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Bard Tenders Make It a Double

Happy Hours: Theaters Set Up 'Comedy of Errors' (Straight) and 'Spamlet' (Wry, With a Twist)

June 13, 1997|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"A half-million-dollar renovation has given the complex a totally different look and feel; we even have a coffee shop upstairs," Johanson continued. "It's as far from doing a Shakespeare festival as I can imagine." In the case of "Spamlet," only enough Shakespeare survives to hold the lunatic Troubadour treatment together.

Bradac, meanwhile, respects most every jot and tittle at SOC. (That season continues with Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" July 17-Aug. 9 and George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" Aug. 14-Sept. 6.)

"There was a big movement [deconstructivism] in the '80s to break the language down, to slash it, to get back to basic elements," Bradac said. "While that artistic exploration certainly has merit, a [Shakespeare troupe] is not going to deconstruct the plays--it's the language that makes them special.

"Shakespeare would be the first to tell you that he stole all the plots but one. . . . His main intent was not to art, but to commerce. The only thing that makes [his body of work] really different is the language. So you don't go in and treat it with concepts that overwhelm it. The language has to come first."

Bradac's concept for "A Comedy of Errors," which he's produced four times and directed three, includes a set he described as "Venice Beach meets the Renaissance Faire." If that recalls the "Verona Beach" setting of "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet," that film's recent success can hardly have been lost on either company.

According to Bradac, subscriptions for Shakespeare O.C. have been "holding" at between 700 and 800 for six years. Johanson wouldn't divulge figures--in any case, "Spamlet" is not a subscription event. At a performance on Sunday, two-thirds of the 550-seat amphitheater appeared empty.

Johanson nevertheless believes the Grove is attracting a new audience: "We're a younger company, all in our 30s," Johanson said. "Our artistic aesthetic background is different. The Troubadour [players] are real young, in their 20s. Their energy and style is the perfect complement."

Bradac, who turns 50 in July, is marking his 19th consecutive summer of producing Shakespeare in Orange County. Although there will be SOC season next year, he won't mark his 20th in '98: "I'm taking a sabbatical, taking time off from my responsibilities to get re-energized," he said. "I'm going to England to study so I can become a better teacher of Shakespeare." He said he'll check in on Royal Shakespeare Company workshops.

So which will it be, the pure silliness of "Spamlet" or the silliness and purity of "A Comedy of Errors"? That is the question.

* "Spamlet," Grove Theater Center's Festival Amphitheater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Today through Sunday, 8:30 p.m.; ends Sunday. $20. (714) 741-9550.

* "A Comedy of Errors," Chapman University's Schweitzer Mall Stage, 301 E. Palm St., Orange. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays 6 p.m.; ends June 29. $21. (714) 744-7016.

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