‘No Exit’ Opens Door for ART Subscribers


Sometimes life is so cyclical.

No sooner had the Alternative Repertory Theatre made its likely final exit earlier this month, closing after 13 years, than its across-the-street counterpart in downtown Santa Ana, the Empire Theater, opened a production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.”

That caught ART producer Gary Christensen’s eye: “No Exit” was the first show ART staged when it opened in 1987.

Christensen calls it “one of those cosmic, kismet things” that offers “a certain kind of bookending” to ART’s history. It prompted him to call Dave Barton, artistic director of the Empire’s resident group, the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company. Barton had programmed “No Exit” with no inkling that ART might close, or that the neighboring theater’s history began with Sartre’s play about three incompatible and uncompanionable dead people condemned to eternity in a small room together.


As a result of Christensen’s conversation with Barton, the Empire is offering free admission to “No Exit” to any ART subscribers who didn’t get to see ART’s final production, “Psychopathia Sexualis,” which closed its run several weeks early.

Barton said he is planning to send letters to ART subscribers inviting them to check out Rude Guerrilla’s offerings, and Christensen is talking up the Empire and Fullerton’s Vanguard Theatre Ensemble to ART patrons. Both have an art-before-commerce philosophy similar to what ART championed.

“I’d just as soon see our people throw their support to another small theater instead of sitting around and bemoaning the fact that we’re gone,” Christensen said.

ART viewed Rude Guerrilla, founded in 1997, as somewhat of a competitor, Christensen said, but one he respects.


“The youthful enthusiasm with which they throw themselves at it and their thumb-the-nose [attitude] toward the traditional stuff reminded us of us when we started,” he said.

Theatre District Looks North for a Home

The Theatre District, which closed its home stage in Costa Mesa at the end of 1999, has found a temporary home-away-from-home at the Cast Theatre in Hollywood.

Artistic director Mario Lescot’s production of Alan Ball’s “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” seen last fall at the Theatre District, opens July 14 at the Cast, 804 N. El Centro Ave.


Joan Lescot, the director’s wife and production collaborator, said that at the moment the show is a one-time co-production between the Cast and the Theatre District but that the two theaters are “in negotiations” about a more extended relationship. “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” runs Thursdays through Sundays through Aug. 6. Tickets are $15-$20. (323) 466-0944.

Joan Lescot said they continue to look for a suitable Orange County venue in which to transplant the Theatre District.

Cash Vehicles Added by Chance Theater

Facing $35,000 in start-up debt, the fledgling Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills has rejiggered its schedule with an additional dram or two of discretion at the expense of valor.


Risk was the rule last year, when the company took an originals-or-bust tack reflected in its name and its founding policy of presenting nothing but new plays.

But with its second season, which began in January, the Chance’s youthful leaders put several established works in the mix, reserving four of the seven main slots for familiar titles.

In a recent economically inspired move, the Chance has changed the lineup again, announcing Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery warhorse “Ten Little Indians” and Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore” as its next two productions.

“Ten Little Indians,” which opened last weekend, replaces a new work, “The Angelina Project,” which is being bumped to next season. “Pinafore,” opening Aug. 18, takes over for “Where Men Are Empty Overcoats,” a new play that will be seen in December instead. Overall, the Chance now will feature five previously produced plays--four of them well-known titles--and nine new ones during 2000. However, all but two of the new plays are being staged as discount-priced nightcaps that begin a few minutes after the evening’s main attraction ends.


It’s hard enough putting in the long hours of sweat-equity required to keep a low-budget, grass-roots theater afloat without having to deal with a large debt, said Oanh (pronounced “Twan”) Nguyen, the Chance’s executive producer.

“To have that sit on top of us gets more stressful,” he said recently, adding that the Chance needs to pay down the debt before it can go after nonprofit status that would enable it to solicit tax-free donations.

Nguyen thinks that successful runs of “Ten Little Indians” and “H.M.S. Pinafore” can help significantly to reduce the debt, which was incurred to build good sight lines and up-to-date technical systems into the Chance’s converted warehouse space. Ideally, he said, the theater will be able to begin its third season in 2001 debt-free.

No Chance show loses money, he said, because expenses are kept so low--"Pinafore,” budgeted at about $1,000, will be the most costly production of the season.


Nguyen hopes to match or better the success of the Chance’s first non-original play, its production in March of “The Mikado.” The operetta nearly sold out after an opening weekend dampened by bad weather, Nguyen said; local Gilbert and Sullivan specialist Kent Johnson is back as director again for “Pinafore.”

The Chance also made money early this year on “The Stroop Report,” a new play about a mass-appeal historical subject, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. The season’s other prime-time attraction so far, “To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday,” was a hit in the 1980s, but Nguyen said it drew indifferently in May--which he attributed to the theater “still learning” the ropes of marketing.

Nguyen said success with mainstream works won’t seduce the Chance from its stated mission.

“No matter what, we want more than half our season to be original works. If it was only published pieces and no originals, we wouldn’t be happy doing it. That’s not even an option.”



“Ten Little Indians,” by Agatha Christie, at the Chance Theater, 5576 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Through July 23. $13-$15. (714) 777-3033.