On Theater: Playhouse plans 52nd year and hopes for a 53rd

The Costa Mesa Playhouse has been staging local theater productions since about this time in 1965. I remember it well, since I made my acting debut in that very first show.

Spearheaded by the late Pati Tambellini, who guided the theater's artistic fortunes for a quarter of a century, the playhouse spent its first two decades in a World War II-era auditorium on the Orange County fairgrounds. Its next, hopefully permanent, relocation was to its current address at 611 Hamilton St., in an abandoned wood shop classroom at Rea Elementary School, which has been the theater's home base for the last 30 years.


The playhouse has been functioning as a tenant of the Newport Mesa School District, but apparently someone shouted "Macbeth" inside the theater. It seems that the school district has notified the performing group that the lease won't be extended beyond this time next year.

What to do then? Well, that $64,000 question has fallen into the lap of Michael Dale Brown, president of the playhouse board, who admits, "At this point our status for beyond June 2017 is up in the air."


According to Brown, the school district wants to turn the theater into a tech/computer center for the Rea students, although if conversion plans aren't ready, an extension of the lease for another year might be considered.

"We have designed our new season to end earlier than usual to give us time to clear out the theater if we do have to be out next June," Brown said.

The new — and hopefully not final — season begins July 29 with John Steinbeck's drama "Of Mice and Men." That show, to be directed by Michael Serna, runs through Aug. 21.

"Red Scare on Sunset," Charles Busch's B-movie spoof about the McCarthy era of the 1950s, arrives Sept. 9 and will play through Oct. 2. Brown will be at the directorial helm of this one.

Get ready to snap your fingers along with "The Addams Family," which will be haunting the theater from Oct. 28 through Nov. 30. The musical comedy will be staged by Jason Holland.

Come Valentine's Day, the playhouse will mount Shirley Lauro's "A Piece of My Heart," to play from Feb. 3 to 26. Hardly a romantic comedy, it's a fact-based drama about six women's experiences in the Vietnam War. The director is yet to be announced.

The show for March 31 to April 30 is a secret. Brown describes it as a "fantastic classical musical whose title we are not yet allowed to announce." Aurora Culver will be directing.

Those wishing to secure reservations for what could be the swan song for the Costa Mesa Playhouse — and who might wish to help find the group a new home — may contact the theater at (949) 650-5269. Brown also can be reached at


TOM TITUS covers local theater.