McDowell will direct a traditional-sounding "King Lear" (June 19 through July 23), marking the annual return of Alan Mandell as the tragic monarch, but goes on later in the summer to a contemporary L.A.-based staging of "Romeo and Juliet" retitled "R & J/LA" (Sept. 11 through Oct. 16).
The latter portion of the season is more unsettled: Rights have yet to be secured for Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" ("It's extremely hard to obtain rights to Williams' work"). As far as a backup show, McDowell will only say they'll look for "a brilliant American classic."
The company, McDowell adds, is "considering several properties on the Christmas or winter theme" to fill the December slot once occupied by "A Child's Christmas in Wales." An independent troupe, which will stage "Child's Christmas" in Rolling Hills Estates in December, may visit the Gem, McDowell notes, "but nothing is firm."
With a program that yearns to look more like America--and perhaps more like Garden Grove--it's hard to square all this with the effete elitism of "Private Lives."
McDowell may be a diplomat, but he also suggests some shrewdness when he responds that " 'Private Lives' is the perfect play for us to do now, with our staff and actor experience. One starts with what one does best, which brings in the audience.
"But this is more than a survival move. Coward wrote a terribly iconoclastic play that reminds us that we still live in a class-based society. Like all the great playwrights, he wrote from the inside out. I found that lines I cut and staging I changed had to ultimately be restored. This play simply works as written. Like Shakespeare, it's all there in the text."
And speaking of Shakespeare, the Grove diplomat appears to have nothing but the best wishes for Bradac and his Shakespeare Orange County company at Chapman College in Orange. Asked if his old Riverside Shakespeare company ever hurt from competition with the New York Shakespeare Festival, then run by the late Joseph Papp, he answers: "Not at all, any more than we're hurt with Shakespeare Orange County or South Coast Repertory. Papp helped fund Riverside and its tour of all five boroughs of New York.
"Tom's group and mine share actors. Wayne Alexander, who won so much praise last year for his 'Hamlet' at Shakespeare, is playing Elliott in 'Private Lives.' Both companies can flourish, and we both give actors those many more opportunities."
Next year, McDowell may give his actors a different opportunity--to do an unspecified play by Bertolt Brecht, whose work McDowell has translated and staged. But that's next year. For GroveShakespeare, the future is now.
"Private Lives" opens today and continues through May 15 at GroveShakespeare's Gem Theatre, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 and 7:30 p.m. $18-$22. (714) 636-7213.