Review: The Porters Present a Prohibition Era OTHELLO

Othello - The Porters

Matt Calloway and Charles Pasternak. Photos by Zachary Andrews

Why does Iago hate the Moor? That has always been the great question in Othello and one for which Shakespeare provides no definitive answer. Yes, he feels slighted when Othello promotes Cassio over him but is that enough reason to plot the general’s demise? Is it because he believes that Othello has slept with his wife, or because of the color of his skin? Or are Iago’s actions fueled by something deeper like self-loathing?

Shakespeare purposely doesn’t answer the question because he is more interested in prompting the audience to draw its own conclusions. The ambiguity is essential to the play although productions will at times highlight one line of reasoning over another in an attempt to give Iago clearer motivation. But that decision robs the play of its mystery and limits the unsettling horror of what happens on stage.  More

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Review: Tarantino Meets Elizabethan England in PULP SHAKESPEARE

Aaron Lyons (Vince) and Dan White (Julius)  in Pulp Shakespeare. Photo credit: Bren Coombs

The stylistic marriage of Shakespeare’s language and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction reaps heady rewards for linguists and lovers of indie crime drama in Pulp Shakespeare (or Bard Fiction) at Theatre Asylum where the runaway hit of the 2010 Hollywood Fringe Festival is reinventing itself in a new production produced by Matthew Quinn and Aaron Lyons. Originally helmed by Jordan Monsell, this iteration is directed by Amanda McRaven and features three returning major cast members surrounded by a new ensemble of players.

Smart writing, coupled with deadly serious character interpretations and a clever transposition of Tarantino’s iconic scenes to 16th Century England, makes this the kind of shrewdly intelligent comedy you can’t get enough of.

Its two leading men are loaded with charisma. Lyons stars as Vincenzio de la Vega and Dan White as Julius Winfield, the Elizabethan counterparts of their namesakes played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. White has more obvious character traits to latch onto as Jackson playing Jules and his speech patterns and mannerisms offer up some of the biggest laughs in the show. Lyons is the more understated of the two, easily sliding into the slinkier style of Travolta’s Vincent. Together they make this buddy play a bloody delight. I’d see it again just to watch how they play the audience.  More

Review: The Porters of Hellsgate Weave a WINTER’S TALE

Porters - The Winter's Tale

Michael Mitchell Hoag and Thomas Bigley

The Winter’s Tale is not the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays to stage. It must believably present a story sharply divided into two parts set in two different countries with drastically contrasting tones, and pull off an ending that resolves them by way of magic or a well-concealed plot, based on whichever point of view the director takes. The violence of the first half of the play in Sicilia (winter) melts away in the pastoral beauty of Bohemia (spring) in the second, where the story continues sixteen years later before reuniting the past and present and absolving the sins of a repentant king.

In Sicilia, King Leontes (Thomas Bigley) has accused his pregnant wife Hermione (Kate O’Toole) of sleeping with his best friend, Polixenes (Evan Isaac Lipkin), King of Bohemia. The good queen is innocent but there is no reasoning with Leontes, who places her on trial and sets out to have his friend murdered and the child destroyed. His rashness results in the deaths of his firstborn son Mamillius (Sasha Pasternak), Hermione, and even his loyal servant, Antigonus (Sean Faye), who is mauled to death offstage following one of Shakespeare’s most famous stage directions, “Exit pursued by a bear.”  More

Review: Fantasy Meets Reality in A Noise Within’s THE TEMPEST

The Tempest - ANW

Deborah Strang as Prospero. Photos by Craig Schwartz

The dueling forces of light and dark are constantly at play in the fantasy-meets-reality world of A Noise Within’s The Tempest, the first production of its 2014-15 season. Deborah Strang takes on the role of Prospero in a gender-switch that now finds mother and daughter (rather than father and daughter) stranded on an island some twelve years after Prospero’s brother Antonio (Time Winters) has usurped her power in Milan and set them both adrift in a boat to die at sea. Unfortunately for Antonio, they didn’t die, and now the time has come for Prospero to restore her daughter to her rightful place, forgive the injustices done to them, and complete a circle of life.

As with every ANW production, the stagecraft and theatrical effects are striking and never fail to impress. Lightness comes in the form of whimsical touches: a storybook cutout set design with giant construction paper-like trees, fanciful white dresses and enormous hats for the ladies, a ping pong match between the lovers, and songs delicately sung by chanteuse Eliza Kiss.  More

Review: Equivocation – It’s all in the Details and Theatricum Gets Them All Right

Equivocation - Theatricum

Alan Blumenfeld and Ted Barton. Photos by Ian Flanders

Throughout two thirds of Bill Cain’s political thriller Equivocation, a confused Shagspeare (known to us otherwise as Shakespeare, played by Ted Barton) keeps asking questions and getting answers that don’t make sense. Finally a circumspect Father Garnet (Franc Ross) tells him to look for the question beneath the question and suddenly the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place.

