Review: ISC’s Much Ado About Nothing is a 1940s Charmer

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING - ISC

David Melville (Benedick) and Melissa Chalsma (Beatrice). Photos by Reynaldo Macias

One of the keys to providing great entertainment is understanding your audience. For a theatre company, that means knowing what your audience wants and then being able to provide it so they keep coming back for more. Independent Shakespeare Co. has done a brilliant job of both. Not only do they play to crowds that number in the thousands each night during their Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival, but they always find a way to connect with the audience and make them feel like they’re in on the fun.

In Much Ado About Nothing, their latest production in the park, director Jeff Wienckowski ensures that connection with staging that often takes the characters out among the people, with plenty of hilarious results. The famous pair of scenes in which Beatrice (Melissa Chalsma) and Benedick (David Melville) are each fooled by their friends into thinking the other is in love with him or her takes place right in the laps of those on the lawn, much to the delight of everyone around them.  More

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Review: Shakespeare Orange County’s Romeo & Juliet

SOC Romeo & Juliet

Rámon de Ocampo and his friends. All photos by Jordan Kubat

As an attempt to increase its cultural relevance, involve the community, and expand its audience base, Shakespeare Orange County’s Romeo & Juliet is an admirable venture. Directors Mike Peebler and John Walcutt have integrated several hometown groups to appeal to its neighboring communities: the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association, the 40-year-old folklórico group Relámpago del Cielo from Santa Ana, the Korean Social Club of Orange County, and students from the Orange County School of the Arts.  More

Review: Theatricum’s Americana-Inspired As You Like It is Full of Homespun Charm

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Willow Geer and Colin Simon. Photos by Ian Flanders

Seeing a play where Shakespeare’s unfortunate characters escape the city and seek refuge in the Forest of Arden is even more enjoyable when experienced in the idyllic setting of Theatricum Botanicum’s natural outdoor theater. Every time I go, I am reminded what an oasis it is in a city overwhelmed with urban sprawl.

In keeping with its season’s Americana theme, Theatricum Botanicum has transported Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It to the post-Civil War era, a decision that beautifully enhances the homespun charm of its characters while providing a relevant political context for the play. It also gives director Ellen Geer the opportunity to weave early American spirituals and folk songs into the fabric of the piece. One of the loveliest, “Aura Lee” in three-part harmony, delicately wafts on the afternoon breeze.  More

Fringe Review: Bright Swords, Very Highly Recommended

Bright Swords

Bright Swords has three essential elements that make it one of the most polished, intelligent, and satisfying productions at Fringe: an elegant performance by Ryan Vincent Anderson, a beautifully written, smart, funny, human script by playwright Rick Creese, and stylish, impeccably focused direction by director Jeffrey Wienckowski.

Alone on stage, Anderson takes the audience through the challenges and triumphs of one of the most important but little-known early actors of the theatre. Ira Aldridge was the first African American to play Othello on a London stage at a time when actors of color were often nothing more than figures to be laughed at. His determination to portray his characters as men rather than stereotypes was revolutionary in the 19th century. He challenged prejudices by remaining true to his artistic heart, declaring he was the best case for abolition and wouldn’t have it any other way.  More

Fringe Review: The Porters of Hellsgate – BREAKING BARD

Breaking Bard - The Porters

Gus Krieger and Jesse James Thomas. Photo credit: Zach Andrews

This theatrical parody of a TV favorite has Fringe hit written all over it. Get your tickets now because the theater only has about 40 seats and this show is quickly going to sell out. It should. Gus Krieger’s writing is smart, compact, wickedly funny, and exactly what you hope it will be when you picture a Walter White world with William Shakespeare dialogue.

The show is full of surprises but far be it from me to spoil them for you. I’ll only highlight one bit of brilliant writing; Krieger’s transformation of Shakespeare’s “Seven ages of man” into the “seven stages of cooking meth.” It’s worth the price of admission for that speech alone.

Characterized by fast-paced scenes that establish the chronology, hit the joke, land, and move on, and well-cast actors (seriously, every one of them nails his or her role/s), who find the comic hook for each character, it’s the kind of show that keeps you involved from beginning to end. As the aha moments stack up, so do the laughs.

Krieger has White down – the look, the stance, the serious consideration he gives to every problem at hand – even the singular way he reasons through to a solution. It’s a perfect fit for the actor/playwright and an inspired pairing if ever there was one. Jesse James Thomas trades street punk Jesse Pinkman’s trademark “bitch” moniker for “wench,” stretching it out a little longer each time as he comically flaunts the character’s vocal cadence.

Thomas Bigley makes an out-of-left-field cameo appearance late in the play that provides the perfect capper to the entire show. All that and a toilet on stage too. It’s a winner!

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

BREAKING BARD
June 6 – 28, 2015
Asylum Lab at Theatre Asylum,
1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets: $10 at http://hff15.org/2146

Fringe Review: R&J, a gender-reversed Romeo and Juliet

R&J Mine is Yours

I confess to being very confused by the production. In this modern twist on Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet, women play men and men play women. Or rather, women play male characters as men and men play female characters as women…I think.

