Review: Hollywood Meets Fascist Italy in Kingsmen’s Antony and Cleopatra

Kingsmen - Antony and Cleopatra

Shad Willingham and Cynthia Beckert as Antony and Cleopatra with Dekyi Ronge (Charmian)and Natasha Buran (Iras)

It’s all about the love story in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and this one has at its core the epic romance of the ages – Mark Antony and the notorious Queen of the Nile – two dramatic individuals consumed with passion of whom much has been written. It’s a perfect choice for Kingsmen Shakespeare Company’s final offering of the 2014 summer season and delivers another lovely night of Shakespeare under the stars just a short drive up the 101 to Thousand Oaks.

Kingsmen’s production is set in the 1930s where two distinct worlds emerge: Cleopatra’s Egypt, done up in the image of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and Mark Antony’s Rome, seen here as Mussolini’s fascist Italy. They are as different as night and day in director John Slade’s artful vision and his design team has done a beautiful job of making each one ring with authenticity on the company’s outdoor festival stage.  More

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Review: SCLA’s Jazz Age Romeo and Juliet is an Electric Affair

SCLA - Romeo and Juliet

Jack Mikesell and Christina Elmore. Photos by Michael Lamont

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.”

It is a chilling conclusion when Kimberly Scott repeats the text of the prologue again at the end of Romeo and Juliet while standing over the dead bodies of the lovers. You can hear the bitter warning in her voice as she slowly looks from one end of the stage to the other at two fathers who have paid the price of their feud in blood. As her weighty words hang in the air, the lights dim, and Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’s magnificent production slowly fades to black.

Director Ken Sabberton creates a stream of moments that resonate like this one in his sleek interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy that transports the Capulets and Montagues to the Roaring Twenties when two Los Angeles newspaper rivals (Harry Chandler and William Randolph Hearst) fought for control of the city.

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Review: For Theatricum Botanicum, All’s Well That Ends Well

All's Well That Ends Well -Theatricum

Earnestine Phillips and Willow Geer. Photos by Miriam Geer

In Theatricum Botanicum’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the action begins and ends with a song. At rise it is the somber lamentation that accompanies a funeral procession and at the play’s conclusion, an uplifting madrigal “Sing We Enchant It.” This bookending of the play with two very different types of music – sacred vs. secular – is one of the ways that co-directors Ellen Geer and Christopher W. Jones subtly underscore the distinctions presented in Shakespeare’s lesser-known comedy.

Another is the way they cast the high-born and low-born characters. Though race is not specified in the text, the decision to use actors of color for the former and Caucasian actors for the latter works on the modern sensibilities of the audience. It broadens our perceptions while making a very important point: good breeding is not always synonymous with good character. If it were, Bertram (Max Lawrence), with all the wealth and privilege afforded by his station, would not behave like such a cad.  More

Review: Downtown Rep Revives THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

Downtown Rep - Merchant  of Venice
Within the courtyard of the historic Pico House in downtown LA, the Downtown Repertory Theater Company is in the midst of offering its sixth season of classical works. Led by artistic director Devon Armstrong, they have taken on Chekhov, Marlowe, Odets and numerous plays by Shakespeare, all while encouraging actors to tackle roles they might not otherwise have the opportunity to play.

The three story brick building makes a perfect setting for Shakespeare, with its picturesque arches, metal railings and balconies. It should, since it was originally built in 1869 by Don Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, who opened it as the first luxury hotel in LA. The back wall of the courtyard was also the site of the first theater in Los Angeles so it is fitting that it is once again used in that artistic capacity. It makes an especially beautiful setting for the company’s current production of The Merchant of Venice, directed by Ivan Rivas and starring David Nathan Schwartz as Shylock.  More

Review: SOC Sails to the South Pacific for A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

SOC - Midsummer

L-R: Josele de Guzman, Sammy McClymonds Nguyen and John Daskalakis. Photos by Jordan Kubat

Yes, it takes a village. Shakespeare Orange County has pulled out all the stops, and even enlisted a not-so-secret weapon, to accomplish an extraordinarily beautiful debut in its first official production under new artistic director, John Walcutt. No less than 30 actors, 32 dancers, 10 drummers, a creative staff of 13, and countless additional volunteers have brought this Polynesian Dream, set in the 1700s, to life. It is a remarkable achievement that all starts with the intoxicating world created by director Susan Angelo. And what a world it is.

The drumming begins and from all sides they come: down the aisles, out from the wings, up onto the stage, almost as though they walk on air – each cluster filling the space with its own charismatic energy. There are silky-skinned Polynesian dancers who mesmerize with their skill; British colonials full of militaristic intensity; a band of mischievous fairies led by a dark and imposing king, and a fairy queen in gossamer white with an entourage of colorful pixies.  More

Review: Independent Shakespeare Co.’s Upstairs/Downstairs TWELFTH NIGHT

ISC - TWELFTH NIGHT

Kalean Ung as Viola disguised as Cesario and Ryan Vincent Anderson as Count Orsino. Photos by Grettel Cortes.

