Theater company premieres with ‘Streetcar’

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For its premiere production, the American Coast Theater Company selected the most American play it could think of: Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

The newly-formed professional theater company, based at Costa Mesa’s Vanguard University, aims to present both American classics and new works that are cutting edge and provocative, beginning with the post-World War II drama now on stage at Vanguard’s Lyceum Theater.

“We want to bring an additional element of professional theater to Orange County,” said founder and artistic director Susan Berkompas. “We know there’s room for us.”


The project had been the dream of Berkompas, who also chairs the university’s theater arts department, and adjunct professor Amick Byram for several years.

“My first love is theater, and it always has been since I was a little boy,” said Byram, who has directed several plays and musicals, starred in Broadway productions of “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Sunset Boulevard” and sung in numerous television shows and films, including “The Simpsons” and “The Prince of Egypt.”

“To have a place to produce theater that is meaningful is just a dream come true to me.”

One of the qualities that distinguishes American Coast from other local companies is its focus on “family and values-based entertainment,” which doesn’t mean players will avoid dark or thought-provoking material, Berkompas said.

“You are not going to get gratuitous language and nudity on our stage,” she said. “What you are going to get is high professional and high production value and acting that’s just going to blow you away. Why nudity ever became part of cutting-edge art is absolutely beyond me.”

The company plans to produce at least two shows each summer — one play and one musical — as it continues to establish itself in the community.

In 2009, theater staff hope to present a jukebox musical called “Rockin’ U.S.A.,” penned by associate artistic director Vanda Eggington.

It also provides a rare opportunity for Vanguard’s theater arts students to work side-by-side with theater professionals. Three alumni and several students are acting or toiling behind-the-scenes in “Streetcar.”

“They get the chance to observe everything we teach in our program on a professional level,” Berkompas said.

  • JESSIE BRUNNER may be reached at (714) 966-4632 or at

    WHAT: The American Coast Theater Company presents “A Streetcar Named Desire”

    WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays through Aug. 18

    WHERE: The Lyceum Theater at Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

    COST: $30; discounts available for seniors and large groups

    INFO: Go to or call (714) 619-6424.