(Garden Grove, CA) July, 2014 – When it comes to planning a summer theatrical season, there is always madness to the method. For Shakespeare Orange County (SOC), Artistic Director John Walcutt and his talented and dedicated board of directors and staff have not only expanded the cultural outreach throughout Garden Grove with its critically acclaimed season opener A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they also expanded their season with additional theatrical productions, not only produced by SOC—including the upcoming The Tavern and Romeo and Juliet—but also from visiting artists and theater companies.
One such company is the Troubadour Theater Company, also known as the Troubies, a nonprofit organization that combines improvisation, music and slapstick comedy with various works of William Shakespeare. For their production of A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream, it’s a somewhat risky move for SOC to place two different versions of the same play concurrently. To a casual eye, would this be considered repetitious? Absolutely not. If anything else, both productions complement each other perfectly, highlighting the diverse talents both theater companies possess. The LA Based Troubadours makes a smashing debut at Shakespeare Orange County, combining Shakespeare…and (gulp) disco.
The antics begin with a faerie (a talented Lisa Valenzuela, whose comic timing is hilarious as Starveling, the illegal alien who is a master in providing Foley sound effects) setting the mood by singing some disco tunes from the popular artists such as the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. Then, the scene is set NOT in period dress Athens, but Garden Grove during the 1970s. The four young lovers—the ditsy blonde Hermia (Katherine Donahoe), the nerdy Helena (Beth Kennedy Will), the slacker Lysander (Tyler King), and the vain Demetrius (Joe Keane)—escape in a magical wood in order to avoid an arranged marriage set by the King Theseus (Morgan Rusler) and Queen Hippolyta (Suzanne Narbonne). Meanwhile, in the same magical wood, a group of blue collar workers, lead by the pompous Nick Bottom (Rick Batalla) and Peter Quince (Matt Walker), practice a play that is to be performed for the King of Athens…err, Garden Grove. Lastly, the king of the wood, Oberon (Rusler, in a dual role) schemes with his chief faerie Puck (Walker, also in a dual role) to play a magical prank on his queen Titania (Monica Schneider). When the magic is released, all hell breaks loose, especially with 1970 music reverberating throughout the show and afterwards.
It goes without saying that the Troubies demonstrate pure artistry in not only their comic timing of the Bard's text, but also adding their own unique improvisation throughout the play, ranging from reacting to audience members opening the crinkling wrapper of a lozenge to the planes flying overhead to and from John Wayne Airport. And each skilled artist shines on the stage, especially during their musical numbers. The standouts include Keane’s Demetrius, who is the strongest when it comes to singing his 1970 solo. Both Donahoe and Will are wonderfully adorable as the naïve young brides. And Batalla’s Bottom is a smarmy lounge lizard who steals the show with his improvisations in the second act. But Troubie’s Artistic Director Walker serves as the foundation for this band of misfits, not only in terms of his acrobatics, but also his ability to break the fourth wall and allow the audience to enjoy the ride. His co-stars also accomplish this amazing feat, as well as the band who capture the essence of the 70s tunes: Eric Heinly, Kevin McCourt, Dana Decker, and especially Lynda Tyler on her guitar. Walcutt and his staff chose the right company to serve as a nice bridge between their two productions. Hopefully, the Troubies will return next year, adding more magic to the Garden Grove stage, and proving once again that Shakespeare Orange County is indeed “one big family under the stars.”
Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice-over artist
A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream runs July 24, 25, 26 at 8:00 p.m.
Shakespeare Orange County
The Festival Amphitheatre, 12740 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA
Photos by Jordan Kubat