On Theater: Two give all to local theaters

While most theater practitioners gravitate from show to show, venue to venue, a few may be found putting in years of artistic labor on behalf of one specific producing organization. Two such individuals are spotlighted this week.

The Costa Mesa Playhouse and Laguna Beach's No Square Theatre are the beneficiaries of their tireless endeavors. For several years, these two community theater companies have been enriched by their talent, energy and imagination.


They are a pair of visionaries whose creative efforts have resulted in years of entertainment for theater lovers. They are Michael Dale Brown and Bree Burgess Rosen, the Times Community News South man and woman of the year in theater for 2012.

Brown, recently seen on stage as the spectral father in the playhouse's excellent production of "Proof," delivered "a performance marked by powerful volatility," as stated in this column's review in October. Such power was not unexpected — Brown also had distinguished himself as Big Daddy in the playhouse's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" years earlier.


Acting, however, is only the tip of Brown's iceberg. A member of the theater's board of directors, he also is a producer, director and playwright — his original script, "Earthlings Beware," produced several seasons ago, was revived for a second staging in 2012. And if he's not busy backstage, he usually can be found selling tickets at the box office.

His directorial achievements at the Costa Mesa theater include productions of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "Bat Boy: The Musical," as well as the redneck satire "Sordid Lives." Away from the theater, Brown is a documentary filmmaker who recently completed a project called "Alien Highway" and is working on another, "Patron Saint of Sideshow."

Brown's acting career stretches back to the 1960s when he appeared in a number of local musicals, including a memorable turn as Cocky in "The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd" at the old Laguna Playhouse. On opening night he came down with laryngitis, but the show went on with Brown miming his character on stage while director Kent Johnson supplied his dialogue and vocalizing from the orchestra pit.

Burgess Rosen is best known as the creative force behind the annual production of "Lagunatics," a satirical roast of local people and issues set to the music of popular show tunes. The 20th edition of the show, "Schlock and Awe," was roundly applauded in October.


When Burgess Rosen created the backhanded tribute in 1992, it was as a benefit for World AIDS Day at the Laguna Playhouse. She had been involved in the charity project for several years, having started "Golden Rainbow" in Las Vegas, where she had been under contract with MGM.

After moving to California, Burgess Rosen continued to present "Lagunatics" as an annual attraction.

"Over the years, it's been a fundraiser for many groups, including the Laguna Playhouse, Shanti, Ballet Pacifica, the Community Clinic and the Artist's Theatre at Laguna Beach High School," she said.

When Lagunatics was 5 years old, Burgess Rosen created a theater group to produce it, starting the No Square Theater in 1997. That project has become a non-professional counterpart to the larger, Equity-contracted playhouse, and offers workshops for all ages, children's theater and productions for deaf or hearing-impaired audiences, as well as the annual "Lagunatics."

The recent 20th anniversary edition of Lagunatics was, as this column put it, "a 'best of' production, reviving highlights of past Lagunatics presentations. And, for the most part, it's one hysterical number after another."

The No Square Theater has no permanent home — venues have included the Forum Theater, the Artist's Theatrer and, most frequently, the city's Legion Hall. Burgess Rosen and her active team have kept the elusive theater group alive for the past 15 years.

Both the Costa Mesa Playhouse and the No Square Theater have benefited enormously from the respective creative inspiration of Brown and Burgess Rosen, who clearly deserve the title of man and woman of the year in local theater for 2012.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater.