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The 99 Seat Beat: 'Big Fish' at the Chance in Anaheim, free Shakespeare in Griffith Park

The 99 Seat Beat: 'Big Fish' at the Chance in Anaheim, free Shakespeare in Griffith Park
"Big Fish" cast members, from left, Mandy Foster, Lydia Margitza, Monika Peña, Sydney DeMaria and Rachel Oliveros Catalano at the Chance Theater in Anaheim. (Doug Catiller)

It’s summer, and love is in the air — and in the story lines of this week’s small-theater offerings. Romance figures comically in Shakespeare’s ode to midsummer frolics, tragically in a brief encounter inspired by a classic film, tragicomically in thwarted passions on a Russian country estate and fantastically in the exaggerated reminiscences of an aging braggart.

‘Big Fish’ at Chance Theater

The essentials: Anaheim’s aptly named Chance Theater takes another big chance with this stage musical based on the Tim Burton film. An attempted reconciliation between a dying blowhard and his estranged son faces daunting challenges, given the patriarch’s propensity to repeat tall tales about the romantic quests of his youth. With music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (“The Addams Family” and “The Wild Party”) and book adapted by Burton’s screenwriter, John August, this 2015 revised version of the show fine-tunes its imaginative mix of heartfelt family drama and fantastical storytelling.

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Why this? The intimate Chance consistently punches above its 99-seat venue weight, particularly when it comes to musicals. With inventive use of puppetry and projections for the Burtonesque effects, this production reunites the theater’s artistic director, Oanh Nguyen, with choreographer Kelly Todd and music director Robyn Manion, whose previous collaborations include the company’s highly regarded “In the Heights” and “West Side Story.”

Details: Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center, Cripe Stage, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. In previews; opens Saturday. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; ends July 29. $35-$45. (888) 455-4212, www.ChanceTheater.com

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in Griffith Park

The essentials: What would summer be without free Shakespeare in the park? Independent Shakespeare Company launches its 15th season with a fourth production of the Bard’s quintessential outdoor romp. A newly envisioned, sleek staging sports an ethnically diverse cast with new music, costumes and scenic design. Artistic Director Melissa Chalsma takes the helm, and managing director and comically gifted crowd favorite David Melville plays the jackass, Bottom.

Why this? Crowds by the hundreds flock to each ISC lawn performance at Griffith Park’s Old Zoo site to delight in freewheeling antics, charming improv and engaging musical interludes combined with a rigorously literate handling of the text. The company’s signature delivery style adheres to Shakespeare’s verse as written, honoring line endings and even punctuation; paradoxically, this classicist approach makes the language more accessible — and a great intro for Shakespeare first-timers.

Details: The Old Zoo in Griffith Park near 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles. In previews; opens Saturday. 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays through July 22; continues in repertory with “Titus Andronicus” through Sept. 2. Free. (818) 710-6306, www.iscla.org

David Melville and Aisha Kabia, center, with Rachel Li in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
David Melville and Aisha Kabia, center, with Rachel Li in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." (Grettel Cortes Photography)
‘Arrival and Departure’ at the Fountain

The essentials: What happens when you find your soul mate, but the circumstances of life get in the way? Based on the 1945 classic film “Brief Encounter,” this new drama by Stephen Sachs builds on Noel Coward’s screenplay with the casting of deaf actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray (both from Deaf West Theatre company’s acclaimed “Big River”) as two married strangers who find a romantic connection during their chance meeting at a train station. Welcoming audiences from the hearing and deaf communities alike, the show is performed simultaneously in spoken English and American Sign Language with the use of open captioning.

Why this? Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Sachs has a long history of artfully exploring isolation and social barriers in a hearing-centric world. His 2012 adaptation of “Cyrano” with Kotsur in the title role was a luminous rebuttal to any illusions that being deaf means being somehow “less than.” In fact, the emotional expressiveness in signing can make spoken language seem inadequate by comparison.

Details: Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. In previews; opens July 14. 8 p.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; ends Sept. 30. $35-$40 (some Mondays are pay what you can). (323) 663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com

Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur in “Arrival and Departure.”
Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur in “Arrival and Departure.” (Paul Dimalanta)
‘Three Days in the Country’ at Antaeus

The essentials: Russian-style summer romance, unrequited passion and provincial ennui all receive a modernist update in a West Coast premiere from Antaeus Theatre Company that slims Ivan Turgenev’s sprawling 1872 dramedy “A Month in the Country” to just “Three Days in the Country.” Despite its elegantly threaded plot and fluid contemporary-sounding dialogue, adapter Patrick Marber’s self-proclaimed “unfaithful version” retains the Chekhovian characters and flavor of Turgenev’s groundbreaking play that predated Chekhov. Beneath the placid surface of a rural estate where nothing seems to happen, momentous psychological shifts are unleashed by the arrival of a handsome tutor; there’s even a rueful neighborly doctor character like those in Chekhov’s familiar classics.

Why this? Director Andrew Paul previously directed the play’s U.S. premiere for Pittsburgh’s Kinetic Theatre Company; that production also featured Antaeus ensemble members Nike Doukas and Leo Marks, who reprise their performances as a bored housewife locked in endless flirtation with her hapless admirer. Following the Antaeus “partner casting” tradition of alternating casts, Doukas and Marks share the roles with Anna Khaja and Corey Brill. When it comes to classical theater ensembles with deep benches, Antaeus is in a league of its own.

Details: Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale. In previews; opens July 12. 8 p.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; ends Aug. 26. Additional performances 8 p.m. July 12 and Aug. 23. $30-$34. (818) 506-1983, www.antaeus.org

Nike Doukas and Leo Marks in Antaeus' "Three Days in the Country."
Nike Doukas and Leo Marks in Antaeus' "Three Days in the Country." (Geoffrey Wade Photography)

The 99-Seat Beat is going on summer break. It will resume in September, continuing to shortlist theater offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some (but not all) recommendations are shows we've seen; others have caught our attention because of the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast. You can continue to find all of our arts coverage, including theater reviews and features, at latimes.com/arts.

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