Neil Simon died last month. Based on what we saw on social media, lots of people took it hard. Palpable was the anguish, sincere were the remembrances of this most commercially successful of playwrights (who died at the ripe age of 91), barbed were the attacks on the snooty-nosed contingent who don’t consider the appellation of “perfect troubadour for the middle classes of the ’60s and ’70s,” in the words of the Washington Post’s Peter Marks, to be that superlative, considering so many of his characters were the kind of white, comfortable, wise-cracking New Yorkers who, in real life, would be unbearable to be around.
And who are we to argue? So, for our occasionally annual preview of the most interesting plays on tap this fall on OC stages, OC Weekly proudly presents its (patent pending) WWNT barometer: What Would Neil Think? We took the upcoming plays that most piqued our interest, and then, using an impossibly advanced algorithm that would make Google blush with envy, rated each play on a 1-to-10 scale on how much the voice of white middle-brow America in the sort-of late 20th century would approve.
The Other Place. Super-smart neurologist starts seeing weird shit on the eve of delivering the most important seminar of her career. The Chance doesn’t pick dumb non-musicals, and (OC product!) Sharr White’s 2012 play most likely will continue that string. WWNT? If you type “neurologist” and “Neil Simon” into Google (How the fuck did you think this snazzy algorithm works anyway?), the first link is to a Dr. Neil Simon at St. Vincent’s Clinic in Sydney, Australia. 10! Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (888) 455-4212; chancetheater.com. Sept. 21-Oct. 21.
The Producers. Who doesn’t love this Mel Brooks musical masterpiece that seems, strangely enough, to only get better as it ages? Maybe we’ve all finally gotten over that Hitler thing? WWNT? Unlike most of us, Brooks knew Simon well, and via Twitter, he called him a “clutch hitter” as a writer on the seminal comedy TV series Your Show of Shows as well as “one of the sweetest and least jealous writers you could ever work with.” 10! One More Productions at the Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 741-9550; www.onemoreproductions.com. Sept. 27-Oct. 21.
The Secret in the Wings. STAGEStheatre’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher last year was about a kajillion times better than the piece of crud wheeled out by South Coast Repertory a couple of years before. Patti Cumby, who helmed that production, returns as director with this one which, frankly, we know nothing about other than that it kind of weaves Beauty and the Beast and a few Brothers Grimm tales into a “captivating voyage into our collective childhood subconscious,” according to the theater’s propaganda. WWNT? Neil was a kid once. 7. STAGEStheatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-4484; www.stagesoc.org. Oct. 5-Nov. 4.
Kings. Sarah Burgess’ play about an idealistic, newly elected congresswoman thrust into the swamp of Washington, D.C., was a big hit last year off-Broadway, which is in New York. WWNT? Did someone say New York? 9. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org. Oct. 13-Nov. 10.
Vampire Queen of Mars. Michael Dale Brown, who has worked so hard for so long helping shepherd this theater, wrote and is directing this “campy” send-up of Hollywood B-movies from the 1950s, in which an expedition to Mars discovers a race of Amazon vampires led by a younger blood-sucking Neil Simon (okay, that last bit isn’t true). WWNT? He got mentioned about 10 words ago, so . . . 10! Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-5269; costamesaplayhouse.com. Oct. 19-Nov. 11.
Corpus Christi. Hard to believe that when this Terrence McNally passion play about a gay redeemer of mankind and his gay acolytes was first produced in OC in 1999, the Rude Guerrilla Theater Co. had to be concerned about the possibility of the protests, bomb threats and fatwahs that the initial NYC production dealt with the year before. Hard to believe that anyone used to care about theater in any way other than expressing their heartbreak about a 91-year-old playwright dying, that is. WWNT? Other than Felix, Neil didn’t really traffic much in overtly queer characters, did he? 2. The Wayward Artist at Grand Central Arts Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana; www.thewaywardartist.org. Nov. 9-Nov. 18.
Culture Clash (Still) In America. Yeah, this ain’t the fall, but damn it, it’s the return to OC of the smart, satirical and hyperkinetic blend of political sharpness and gut-busting funny that makes Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza such a pleasure to watch, regardless of what they’re doing together. WWNT? Hmm . . . Montoya . . . Salinas . . . Siguenza . . . 1. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org. Dec. 30-Jan. 28, 2019.