Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum will celebrate the Bard’s 450th birthday with an All-Shakespeare Season this summer in Topanga Canyon. The 2014 five-play repertory season is a lively mix of tragedy and comedy, with a heaping teaspoon of Theatricum’s trademark social commentary that includes twists on King Lear and All’s Well That Ends Well; Shakespeare’s much-beloved Much Ado About Nothing; the company’s annual, signature production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and Equivocation, the award-winning play by Bill Cain that goes behind the scenes at the legendary Globe Theatre as King James commissions a young William “Shagspeare” to write a play about a thwarted attempt on his life.
In addition, Theatricum has been selected to participate in “Shakespeare on the Road,” a 60-day road trip by a team representing the University of Warwick and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust that will visit and document Shakespeare-related theater festivals across America during the 450th birthday of Shakespeare in 2014 and the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016.
“William Shakespeare, more than any other writer, chronicles every one of our emotions: love, jealousy, rage, romance, despair, joy, tenderness and humor,” says Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer. “We understand our world – and ourselves – better because of him.”
Geer will step into the title role in a gender-reversed Lear for the 21st century on June 7, a daring new production that sees Lear divide her kingdom and test the loyalty of her three sons. On June 8, A Midsummer Night’s Dream joins the repertory season. The natural beauty of Theatricum’s Topanga environment transforms once again into an enchanted forest where comic misadventures, mistaken identities and unrequited love are reconciled by magic, midsummer revelries and the enduring power of nature.
In the Bard’s bittersweet All’s Well That Ends Well, opening June 21, the beautiful but low-born Helena heals the king, winning the right to marry the man she loves – a count above her station. But no one is prepared for the severity and ruthlessness of Bertram’s rejection of Helena as his royally-decreed wife, nor for the lengths Helena will go in order to win his love. Theatricum makes a black and white comment on our perceptions of class, casting the royals with actors of color, while the commoners are white.
Much Ado About Nothing, one of the most exuberant and spirited battles of the sexes ever written, will open on July 12 and Bill Cain’s Equivocation will be the final production of the season. At once an explosive comedy of ideas and a high-stakes political thriller, this bold new work deftly reveals the cat-and-mouse games in politics and art, and the craft of learning how to speak the truth in difficult times. Set in 1605 London, a struggling playwright called “Shagspeare” receives a royal commission from King James to write a play promoting the government’s version of the Gunpowder Plot, a recent failed attempt to blow up Parliament and the Monarchy.
One of the many benefits of Theatricum’s repertory season is that they use a company of actors who perform each play on a rotating basis so that it’s possible to see all five mainstage plays in a single summer weekend.
Summer programming also includes poetry and music; comedy improv with Theatricum’s in-house troupe Off The Grid; Family Fundays, offering children’s theater from Creative PlayGround and music from Peter Alsop’s Kids Koncerts; Botanicum Seedlings: A Development Series for Playwrights presenting free readings of new plays; and Theme Dinner Buffets in the idyllic Theatricum gardens; and much more.
The beginnings of the Theatricum Botanicum can be traced to the early 1950s when Will Geer, a victim of the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist (before he became known as the beloved Grandpa on TV’s The Waltons), opened a theater for blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property in Topanga. Friends such as Ford Rainey, John Randolph and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties. Today, two outdoor amphitheaters are situated in the natural canyon ravine, where audiences are able to relax and enjoy the wilderness during an afternoon or evening’s performance. Theatricum is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Margaret Harford Award for “sustained excellence,” which is the Los Angeles Critics Circle’s highest honor.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura (101) Freeway. The amphitheaters are terraced into the hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Picnickers are welcome on the grounds before or after the performances.
For tickets and a complete schedule of theater, music and family entertainment, call (310) 455-3723 or go to www.theatricum.com. Subscribe before Shakespeare’s Birthday (April 23) for additional savings.
Season at a Glance
June 7–Sept. 28
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
June 8–Sept. 27
All’s Well That End’s Well
June 21–Sept. 27
Much Ado About Nothing
July 12–Sept. 28
Sept. 5-Oct. 4