Audiences are guaranteed to get into the thick of things at Pacific Theatre Ensemble's lavish revival of John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera," opening Thursday at the company's "co-op" space at 705 1/2 Venice Blvd. in Venice.
"It's a sexy, bawdy, political satire--and we're doing it in period, environmentally," said PTE Artistic Director Stephanie Shroyer, who is also directing. "Every conceivable corner of the space has been converted into 1728 London. In one corner, audience members are sitting in a jail, in another, there's the suggestion of a three-story house--and the audience is sitting on the top level."
Gay wrote his piece (which later inspired Bertolt Brecht's "Threepenny Opera," Shroyer said) "more as a spoof--poking fun at opera, which was the art form of the day," she said. "The Beggar's Opera" is layered with contemporary folk songs with Gay's own lyrics. The resulting 32-song \o7 oeuvre, \f7 she admits, sounds excessive. "But some of them are only four bars long."
The action is carried by 23 actors (nine of them apprentices from a new UCLA Extension program), who roam the stage in a variety of costumes, from bejeweled satins to beggar's rags. "The middle class was mixing with the upper class and gentry," she said. "Like today, there was a lot of white-collar crime. All of these characters are cheats, hussies, bad people--but they're so calm about it, it almost seems normal: 'Why \o7 shouldn't \f7 I cheat my brother? . . .' "
Also this month:
* Today: A dozen people whose lives have been affected by AIDS share their stories in "AIDS/US II" at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.
* Thursday: the California Youth Theatre brings Rostand's classic "Cyrano de Bergerac" to Hollywood's John Anson Ford Theatre.
* Aug. 12: Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" opens at the Powerhouse in Santa Monica.
* Aug. 15: The newly founded Actors Conservatory Ensemble presents four one-acts (two by Howard Korder, one each by Edward Allan Baker and Tennessee Williams) under the umbrella title "The Wife, the Sister, the Parrot and the Pitch" at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood.
* Aug. 16: A simple-minded man is forced to make some fast decisions in Kenny D'Aquila's "Uptown" at the Gnu Theatre in Toluca Lake.
* Aug. 17: Sybille Pearson's "Sally and Marsha" and a pair of one-acts, Jim Beaver's "Pressing Engagements" and Barbara Nell Beery's "Do You Smell Autumn in the Air?" play in repertory at Studio City's Theatre West.
* Aug. 17: Paul Linke's biographical "Life After Time," a follow-up to his acclaimed solo piece, "Time Flies When You're Alive," opens at the Santa Monica Playhouse.
* Aug. 17: Los Angeles Art Theatre is host to Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire."
* Aug. 18: Simon Gray's bittersweet comedy "Quartermaine's Terms" opens the season at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills.
* Aug. 18: The newly formed Renegade Theatre Ensemble presents Haris Orkin's "Sex and Impotence" and "International Terrorism" at the Dorie Theatre in Hollywood.
* Aug. 19: Jude Narita reprises her one-woman award-winning gallery of Asian women in "Coming Into Passion/Song for a Sansei" at East West Players in Hollywood.
* Aug. 23: California Youth Theatre returns to the John Anson Ford Theatre in the ever-popular musical "Annie Get Your Gun."
* Aug. 24: "Telling Time," Laura Shamas' story of a children's storyteller facing violence, opens at Hollywood's West Coast Ensemble.
* Aug. 28: Shirley MacLaine arrives at the Pantages Theatre in her new song-and-dance revue, "Out There Tonight."