Sunday, December 29, 2002

Quality rises with local curtains
Smaller troupes show they can match the pace set by larger outfits.
Special to the Register

For Orange County theater this year, it was a case of getting older and getting better.

Time was when strong outings by north county troupes Stages, Vanguard and Fullerton Civic Light and occasional good work by various small troupes were all you could expect.

Now, a cadre of independent storefront theater troupes leads the charge with a muscular command of theater. They're well-schooled in the art form's demands and aren't afraid to take chances.

Shaken loose from its home of nine years, Vanguard had its scheduled season disrupted and has yet to find a new home. Now occupying its old venue are Hunger Artists, who offer works of varied quality regardless of audience turnout, and the upstart Insurgo Theatre Movement, a small company to keep an eye on.

The Chance, Rude Guerrilla Theater Company and Stages Theatre are the nucleus of the county's best small theater groups. All three have enjoyed banner years. Rude Guerrilla in particular has had an exceptional season at its Empire Theater in downtown Santa Ana: Seven of its nine productions were worthy of note.

Pro troupes Fullerton Civic Light Opera and McCoy Rigby Entertainment succeeded with warhorses old and new: FCLO with "The Scarlet Pimpernel," McCoy Rigby with a new touring production of "Jesus Christ Superstar."

In nearby Long Beach, International City Theatre (downtown) and the city's only professional musical theater group, Musical Theatre West (at Carpenter Center), did substantial work. At its two venues, the venerated Long Beach Playhouse had one of its best years in recent memory, with too many good shows to list, while at the Edison Theatre downtown, Cal Rep offered intriguing works like "Elfriede's Story" and "Willie, Mickey and the Duke."


1. " 'Master Harold'... and the boys" (International City Theatre): Athol Fugard's concise, incisive script, with its tough, unflinching look at the true ugliness of racism, got a penetrating take by caryn morse desai and her standout cast.

2. "Taking Sides" (Rude Guerrilla): Ronald Harwood's trenchant examination at how a famed German conductor is raked over the coals in the aftermath of World War II got forceful direction by Sharyn Case and strong acting overall.

3. "Dealer's Choice" (Stages): Director Steven John gave Marber's script the right punch and urgency, and his cast ran with it, creating a funny, profane and yet genuinely profound evening.

4. "Triumph of Love" (International City Theatre): The addition of songs to Marivaux's light, clever look at what makes the heart stir turned a well-crafted comedy into a sweet-tempered fairy tale.

5. "Art" (Rude Guerrilla): Yazmina Reza's text, an intellectual exercise disguised as a superb character study, was beautifully realized in Renee Gallo's canny, well-acted staging.

6. "She Stoops to Conquer" (Long Beach Playhouse): This staging deftly depicted Goldsmith's skilled, witty writing, balancing farcical roughhousing with sophistication.

7. "Three Days of Rain" (The Chance): Director Oanh Nguyen magnified the nuances of this tragic psychological study, with subtle, versatile performances from his three leads.

8. "Sleeping Around" (Rude Guerrilla): Director Dave Barton guided this rewarding script and a near-flawless cast with consummate skill, riding the text's every ebb and flow.

9. "All's Well That Ends Well" (Grove Theater Co.): Jane Macfie's streamlined staging of the Bard's comedy was quaint and fanciful.

10. "The Sound of Music" (Saddleback Civic Light Opera): Sheryl Donchey and Diane King Vann's staging had a first-rate Maria and solid thespian and vocal work all around.


"Amy's View" (International City Theatre); "Cleansed" (Rude Guerrilla); "David's Mother" (Rude Guerrilla); "The Gondoliers" (Chance Theater); "Hamlet" (The Hunger Artists); "Henry V" (Insurgo Theatre Movement); "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" (Musical Theatre West); "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" (Long Beach Playhouse); "The Misanthrope -The Karaoke Musical" (Stages); "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" (Stages); "Putting It Together" (International City Theatre); Scales of Justice (Long Beach Playhouse); "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (FCLO); "Show Boat" (Musical Theatre West); "Smash" (Long Beach Playhouse); "Suburb" (Long Beach Playhouse); "Truth & Beauty" (Rude Guerrilla).


Erika Amato ("Nine"); Michael Carr, Nicole Ann Mohr ("Smash"); Richard Comeau ("Jake's Women," "Trail of Tears"); Mark Coyan, Kimberly Fisher ("Cockfighters," "Hamlet"); Abbie de Vera ("All's Well That Ends Well"); Eric Eisenbrey ("David's Mother"); Ramlah Frediani, Erika Ceporius ("As You Like It"); T. Eric Hart ("The Scarlet Pimpernel"); Joseph Horn ("Three Days of Rain," "As You Like It"); Donald Kindle ("Last Night of Ballyhoo"); Jill Cary Martin, Tom Turnley ("Molly Sweeney"); Jack Messenger ("The Young Man from Atlanta"); Eddie Nickerson ("Dealer's Choice").


Dave Barton ("Cleansed"); John Beane ("Hamlet," "Henry V"); Sharyn Case ("Taking Sides"); Greg Cohen ("Biloxi Blues"); caryn morse desai ("Master Harold ..."); Sheryl Donchey ("The Sound of Music"); Phyllis Gitlin ("Last Night of Ballyhoo," "Broadway Bound"); Steven John ("Dealer's Choice"); Oanh Nguyen ("Three Days of Rain").