Two beloved plays by William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” welcome audiences back to the spectacular outdoor venue at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum this summer.
Theatricum’s audience will see “Julius Caesar,” Shakespeare’s thriller about power, politics and the elusive nature of truth, through a slightly different lens, with the iconic tale told from the vantage point of the Soothsayer (played by longtime company member Gerald C. Rivers).
“We want to draw attention to the timeliness of the play — to how history repeats itself — without updating it or making any other significant changes,” explain co-directors Ellen Geer and Willow Geer. “Shakespeare’s story about the fall of Rome is a microcosm of our own society. A group of wealthy senators takes over a democratic government they think is going in the wrong direction. But the citizens are not consulted. The citizens have no say. By subtly shifting the point of view, we hope the audience will view this familiar story through new eyes.”
The production, performed in 80 minutes without intermission, is headed up by Theatricum favorites Mark Lewis as Julius Caesar, Michael McFall as Marc Antony, Christopher W. Jones as Brutus, Melora Marshall as Cassius, Willow Geer as Portia, Cindy Kania-Guastaferro as Calpurnia, Max Lawrence as Marcellus and Franc Ross as Casca. Also in the cast are Gabrielle Beauvais, Joseph Bricker, Matthew Domenico, Steven C. Fisher, Eric Flores, Tim Frangos, Steven Gordon, Frank Gress, Colin Guthrie, Grace Hawthorn, Leesa Kim, Joey Major, Jacob Salazar, Lawrence Sonderling and Sky Wahl. The creative team includes lighting designer Zach Moore, sound designer Grant Escandón, costume designer Tracy Wahl and prop master Alex Sheldon. Kim Cameron is the production stage manager.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Theatricum offers a new take on its signature production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” infusing the Bard’s beautiful language with song to heighten the pleasure. Select sections of Shakespeare’s text will be sung to original music by Ellen Geer, with instrumentation and additional music by Marshall McDaniel. Like Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed in 80 minutes without intermission.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a perennial favorite at Theatricum, where the set design remains unrivaled by any other theater — because it’s the real thing. Prepare to be transfixed as the most magical outdoor setting in Los Angeles is transformed into an enchanted forest inhabited by lovers both fairy and human, a world of wonder, magic, romance and comedy where misunderstandings and the pain of unrequited love are resolved through midsummer night revelries and the enduring power of nature.
Melora Marshall directs and also stars as Titania, queen of the fairies, alongside Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company’s Lisa Wolpe as Oberon, with Jackie Nicole and Terrence Wayne Jr. alternating as Puck. The four lovers are played by Ethan Haslam (Demetrius), Julia Lisa (Hermia), Joey Major (Lysander) and Sara Mountjoy-Pepka (Helena). The hilarious Mechanicals are led by Thad Geer as Bottom and Earnestine Phillips as Quince, with Ted Elrick as Starveling, Jacob Salazar as Snug, Sky Wahl as Snout and Elias Wygodny as Flute. Tim Halligan takes on the role of Egeus, with Jose Donado portraying Theseus, Oyemen Ehikhamhen as Hippolyta, Patrick Olsen as Philostrate and Ava Collins as an Amazon. Grace Hawthorn, Nastasia Kulish and Alexandra Kunin round out the cast as fairies, with Aarush Mehta as the changeling child. The creative team includes lighting designer Zach Moore, sound designer Grant Escandón, costume designer Beth Eslick and prop master Sydney Russell. Karen Osborne is the production stage manager.
Theatricum Botanicum has been named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine, “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine, and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly. “The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum’s maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn’t get any better than this,” writes StageSceneLA. Says Los Angeles magazine, “The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills.” In 2017, Theatricum was named “one of the best outdoor theaters around the world” by the Daily Beast.
Theatricum’s beginnings 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 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’s main stage amphitheater sports a new and improved sun shade for increased audience comfort, installed with support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Ralph M. Parson’s Foundation. Theatricum is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Margaret Harford Award for “sustained excellence,” which is the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s highest honor.
Theatricum’s outdoor amphitheater is terraced into the Topanga Canyon hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating.
Seating will remain socially distanced and masks required as dictated by L.A. County guidelines on the day of each performance.
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