Friday, July 9, 2010

Two Nostalgic Date Night HITS and one big MISS for July

Lately I’ve been searching out theaters I’ve never visited to learn more about all OC theater has to offer. Here are two hole in the wall venues, both offering up a bit of nostalgia for your entertainment:

If you know anything about being a Baby Boomer, Boomers, produced by the American Coast Theater Company at the Lyceum Theater on the Vanguard University Campus in Costa Mesa will take you down memory lane. You may not be a Boomer, but maybe your crazy Aunt Dolores was a hippy who always smelled funky in an herbal sorta way …or maybe you’re like me: a tail end Boomer, prone to wearing corporate casual and stuck in corporate bondage. Boomers is a musical medley which weaves together television theme songs and top 40 hits from the past 50 years, illustrating the journey of the Baby Boomer generation. Even if you’re a whipper-snapper in your 30’s, you’ll still get a kick out of the musical journey of our past decades set to music. 

Television hits like Glee and American Idol with overproduced musical soundboard mixing might make the musical quality of Boomers seem a bit thin, but there’s quality to be found in the script and the ensemble cast, especially Tameca DeVant’s ability to belt out some soulful riffs. A bit young to be a boomer, she was definitely cast for her strong singing chops and not her birth year. Take your Signif Other, take your Mom or Dad. You’ll have a good time. Boomers gets a nice warm fuzzy HIT from Drama Momma.  Shows run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through July 18.  Check Vanguard University's website for ticket information.

Stages Theater in Fullerton has another trip into the past with a late-night 10pm adaptation of The Twilight Zone television show that’s worth the drive over to Fullerton for a unique date night night-cap. Getting back past midnight too late for you and the babysitter? Tell your son to take his hot date there. He’ll thank you in the morning. Several Twilight Zone episodes rotate performances and you’ll be treated to two episodes with no intermission. I saw Five Characters in Search of an Exit and Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? Both had excellent ensemble casts and the adaptations remained true to the original tv scripts, if memory serves. I was taken back in time to when I was a little kid sitting in front of my family’s black & white Zenith, where I really was afraid to touch that dial as the announcer said my tv had been taken into another dimension. Stages gets a Drama Momma HIT for their Twilight Zone adaptations. I hope they keep doing more TZ adaptations as an ongoing late night offering. It’s like  going back to a favorite restaurant over and over for the most awesome desserts.

I also saw Stages’ 8pm show, Spring's Awakening, which would be considered their main course on the menu. Suffice to say if it was a meal, I’d send it back. Stages Theatre leans towards theater pieces not normally part of the OC fare, and I pride them for their experimental nature, but when choosing pieces for their season this adaptation of the 1890’s German play should have been skipped. What was a controversial and shocking play in the late 1800’s bears no relevance in today’s society. Productions of Shakespeare’s works are still successful today because the scripts hold a depth of human truth that still ring true and directors can use their individual visions, tweaking Shakespeare’s concepts to help it speak to today’s audiences. Stages’ Spring's Awakening isn’t a world famous piece and even though I researched the historical aspects of the script I still felt like I needed my old high school Cliff’s Notes to understand the symbolism being used. The Ingénue, Wendla, is the only character who’s in her thigh high pantaloons with layers of slips and skirts being pantomimed. At first I thought we were witnessing a costume malfunction, which is every actor’s nightmare: being on stage in one’s underwear. Call me stoopid, but if a theater is going to do an obscure experimental adaptation, I think it would be wise to use some space in the program for the director to share his vision and give the audience a bit of a heads up. Is it to be a modern piece, perhaps with today's insane teen sexual pressures and cutting, like the promo picture implies or a period piece as the on stage mixed bag of costumes suggest? None of it gelled into a cohesive product. I was left confused and frustrated (Not sexually. Theatrically).

I must give kudos to three young actors who successfully tread through a horrendous script. Samantha Aneson successfully gave Wendla the naiveté and sweetness of a pure spirit trying to understand the complexities of life while being kept in the dark. Aneson’s Wendla truly was the little lamb being offered up to the lion. Adam Evans’ Moriz Stiefel was a joy to watch. He gave 110% commitment to his character and I became invested in watching his journey into oblivion. Ashley Bravo as Mrs. Gabor, although miscast in age to play a mother, had commitment of character to successfully pull the audience along the precarious path of the play’s story line. If nothing else, Stages’ Spring Awakening gave some experimental stage time to young performers working on their craft, which is never a bad thing. 

Drama Momma rates Stages Theater's Spring's Awakening as a MISS, but still recommends you visit them for their Twilight Zone late night shows. I’ll be interested to see how this theater group handles an iconic piece of American theater, Our Town, opening in August. I bet I can leave my Cliff's Notes at home.

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