What Shag is having difficulty with are discrepancies in the stories each side tells of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The event is still celebrated in England today and concerns an alleged Catholic plot to blow up King James (Dane Oliver) and the Parliament.  More

Review: Friday Night Laughs with the Ladies of Chickspeare

Chickspeare
One of the best ways to end the stress of a busy work week is with a few laughs. Best place to find those laughs right now is at ComedySportz LA, where the classically-trained, comically-proficient ladies of Chickspeare take over the courtyard on Friday nights and improvise a one-act Shakespearean comedy guaranteed to start your weekend right.

Seriously witty. Playfully fun. It’s one of the best kept secrets in LA and a thoroughly enjoyable evening of comedy that the whole family will love. Plus the chicks calling the shots during this lively hour of Elizabethan improv are a lively and attractive group who dive into an idea heart first with all the commitment of a delightful bunch of pre-schoolers playing dress up.

The show is performed in the round, outdoors under the stars, with the audience seated at comfy café tables cozy enough to make it feel like you’re in a friend’s backyard. Bring a casual dinner and a bottle of wine or pick up some snacks in the garage on-site as you relax before the show. Period music sets the mood and the crowd is friendly. It really is a great way to unwind.  More

Review: Chemistry Drives Theatricum Botanicum’s Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing - Theatricum

Robertson Dean and Susan Angelo

What a wonder is love in the hands of a writer like Shakespeare. Through comedy, tragedy, sonnet and poem, the way he captures lovers and their essence is pure magic. In Much Ado About Nothing, bringing that magic to life depends largely on its leading man and lady, and when a company gets the pairing right, the experience is so thoroughly engaging you never want it to end.

That’s the case with Theatricum Botanicum’s current production, directed by Ellen Geer and Christopher W. Jones, who could not have cast two actors with more chemistry, or a better understanding of Beatrice and Benedick, than Susan Angelo and Robertson Dean.  More

Review: Laughter Rules in ISC’s The Taming of the Shrew

ISC - Taming of the Shrew

Melissa Chalsma as Kate and Luis Galindo as Petruchio. Photos by Grettel Cortes

It begins with a wager and ends with a food fight and in between the laughs fly fast and furious in Independent Shakespeare Co.’s The Taming of the Shrew. Yes, throughout much of the play those laughs come at the expense of one woman, Katherine (Melissa Chalsma as the shrew of the title), but director David Melville turns the shenanigans into an indisputably jolly event. In Griffith Park that’s really what it’s all about as every weekend thousands of LA theatre lovers come to share in the laughter during ISC’s Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival. Along with Shrew the company is offering Twelfth Night in rep through August 31. Catch both; each one is a comic delight.  More

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream of Intoxicating Depth

Actors' Gang - Midsummer

Adam Ferguson, Bob Turton and Will Thomas McFadden

More laughter, more beauty, more of everything that makes theatre special is what you’ll find in the Actors’ Gang’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is a night of Shakespeare that takes all emotion to the brink and entertains with a vibrancy of invention that would surely make old Will smile were he to wake from his eternal slumber.

This is a dream I shall not soon forget. In fact, I love what Actors’ Gang has created so much that I could see every remaining performance of the run, and then never see a Midsummer again, and I would be completely satisfied.

Why? What is it about the Gang’s version of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy that has marked me where the bolt of Cupid fell and made me a forever fan? I urge you to go so you can see for yourself. Words can only capture part of the experience and it is in that which is intangible that you will find its most wondrous gifts.  More

Review: Coeurage Theatre Company Finds the Art in ANDRONICUS

Andronicus - Coeurage Theatre Company

L-R: Ted Barton, TJ Marchbank, Katie Pelensky, Gabriel Di Chiara, Greg Steinbrecher, Paul Romero, Brian Abraham. Photo credit: Robert Campbell

Without a doubt, there are scenes in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus that are difficult to watch. Actions that might come across as ludicrous on the page make one shrink with revulsion when viewed in the flesh, and within the confines of a small theater the effect is much like that of a horror show taken to the limit. Rape, murder, dismemberment, more murder, and about as much brutality as a person can handle in one sitting is what you’ll find at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre. That Coeurage Theatre Company can stage it so you can still appreciate the art in Shakespeare’s early attempt at tragedy is quite an accomplishment and also a reflection of the company’s passion and all-hands-in approach. Adapted and directed by artistic director, Jeremy Lelliott, it boasts a number of fine performances and an ensemble that is at the ready every step of the way.

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