Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles will return to the Japanese Garden at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare Campus for the third year in a row, with a Los Angeles-centric production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal National Theatre alum Kenn Sabberton. The production runs July 8 – 26 (press opening July 13).
Artistic director Ben Donenberg says, “This July, we light up the Japanese Garden with a new production of Romeo and Juliet that draws its inspiration from 1920’s Los Angeles, when the rivalry between newspapers seeking readers, influence, revenue, and power broke out into gang skirmishes that matched the lurid and sensational brand of journalism popular then as we reimagined the Capulets and the Montagues as the Chandlers vs. the Hearsts.”
The VA location speaks to many long-time themes of the Shakespeare Center – including presenting Shakespeare in a relevant way for present-day Angelenos, working with veterans with its Veteran Summer Employment program, and using theatre as a tool for personal and community transformation.
“Collaborating again with the VA continues our work hiring and training veterans on the job,” adds Donenberg. “Last summer, veterans made up over half of the entire company’s workforce. Vets work as valued members of our backstage and front of house team — and we make free tickets available to active military personnel, veterans, their care-givers and family members as part of our efforts to reach out to them.”
This Romeo and Juliet is set in 1923 in a Los Angeles that was booming — as a real estate sign proclaiming HOLLYWOODLAND is erected. The inspiration for the concept came from the book Mickey Cohen, in My Own Words: the Underworld Autobiography of Michael Mickey Cohen, As Told to John Peer Nugent.
It was a time when silent films were all the rage, prohibition was in full swing, and flappers were dancing the Charleston through their bathtub gin-soaked, non-stop party lives – some parties running for weeks at a time.
Crime, starting with illegal booze, was everywhere. Juvenile delinquency was on the rise as hoodlums and criminals became role models. From 1900 to 1925, the average age of jail convicts dropped from 50 to 25. At first the crimes were smaller – by “tomato gangs” whose weapons were rotten fruit and vegetables – and were soon followed by street fights. Thugs – like the gangs of today – engaged in turf wars.
Los Angeles grew big enough for two newspapers to emerge and it is in this world of rival editors that SCLA’s Romeo and Juliet unfolds. Lord Capulet (think Harry Chandler) edits one of the papers; Lord Montague (think William Randolph Hearst) edits the other.
The cast of Romeo and Juliet will include:
Jack Mikesell and Christina Elmore as Romeo and Juliet
Elijah Alexander and Tracey A. Leigh as Lord and Lady Capulet
Gregg Daniel as Lord Montague, Wyatt Fenner as Benvolio
Gregory Linington as Mercutio, Chris Rivera as Tybalt
Michael Manuel as Friar Lawrence, Kimberly Scott as Nurse
Cristina Frias as Prince, and Colin Bates as Paris
The Japanese Garden is located on the grounds of the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare Campus at 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90073 (adjacent to the Brentwood Theatre). Tickets, starting at $20, are available by calling (213) 893-8293 or online at www.shakespearecenter.org. For information about the ticket program for active military and veterans, please call SCLA at (213) 481-2273.