rock mindfuck, thoroughly entertaining and a splendid integration of live performance, sound and visuals.

Best Play: Maple and Vine
Jordan Harrison's 2011 play Maple and Vine turned Mad Men-like nostalgia on its head, as contemporary urbanites, fleeing from the frightening ubiquity of 24-7 technological connection, sign up with a strange movement that has meticulously re-created 1955 in a huge gated community in Somewhere Middle America. No Internet, smartphones, poly blends, poke bowls or Donald Trump. It was a smart play, with no small amount of menace, and underscored the problematic nature of pining for an idyllic past that never truly existed. Staged at the Chance Theater, Mark Ramont's strong direction led a fine ensemble, paced by Jennifer Ruckman, who aches the most for “authenticity,” and Daniel Fagan, as the impossibly slick head of the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence.

Best Musical Production: Loch Ness
Marshall Pailet's world-premiere musical at the Chance Theater is still early in its development, and a few wrinkles need to be ironed-out, but this smart, funny musical contained genuine heart and just enough goofy humor to offset the sincere examination of a teenage daughter dealing with the loss of her mother–as well as meeting the real-life Nessie, the fabled creature rumored to exist in the murky depths of Scotland's Loch Ness. It hit the maximum on LA Bitter Lemons' lemonmeter (basically an aggregate ranking of theater reviews), with all six schlubs, including the Weekly's own, bestowing much praise on it. Pailet is still in his 20s, so keep him on your radar.

Best Actress: Jaimi Paige
This probably isn't fair, as the character Jaimi Paige portrayed in Venus In Furs at South Coast Repertory is equal parts sexy dominatrix and ancient Greek goddess summoned to Earth to exact vengeance on those small-dicked men who think a hot woman is pretty fucking hot. But Paige's performance kept the mystery of her character intact throughout. She was, at times, dumb as a hammer, sharp as jagged glass, crackling as a bullwhip and lithe as a panther. David Ives' play tended to be arrogantly overblown at times, but Paige's chameleon-like performance always kept the intricate power play between actress and playwright interesting. Oh, and them legs. Absolutely them legs.

Best Actor: Roger Guenveur Smith
This one also probably isn't fair, as Roger Guenveur Smith is one of the most singular talents in American arts. OC was lucky enough to get him for a handful of nights in January's Off-Center Festival at the Segerstrom Center, and if you were one of the relatively few people who detached from Netflix or whatever stupid thing you were doing and saw the one-person show Rodney King, you witnessed a visceral, poetic, rhythmic, intense, sad, funny and absolutely fearless performance. He humanized the man made famous during the 1992 LA riots, showing that he was a real human being, one with flaws and glimmers of greatness, just like the rest of us. And for those of you who knew about this show but couldn't make the time for it? You suck. Yes, we're talking about you!

Best Theater We Don't Review on General Principal: 3D Theatricals
Some bigshot Los Angeles PR flack who represents this Orange County-based producing entity (which does mount impressive musicals) last year recommended to his clients they no longer invite (i.e., give free tickets to) reviewers from Stage and Cinema, one of the most widely read theater-related websites in Southern California. The reason? Wadded-up panties based on the site's “negative” reviews of 3-D Theatricals productions. Anyone who knows the website's creator, Tony Frankel, or has ever contributed to it knows how hard this guy works, how his only concern is holding theaters to a higher standard, and how he cares less about bruising people's feelings than he does about writing and pushing his contributors (none of whom receive a dime) to write honest reviews. Theater producers, as well as the bigshot Hollywood hacks who represent them, can do whatever the fuck they want when it comes to reviewers: ban them, shit on them, ignore them. But that doesn't mean we can't call them big dicks for doing so and choose to not review shows at spaces that can't take honest criticism–talented big dicks, but still big dicks.

See also:
The 50 Best Things About the OC Music Scene
The 50 Worst Things About the OC Music Scene
The 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: The Complete List

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