Over the past ten years, Independent Shakespeare Co. has staked its claim on the city of Los Angeles with its “of the people, by the people, for the people” brand of Shakespeare. Built from the ground up by two regular people (Melissa Chalsma and David Melville) who love what they do, they have created a fiercely loyal following that can’t get enough of their kind of real-people theatre.

Thousands attend their Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival each summer, many of whom return again and again because an ISC production was their first introduction to a classical art form…and lo and behold, they loved it. It is an accessible company of friendly folk who enjoy talking to their audience before the play begins, during intermission, and especially after the show is over. They hold bilingual pre-show workshops (Players in the Park/Teatristas en el parque) for those who may not speak English as a first language to help them understand and enjoy the productions as a family, and they host other local cultural organizations on their stage before many of their shows.

They are the people’s Shakespeare company, where everyone is treated like an important member of their community and there is no division between groups. If you’re one of the people, this is your club. And that’s the way they like it.  More

Review: ZJU Theatre Group’s Sexy, Funny MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

MIDSUMMER - ZJU Theatre Group

It never ceases to amaze me how effectively the members of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group can create an atmosphere in their incredibly intimate – make that tiny – black box. You would think a small space might limit their options but they have proven, over and over again, their innate ability to suggest time and place using even the simplest of objects.

For their current production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they transport the audience to Athens with only a cascade of glittering stars and a moon, affixed to the black walls, plus a partial Greek column that doubles as a fairy seat. Eclectic pre-show music further enhances the ambience and shows their sense of humor with a mix of songs that includes Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day,” “Volare,” “That’s Amore,” “Love Shack,” “Funkytown,” and even the country favorite “Crazy.” Notice everything because there is no random choice made here.  More

Review: A Formidable Ellen Geer Becomes LEAR at Theatricum Botanicum

Lear - Theatricum Botanicum

Melora Marshall and Ellen Geer. Photos by Ian Flanders

A frightening thing happens when a woman plays the title role in a gender-reversed King Lear; the betrayal and revenge between mother and sons takes on an added level of horror. What was already tragic to begin with, as originally written for a father and daughters, now feels even more threatening in the reverse.

Perhaps it is because the bond between mother and child pre-dates even birth making the treachery of flesh born of flesh feel like the ultimate violation of a sacrosanct relationship. When it is a son raising his hand against his mother the threat is magnified, especially when viewed through the lens of today’s modern society.  More

Book Review: Twisted Lit Reinvents Romeo & Juliet in ANYONE BUT YOU

Anyone but you book coverLove and Pizza…and Shakespeare! That’s what authors Kim Askew and Amy Helmes have cooked up Chicago-style in ANYONE BUT YOU, book three of their popular Twisted Lit series for young adults. Each of the stand-alone books takes a classic Shakespearean story and spins it into a modern tale that is fresh and fun for today’s teen (or anyone in the mood for an entertaining, light summer read).

For Anyone But You, it is the love story of Romeo and Juliet, but the authors do much more than simply transport the star-crossed pair to present day. They also flash back to the 1930s and ’40s to uncover what originally caused the feud between the families and offer a satisfying alternate ending to the original’s tragic conclusion.

Best of all, it doesn’t matter if you know the complete Romeo and Juliet story or not. If you do, you’ll have the added fun of seeing the smart ways they reinvent characters and events to parallel the original, but if you don’t, you’ll get a clever, sweet, and altogether charming tale of young love and the power it has to overcome all odds.  More

Review: Independent Shakespeare Co. Intimately Envisions Romeo and Juliet

ISC - Romeo and Juliet

Nikhil Pai and Erika Soto. Photo credit: Grettel Cortes

Independent Shakespeare Co. once again showcases its intuitive ability to reimagine Shakespeare for a modern-day audience with an intimate production of his classic romance, Romeo and Juliet. The culturally diverse troupe is adept at creating user-friendly Shakespeare that everyone can understand, whether they are playing to a thousand or more in Griffith Park each summer, or to those that come for an intimate experience in their experimental Atwater Village Studio, or even to an impromptu audience at site-specific locations like The Huntington where they performed Shakespeare in the Garden this past weekend.  [See Huntington photos HERE]

In all of these cases, they have a gift for making the text lift off the page within a creative context that is as unique as it is memorable. That picture, of words blowing off the page like a child blows the seeds from a dandelion in summer, is marvelously employed in Romeo and Juliet as the familiar tale is freshly spun by director Melissa Chalsma and eight inventive actors.  More

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