GARDEN GROVE — GroveShakespeare, Orange County's second-largest professional theater company, has come apart at its tattered seams.
Both the acting artistic director and the president of the board of trustees resigned Monday after disbanding the cast of "King Lear," which was to have opened June 26. The administrative staff was laid off last week.
Only one of the nine board members could be found for comment.
Meanwhile, the company is carrying a deficit of roughly $200,000, its highest ever. And subscription revenues from 1,432 season ticket holders already have been spent. The subscribers paid to see six shows, have seen only one, and aren't likely at this point to see any more.
"I have resigned, and I don't know who is running the theater," acting artistic director Jules Aaron said Monday, only hours after claiming that "King Lear," was "indefinitely postponed," but "not canceled."
"It's a very sad situation," Alan Mandell, who was to star as Lear, said by telephone from his home in Los Angeles.
The theater has been in and out of serious financial trouble since the late 1980s yet always managed to escape disaster. Its troubles in terms of both finances and company loyalty have worsened considerably, however, since the forced resignation of its founding artistic director, Thomas F. Bradac, in 1991 and the voluntary departure of managing director Richard Stein in 1990.
Cancellation of the Grove's 1993 season would make this the first summer without outdoor Shakespeare in this city in a dozen years. The classical troupe, founded in 1979, has staged the Bard's plays in the city-owned, 550-seat Festival Amphitheatre since 1981, producing more than half of his 38 Elizabethan comedies and tragedies. It also has staged scores of contemporary plays and musicals in the 178-seat Gem Theatre over the years.
Board President David Krebs, who did not return repeated phone calls, resigned for personal reasons "not necessarily having to do with the theater," according to board member Jerry Margolin.
Margolin, who said he had spoken with Krebs Monday, was not clear on Krebs' reasons. "I don't have a real tight feel for what's going on," Margolin said. "I couldn't get into his head."
Aaron told The Times that he resigned "because I have very little confidence in the board." He said "several board members are resigning," but that could not be confirmed. Phone calls to six members of the board either went unanswered or were not returned.
Earlier in the day, speaking for the board, Aaron said, "Nobody wants to say everything is over because it's very hard to pull the plug on a theater a lot of people believe in."
But he added that "'we had been hoping money would come in from donors on Monday morning, and it absolutely has not happened."
Asked if the Grove has any future at all, Margolin said, "I don't know what direction we want to go. Should we offer it to another professional group, or what? I think we did everything we could to keep it going. Maybe we should have pulled the plug a long time ago. But I'm not sure."
Many observers, former company actors and former staffers have cast doubt on the board's competence ever since it forced Bradac's resignation two years ago this month.
Although the company already had a long history of financial troubles, company members said Bradac had provided a cohesive vision of the Grove's identity that made for a creative environment and a sense of loyalty, which have been lacking since then.
Bradac declined Monday to criticize Aaron or the board. "I'm just sorry that the artists and the staff who tried to make it work won't be able to do Shakespeare this summer," he said.
But Daniel Bryan Cartmell, a veteran Grove actor who defected to Shakespeare Orange County, which Bradac assembled in 1991 after his ouster, was not so reticent.
"The board is totally incompetent--we knew that all along," Cartmell said. "That board backed the wrong horse, several wrong horses, in fact."
Barbara Hammerman, who as a member of the board helped engineer Bradac's departure and then assumed leadership of the theater herself, did not last three years as its chief executive. With no previous experience running a theater company, she took over the Grove's financial management, its day-to-day operations and its fund-raising campaign, and then resigned in a surprise move last December.
Except for a $250,000 windfall from the Leo Freedman Foundation--which astonished her as much as it did the arts community--Hammerman raised only $9,866 in corporate grants in 1991, according to tax papers filed by the Garden Grove Assn. for the Arts, the theater's nominal nonprofit parent company.
According to the papers, obtained by The Times from the attorney general of California, the theater's total revenue came to $881,474 in 1991, the latest year for which the state has documentation.