My confusion comes with the use of pronouns and lack of consistency in the costuming. For example, Romeo is played by a woman and is now called Romea (Mary Ellen Schneider) and referred to as “she” and “my wife” but she’s playing the role as if she were a man. The same is true of the rest of the female actors. Their stance and posturing is male, and their energy is masculine, but they’re still referred to in the feminine. They’re even dressed mainly in gender-neutral leggings and vests with a masculine edge, and vice versa. The two female roles – Juliet, now Julian (Dane Oliver), and the Nurse (Alan Blumenfeld) – are men playing women as if they were women but they’re referred to in the masculine and dressed in men’s button down shirts and trousers. It’s confusing to even describe it.  More

Review: PERICLES, A Shakespearean Soap Opera Without the Blood

PERICLES - ISC

André Martin as Pericles. Photos by Grettel Cortes

Each summer in Griffith Park, Independent Shakespeare Co. presents fully-produced large scale performances for hundreds of people on a nightly basis. Instead of the expensive dinner and a movie scenario, families flock to the park for a more neighborly picnic and a play. It’s friendly, affordable (the play is free), and fun…and that’s about as good as it gets on a summer night in LA.

During the off season, the company returns to its much smaller 49-seat theater in Atwater Village for a more experimental approach to Shakespeare and other classics. Here they are able to try out new ideas and play around with concepts that may grow into future festival productions or simply inspire short-term creativity. They also offer classes for the public, music nights, discussions, and other special one-night-only events, always with an eye to entertaining their growing community of friends and fans.

ISC’s latest studio production, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, directed by Melissa Chalsma, is a perfect example of this kind of experimentation in which the space becomes a playground, of sorts, for a small group of seven actors to bring Shakespeare’s epic adventure tale to life. More

Review: ZJU’s MACBETH – Short and Sweet, Dark and Bloody

ZJU -  Macbeth

Amir Khalighi as Macbeth and Jason Britt as Macduff

Director Denise Devin knows how to set a mood. Her one-hour Shakespeare adaptations condense the Bard’s source material into compact, efficient theatre capsules that are perfect for those who want their Shakespeare short and sweet – or in this case, dark and bloody – with enough time left after the show to head out on the town.

This latest version of the Scottish play contains all of ZJU’s signature touches as Devin transforms the intimate space into an ephemeral black hole with 11 actors, 2 stationary black cubes, and an earthy costume design.  More

Review: Betrayal Abounds in A Noise Within’s Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar - A Noise Within

L-R: Freddy Douglas (Cassius), Evan Garcia (Ensemble), June Carryl (Cinna), Robertson Dean (Brutus), E.K. Dagenfield (Metellus), and Deborah Strang (Casca). Photos by Craig Schwartz

Betrayal lurks around every corner when a ruler’s ability to rule comes into question. Whether real or imagined, its weighty presence stands as a cautionary phantom in A Noise Within’s Julius Caesar. Directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliot and Geoff Elliot have turned Shakespeare’s thought-provoking political drama into a powerful exposé on the less noble actions of men, anchored by two terrific performances and a commanding industrial design.

It is a play mostly known for its famous quotes: “Beware the ides of March,” “it was Greek to me,” “The fault is not in our stars…But in ourselves,” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” – a masterpiece of words; crafty and ironic one minute, fiercely direct the next.

Rafael Goldstein (Mark Antony) uses them brilliantly in a dazzling speech that is the crown jewel of this production. With Caesar’s broken body laid out on a rolling scaffold, Goldstein perches on top of a Genie Lift, an ingenious piece of mechanical equipment that further assists the actor in punctuating his message. It is an electrifying performance; one you’ll be talking about long after his galvanizing eulogy ends and the house lights come up.  More

Review: Henry IV, Part One by the Rogues of Antaeus

Henry IV Part1 - Antaeus

Gregory Itzin and Ramón de Ocampo. Photo by Karianne Flaathen

A striking image hovers above the action in Henry IV, Part One at The Antaeus Company. It is a partial rendering of the planets orbiting the sun, which serves as an ever-present reminder that this is the journey of a king-in-the-making. As Prince Hal, also known as Harry, slowly transitions from party boy to royal warrior, its glow becomes more and more noticeable until it finally overtakes the stage. It is simple, but incredibly effective, and shows how powerful the relationship between designers’ work – in this case François-Pierre Couture (scenic) and Michael Gend (lighting) – and the play itself can be. Visuals like these reap great rewards in an intimate theater.

Henry IV, Part One is the second in a series of four works that are among Shakespeare’s History plays (Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V). Collectively, they follow the line of succession from the deposition of Richard II and King Henry’s ascent to the throne, through the rise to power of Henry’s son, Prince Harry, who will become Henry V.  More

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