The L.A. Stage Scene Examiner – OK that would be me - was long overdue for a Shakespeare round-up. Admittedly, I’m long overdue for just plain reporting, but that’s another story.
Back in February, I hoofed it down to San Diego to see a production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” which also happened to be the company directorial debut of new Old Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein who had taken over the company in 2013.
During a subsequent interview for a feature I wrote for Playbill Online, Edelstein talked about how – as Shakespeare-hungry cities go - San Diego ranked right up there with places like Washington D.C., Chicago, Ashland Oregon. New York, - where Edelstein led Classic Stage Company and the Shakespeare initiative at the Public Theatre - was probably implied.
Edelstein didn’t include L.A. on his list, although he made a point of noting that discerning Angelenos made up a good portion of the audience who came down for “Winter’s Tale.”
Smart of them. It was a beautiful production of a slightly obscure romance and Edelstein turned it into the third highest grossing, non-musical production on the Globe’s indoor stage. Not too shabby. He also set the stage for his summer festival debut in late June: “Othello” which will feature Blair Underwood, Kristen Connolly and Richard Thomas of Iago. That will be followed by a traditional staging of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” directed by Mark Lamos.
Maybe a month or so after speaking to Edelstein, I went up to Ashland, Oregon for three days of intense play-going at the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This being spring, the 11-play nearly year-round festival (which goes from February to November) had two Bard offerings up and running: a production of “The Comedy of Errors” set during the Harlem Renaissance and Tony Taccone’s production of “The Tempest” with Dennis Arndt as Propsero.
Both "Comedy" and "The Tempest" – which I reviewed for Broadway World.com - were underwhelming. I caught them over Easter weekend as the Bristol Old Vic / Handspring Puppet Theater production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was finishing its run at the Broad Stage.
I nearly found myself writing these very words from Ashland, exhorting you – dear readers – to catch this quite rockin’ “Dream” (one of the best productions I’ve ever seen of any Shakespeare plays) and other local productions. The irony would not have been lost. While I’m up in Ashland being un-wowed by Bard offerings at OSF, the cool Shakespeare is back in Hollywood.
Granted, the Broad “Dream” was an import, not built by L.A. artists. But there is no shortage of interesting Shakespeare playing at an L.A. stage near you and coming down the pike in time for summer.
“Romeo and Juliet,” for example, directed by Melissa Chalsma for the Independent Shakespeare Company (ISC) and performed indoors at the Atwater Crossing Arts and Innovation Complex through May 25.This is a lean-and-mean, eight person “R and J” in modern dress, 100 minutes long and with some rather inventive double casting (Tybalt and Friar Lawrence; Mercutio and Capulet, etc.). With J’aime Morrison-Petronio handling the choreography, the production has plenty of movement, some of it on the conceptual side. Erika Soto, who plays Juliet, looks like she’s about 14, and she is quite marvelous.
This production should be quite different in feel from the kind of work that ISC usually stages out at the Old Griffith Park Zoo. I got my summer ISC initiation last July and August while researching a story on the company and its growth for the late L.A. Stage Times. The neat thing about the outdoor ISC shows – apart from their quality – is the fact that ISC somehow makes the experience free for all AND pays its actors. They’ll be back in the park June 27 with new productions of “Taming of the Shrew” and “Twelfth Night.” When you go, as many Angelenos do as part of their regular summer entertainment, drop some cash in their jars. It’s the right thing to do.
Or go see the company’s “Romeo and Juliet” now, 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sunday in Atwater Village. Just note that slightly unusual 7:30 p.m. curtain. I didn’t, and missed the first 15 minutes. My bad.
You’ve also got two more weekend’s worth of “Macbeth” at A Noise Within. The production is directed by Larry Carpenter and features Elijah Alexander and Jules Wilcox as the murderous Thane and his dame. Many of the ANW regulars are doing other shows in the repertory, so here’s a chance to see some new faces. There are performances this Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., next Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday the 11th at 2 and 7 p.m. 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 356-3100 ext. 1, www.anoisewithin.org.
May 25 is the closing date for Pacific Resident Theater’s production of “Henry V,” another relatively bare bones staging, also in modern dress and with minimal finery. Adapted, directed and narrated by TV actor Alex Fernandez (AKA Guillermo Cienfuegos ). The production has received a ton of good press. 8 p.m. Thur.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun., 707 Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 822-8392, www.PacificResidentTheatre.com.
In June, the city’s other long-running summer festival, the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, gets underway with an entire season of Shakespeare (and one play about the Bard). Company Artistic Director Ellen Geer will play Queen Lear in a gender-reversed production of “Lear” that she will co-direct with Melora Marshall opening June 7. The company’s summer perennial “Midsummer Night’s Dream” comes up June 8 (directed by Willow Geer and Melora Marshall) followed by problem child comedy “All’s Well that Ends Well” (directed by Ellen Geer and Christopher Jones) June 21, “Much Ado About Nothing” (directed by Ellen and Willow Geer) July 12 and, on Sept. 5, Bill Cain’s marvelous “Equivocation,” a political thriller set in 1605 London and tracking the blocked playwright “Shagspeare” as he tries to work his way through a commission. Note that last opening date, Sept. 6 and the fact that unlike the bulk of the rep, “Equivocation will only be up for six performances through Oct. 4 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.