By Shannon Annarella / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Each summer, American Coast Theater Company – a professional drama troupe attached to Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, performs two plays seeking to enlighten and inspire audiences with plays that share a fresh perspective on the human condition.
The six-year-old company is still in its “building stages,” says founder and artistic director Susan Berkompas, but is “ready to take it to the next level.” Berkompas has headed up the theater program at Vanguard University, where ACTC’s shows are held, for 16 years. Vanguard students are also given the chance to intern for the American Coast Theater Company for course credit.
Through Sunday, ACTC is performing “Enlightenment.com”, an original comedy by Warren Doody, a Vanguard professor who teaches composition and playwriting. “It’s really a play that’s made up of seven quirky, foolish people,” Berkompas said. “It really is all about seeing their foolishness and their antics play out.”
“Enlightenment.com” is about the connection between romance and technology. It is the story of a soon-to-be groom who, upon receiving an RSVP from a past love, looks within to move forward. To achieve this, he seeks help in an “enlightenment therapist,” a minister for the online community who also interprets dreams.
Although ACTC is founded on Christian principles, faith isn’t the only lens the plays are presented through. Berkompas revealed that “it’s not about preaching a sermon” but about finding “light in the darkest of storylines” and “that grain of hope or that seed of redemption.”
Unafraid to present dark or heart-wrenching material, ACTC finds the fine balance between gripping and gratuitous. Mature content, such as in the company’s first show, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, is handled creatively, but still true to the original vision. “We have to do justice to what the playwright has written. If it’s meant to be dark and dangerous, then it’s about finding the depths of darkness and of the dangers,” Berkompas shared.
In a similar manner, Berkompas explained that ACTC strives to have “an original point of view while trying to be honest about what the story really is.” With Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”, which they performed from June 8 to July 8, they had “a very particular point of view that hasn’t been told very often. If you didn’t love the shrew by the end of the show, there’s something wrong with you,” Berkompas joked.
The American Coast Theater Company offers an intimate and impactful experience that is family-friendly and “illuminates hope, redemption, and enlightenment.” Emphasizing this, Berkompas shared, “ACTC’s mission is to tell the stories that haven’t been told, yet that are worth telling.”