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On Theater: An Orange County adventure at South Coast Repertory

Adventure can come in many forms, but the last place local theatergoers would think of searching for thrills would be the wilds of Orange County.

Yet that's where playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil has set her latest work, simply titled "Orange," now occupying the Julianne Argyros Stage at South Coast Repertory. And as it turns out, there's plenty of adventure to be found right in our own backyard.

The thrill seekers aren't locals, however. All trace their heritage to India, and they're in town for a family wedding. When they set out to explore this exotic land on an overnight joy ride, the fun really begins.

Kapil's central figure is Leela (Pia Shah), a bookish, innocent teenager through whose eyes the adventure plays out. She keeps a journal to record her activities and prays to "the gods" to keep the more perilous elements at bay. Shah's character borders on robotic, and her dialogue often seems to consist solely of the word "OK."

The play's two other performers — Anjali Bhimani and Karthik Srinivasan — take care of the rest of the characters Leela encounters, changing clothes and attitudes at the drop of a hat. Their swift costume switches and interpretive dexterity propel the well-paced production, directed by Jessica Kubzansky.

Bhimani is particularly impressive as both Leela's wise and gentle mother and her wild, rambunctious cousin. Srinivasan impresses as the girl's father and the cousin's sometime boyfriend.

Scenic designer Michael B. Raiford has created a kaleidoscope of ever-changing backdrops that lend the action its breath-catching immediacy, bolstered by Jaymi Lee Smith's complex lighting design. The colorful costumes by Denitsa Bliznakova contribute to the India-flavored atmosphere.

"Orange" also focuses sharply on the fruit of that name, which becomes both a bone of contention and a peace offering. It's a unique way to observe our familiar surroundings at South Coast Repertory.

 

H.B. Playhouse relocates with 'Geezers'

The Huntington Beach Playhouse is no longer in Huntington Beach. If you're looking for the 55-year-old community theater's production of "Geezers," check out Westmont School in Westminster.

Yes, the nearly 20-year run at the city's Library Theater is over, but the playhouse carries on, mounting Tommy Lee Johnston's comedic drama of life in a retirement home where some of its residents aren't quite ready to go gently into the good night.

The play focuses on a new assistant caregiver, a painfully introverted young man with visions of becoming a writer. His interviews with the old folks bring them, and him, sharper into focus.

Approaching 30, Jack (Daniel Lee) has never even kissed a girl, much less rounded the proverbial bases. The son of a now-deceased deaf mother doesn't number communication among his strong suits, and Lee plays this terminally shy character quite effectively.

More colorful is the home's manager, Elizabeth Desloge, whose perky facade masks a painful backstory of drugs and alcohol. Desloge beautifully takes charge of the residents and her own demons.

Among the "geezers" in residence, Beth Titus is the most memorable as a onetime actress and playgirl who has retained her sensuous demeanor, having been caught seducing Jack's predecessor. (I avoided reviewing this actress for 13 years since she was my other half, but that was long, long ago).

Michael Corcoran scores as a retired military man who still radiates a sense of authority. Jim Perham effectively enacts a sleepy old gent who hugs a pillow for reasons that eventually materialize.

Comic relief is supplied by the always-delightful Kip Hogan as Emily, a demented old soul who's glued to the TV set and who sings along with the commercials. She's visited regularly by Jenny, the briskly radiant Laurie Robbins, for reasons that become apparent.

Three of the residents have younger selves who materialize as Jack conducts their interviews. These are Deedee Culp, Robert Born and David Edward Reyes, all of whom deliver strongly in their cameo sequences.

Director Mark Torreso has instilled relatable qualities into the performances that render this production quite touching. Playhouse technicians have adapted the borrowed stage as best they can, but more effort should be put into lighting (during one of Jenny's monologues she's in shadow while Jack, just listening, is fully lit).

"Geezers" will be appreciated by seasoned playgoers, but younger audiences also can find much to enjoy in this new production by the transplanted Huntington Beach Playhouse.

IF YOU GO

What: "Orange"

Where: South Coast Repertory's Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:45 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:45 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until March 26

Cost: Start at $22

Information: (714) 708-5555

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What: "Geezers"

What: Huntington Beach Playhouse

Where: Westmont Elementary School, 8251 Heil Ave., Westminster

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, and weekend matinees at 1 p.m. through March 26

Cost: $12

Information: (714) 847-4357 

TOM TITUS reviews local theater. 

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