Review: Lovers and Love Scenes by California Shakespeare Ensemble

Lovers Shrew

Roddy Jessup, Aviva Baumann, and Fred Cross as Bianca and her suitors from The Taming of the Shrew

California Shakespeare Ensemble, in partnership with L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation, staged a light evening of Shakespearean love scenes this past weekend in Altadena’s Farnsworth Park. The event was an encore performance of a program the company presented at Descanso Gardens earlier this summer and consisted of familiar and lesser known scenes from Shakespeare’s plays that explore love in its various stages.

With the moon rising over the intimate outdoor amphitheater, narrator and CSE artistic director Brian Elerding provided the set-up for lovers such as Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Benedick, Kate and Petruchio, and even Margaret and Suffolk throughout the 85-minute program. Seven actors mostly from the world of television brought the scenes to life, often in roles they would not normally be cast in. They included Aviva Baumann, Fred Cross, Roddy Jessup, Jeremy Radin, Kate Siegel, and Samantha Sloyan, along with Elerding. Stylistically the actors took a naturalistic approach to the dialogue much like Joss Whedon’s film treatment of Much Ado About Nothing and though the pacing could been have tightened up within scenes, the text itself was easy to understand, even for those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s plays. 

The famous forest scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Demetrius (Cross) and Lysander (Elerding) in pursuit of Helena (Sloyan) while a distraught Hermia (Siegel) rages in confusion was the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night. The balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet featuring Baumann and Elerding, the most familiar.

A masked pair of silent actors (Ashli Dowling and Shahaub Roudbari) appeared between scenes in a developing story of their own. The sweet boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back again scenario featured the rustic accompaniment of Elerding on accordion and was a lovely way of involving the audience and framing the evening.

There’s nothing more enjoyable than hearing Shakespeare’s poetry under the stars, and for the crowd that assembled in Farnsworth Park this pleasant midsummer night, it was an opportunity to share some laughs and delight in the works of a master. If you fancy the same, watch for upcoming performances by the California Shakespeare Ensemble on their website at Coming this fall: Shakespeare’s Villains. Oh yeah.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA


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