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‘Lear’ at Theatricum Botanicum, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at UC Irvine’s New Swan

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If Shakespeare had written “My Three Sons,” the show might have resembled Theatricum Botanicum’s “Lear” (running through Sept. 28 at the venerable outdoor venue in Topanga Canyon). It would’ve been heavy going for a sitcom though, and Fred MacMurray would be unlikely casting unless he played it in drag. Theatricum’s artistic director, Ellen Geer, has done a gender-switch on the play, seeking to “bond the work to modern society,” and not incidentally create for herself a leading role.

Geer, unsurprisingly, tackles with gusto the part of a world-weary queen dividing her kingdom amongst her three male offspring, and gives more than full measure, channeling a lifetime of stage experience into her performance. The actress, who co-directed with Melora Marshall, is possessed of such self-confidence she enters carrying a dog—a move so daring even most veterans would avoid it at all costs.

Marshall’s Fool is a superb counterpart to Geer’s Lear, offering a wide range of emotions alongside the jester’s thought-provoking witticisms. Abby Craden is impressive as Gloucester’s illegitimate daughter, Igraine (nee Edmund), but only when her banished legit sister Eden (Edgar) disguises herself as mad Tom O’Bedlam does Willow Geer come alive in the part. Similarly, Alan Blumenfield’s Gloucester is weak until he gets his eyes gouged out, then the sparks fly. Gerald C. Rivers is a strong Kent while Aaron Hendry’s Goneril has been notably defanged. Call 310-455-3723 or visit www.theatricum.com.
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Adam Schroeder’s Romeo may be as pretty as Leslie Lank’s Juliet, but it’s Lank’s heartfelt and ultimately heart-wrenching performance that illuminates New Swan Shakespeare Festival’s “Romeo and Juliet” (running through Aug. 29 at UC Irvine) and pulls you into the classic tale of star-crossed lovers. Under Calvin MacLean’s solid direction it’s a compelling telling of a story old as time.

Zak Houston’s Mercutio and Greg Unger’s Friar Lawrence utter the Bard’s gorgeous dialogue as it was meant to be spoken, with knowing reverence for its every nuance. Samantha Aneson (Lady Capulet), Joshua Blair (Tybalt) and Benji Coelho (Prince of Verona) make small but distinctive contributions; Hayley Palmer’s portrayal of Juliet’s Nurse gets points for originality but mostly misses the mark. Call 949-824-2787 or visit www.NewSwanShakespeare.com.

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