GARDEN GROVE — Apparently the cash-starved Grove Shakespeare Festival, which has canceled the final production of its current season, is a traitor to American culture because it produces the work of foreign authors.
At least that was the message Grove Artistic Director Thomas F. Bradac says he took away from the City Council debate Monday night, when a 3-2 majority denied the Grove emergency funds that would have enabled the troupe to close out the season in December with Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 28, 1990 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 16 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 15 words Type of Material: Correction
Misidentified-- Moliere is the author of "The Miser." He was was misidentified in Wednesday's Calendar.
"I think we were all surprised to hear that Councilman (Raymond T.) Littrell believes Shakespeare and the classics are un-American," Bradac said in a midnight interview Monday after the Grove board of directors canceled "A Child's Christmas" but reiterated its decision to open Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" on Oct. 4 as scheduled.
"What he basically said was that we should only be doing American culture," Bradac claimed, "that we shouldn't be doing Italian culture or the German culture and we don't need Shakespeare. The issue really comes back again to a majority of the council believing that Shakespeare and the classics are not something they want in their community."
At the meeting, Littrell said that Shakespeare is not American culture and that "we left England to get away from that." Tuesday, though, he maintained that he had not labeled Shakespeare and the classics un-American nor asserted that the Grove should promote only American culture.
"I didn't say that. I said we have a great American culture and we really aren't taking care of it. We are doing everybody else's culture," Littrell said Tuesday.
This season the Grove has produced three Shakespearean plays--"Much Ado About Nothing," "As You Like It" and "Othello"--and "The Miser" by Voltaire. Shakespeare was English, Voltaire was French, Wilde was Irish, Thomas was Welsh.
Littrell went on Tuesday to say that the issues are money and whether the city should fund the theater at all, and not an "artsy thing" concerning various cultures.
"There's nothing un-American about making a business deal," he said. "When they can't keep it together, don't blame (the council). They (theater officials) don't have a business plan in place to recover from their financial problems."
Bradac pointed out, however, that a detailed business plan had been presented to the council. "The council majority tries to couch it in financial terms, but it really isn't that," he said, adding that he was dismayed by Littrell, even though, he said, the councilman's comments sounded to him like a replay of sentiments expressed two years ago.
At that time, the Grove had requested its customary subsidy and, in the ensuing debate over whether to eliminate it, Littrell described Orange County's fourth-largest city as a "hard-hat" community unable to appreciate Shakespeare.
Littrell and Councilmen J. Tilman Williams and Robert F. Dinsen forced a subsidy cut then; the same three voted to deny the emergency funds Monday night. Mayor W.E. (Walt) Donovan and Councilman Frank Kessler voted to provide emergency funds.
The 12-year-old nonprofit troupe operates the outdoor Festival Amphitheatre and the indoor Gem Theatre, both city-owned, under a contract with the city. Theater officials trace the current cash crisis to two major factors: a $42,000 deficit held over from last season and a shortfall in subscriptions this season.
The Grove, which is the county's second-largest professional theater company, announced earlier this month that unless it got about $50,000 to carry it through mid-October, it would have to close down. Theater officials asked the council for $32,154 and were granted $7,248 on Sept. 11 to pay only the most immediate bills.
The council's denial of a further infusion sealed the theater's decision to end the season early, Bradac said, even though fund raising has produced about $12,000 in small donations and the amount needed to remain open has been whittled down to about $21,000.
In the meantime, it isn't just the council majority's "unconscionable Shakespeare-bashing" that has unsettled Bradac. He said he detected an ominous rumbling that could jeopardize the Grove's lease, which the city is entitled to terminate with 30 days' notice.
That possibility was raised tangentially two years ago, when Williams, then the mayor, suggested turning the Gem into a dinner theater. A more serious undertone to that sort of argument "came out again in the debate Monday night," Bradac said.
But, Bradac added, "until somebody takes my keys away and closes the door, I believe there are more rounds to come."
Littrell, who has been an implacable foe of the theater for the past several years, is not running for reelection. That could change the complexion of the debate over the Grove in the near future.
Bradac said the Grove expects to have a 1991 season and hopes to raise funds in October with "a walkathon" and "a casino night."
\o7 Staff writer Zan Dubin and correspondent Jim Tortolano contributed to this story.