Still Crazies After All These Years

Today's cover story follows Drake Doremus to Park City, Utah, where the young filmmaker's second feature, Douchebag, premiered at the Jan. 21-31 Sundance Film Festival. It was an equally momentous month for Doremus' mother, Cherie Kerr, whose Orange County Crazies comedic theater troupe celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Cherie Kerr_Gilhooley.jpg
Photo by John Gilhooley
Cherie Kerr sits in one of the 78 seats in the theater inside Santa Ana's DePietro Performance Center, which is named after her parents.
After Kerr and Doremus' father, Rick Doremus of Newport Beach, split up when their son was 4 or 5, the single mother plunged into the Crazies--and took her little boy along with her. She also took the last name of her first husband, even though her children from that marriage were by then grown and out of the house. Sean Kerr, now 43, is general manager of Sierra Auto Cars in the San Gabriel Valley (where Doremus shot parts of his feature debut, Spooner). Shannon Dugger, 42, who is married to the head trainer of the Colorado Rockies, is raising her family in Denver.

A former member of the Los Angeles Groundlings comedy troupe, Kerr conceived the idea of a sketch and improvisational comedy troupe that would perform in and for Orange County. Along with fellow Groundling alum Kathy Griffin, Kerr held auditions for about a dozen cast member slots and staged their first satirical review in January 1990.

Doremus was just 5 when he learned all the dialogue and lyrics to a Crazies' musicals and helped performers learn their lines. He was only 6 the first time he appeared onstage with the Crazies. At 8, he wrote his first play and by 10 had staged--that's wrote, produced and directed--three different original plays, all performed on his mother's stage.

"He learned a lot about improv," Kerr said recently at the Santa Ana office where she runs her own public-relations firm and a business that teaches communication skills to business people--using improvisation techniques.

The Santa Ana resident said that after one recent tiff, Doremus told her, "You were never my mother. You were my director!"

Kerr directed the consolidation of her companies and the Crazies in a brick building on Main Street in Santa Ana in 1993. She named it the DePietro Performance Center after her parents, Charlie and Margaret DePietro, who performed as a jazz bass player and singer respectively. A shrine to both is behind glass at the theater.

"It's amazing," she said of the Crazies. "It's been kind of a blur."

The first seven years of the troupe's existence, the Crazies mounted original sketch shows, with Kerr doing much of the writing. Think of the Groundlings, which Kerr joined at 24, or Toronto and Chicago's Second City, which produced most of the talent on the original Saturday Night Live.

Crazies' shows had titles such as Orangthello, Orange-lahoma, Orange Trek, 2001: An Orange Odyssey, Eternal Sunshine of the Orange-less Mind and Orange Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which poked fun at crazy ex-country treasurer Bob Citron, whose bad investments spurred what was then the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Glowing reviews followed.

"They are my favorite of everything we have done," Kerr said of the sketch shows. "We made fun of everything Orange County."

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