The Rude Guerrilla Theater Company in Santa Ana will bow out in September after a 12-year run -- but its final curtain will mark new beginnings for two troupes expected to spring from the parent company that has earned critical plaudits as the Southern California theater perhaps least inhibited about staging sex and gore while exploring some of the darkest crannies of the human condition.
Founding artistic director Dave Barton's embrace of the 1990s' British "in-yer-face" school of drama yielded the edge that became Rude Guerrilla's trademark, but the company always had room for plays that didn't put audiences through a sensory wringer -- among them a recent staging of "Our Town" and the two current shows, Paula Vogel's "The Baltimore Waltz" and John Kolvenbach's "Love Song."
Barton said Monday that in an amicable parting, he and fellow members Bryan Jennings and Dawn Hess will lead the extremist wing of Rude Guerrilla off to further guerrilla-theater adventures in a new location under the banner Monkey Wrench Collective. Others will remain in the current downtown location, which seats about 60, under a new company name, with Shannon Lee Blas as artistic director.
"I'm very excited," Barton says. "Even in this economy, there's still a desire for this dark, provocative work. We'll fill that vacuum." Barton said the deep slump in real-estate prices should help him and Jennings buy a space seating about 60, which would double as a screening room for avant-garde films. The company aims to be nonprofit, like Rude Guerrilla; possible locations include Brea, Long Beach and La Mirada.
Blas, a Rude Guerrilla member since 2005, says that she too loves adventurous theater but that the pressure of what Barton said is a $3,000-a-month rent and utilities bill means the new company may have to temper confrontational material with plays that have a broader appeal. "If we could pay our bills, we could stick to the provocative, edgy thing and perhaps Dave wouldn't have felt the need to move on," Blas said.
In other words, after September, the plays at 202 N. Broadway may not require alerts such as the one that accompanies the Rude Guerrilla website's description of the company's final show, Barton's Aug. 21-Sept. 26 staging of Thomas Middleton's Jacobean drama "The Revenger's Tragedy": "WARNING: Contains nudity, sex and lots and lots of blood. Not for children!"
Blas, who majored in acting at UC Irvine and is a first-year graduate student in a theater management/business administration program at Cal State Long Beach, said the first show under the aegis of the new, still-unnamed company will be an outside group's October production of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Wit," about a dying literature professor.
Barton said the Monkey Wrench Collective will open in the fall with a blast from Rude Guerrilla's past, a staging of Englishman Mark Ravenhill's classically in-yer-face drama, "Shopping and . . ." That profanely titled play will have an open-ended run. After that, he says, there is a plethora of titles he'd like to tackle, along with plans to premiere "Snuff," a low-budget film he's shot with Rude Guerrilla actors about the downward spiral of a man who loses his lover to AIDS.
Rude Guerrilla's website will be maintained as an archive of the company's work since 1997.