In the middle of the winding hills that is Topanga Canyon, lies a hidden jewel that brings theatre back to its natural outdoor setting and intertwines the elements with man made sets. The Will Geer Theatre is an outdoor amphitheatre that houses Theatricum Botanicum, who performs older works, often with a twist. Having just discovered this troop, presiding in this heavenly location, I am extremely excited to be able to dive deeper into their works. Their first production of the summer season William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” opened last night, Saturday June 2nd and will run through September. However, there are four other shows, running simultaneously that you can see there this summer, so there are many reasons to go back numerous times.
“Measure for Measure” has been taken out of its usual era and been transplanted into the wild peace hungry 60’s. The story has been slightly shifted in order to fit its groovy new time period and the characters updated. Though updating Shakespeare’s work is nothing new and can sometimes be done in a way that dumb downs the work, this production was done beautifully. Bringing Shakespeare’s words to life, with even more meaning that resonates with the world of the 60’s with some messages the still ring true in today’s society.
The show opens with protests and a Governor (Aaron Hendry) who is unhappy and decides to go undercover in order to get closer to a prisoner who may have been wrongly punished. Claudio, who has been thrown in jail and sentenced to death for impregnating his African American girlfriend Juliet (Crystal Clark), is the main focus of the plot. A frantic farce ensues as Claudio’s sister Isabelle (Willow Geer), who has resigned herself to a life in the nunnery, tries to save her brother’s life, all at the encouragement of the meddling Lucio (Melora Marshall).
Ellen Geer has done a fabulous job with her immensely talented cast. Letting them run with the newly embellished parts and providing them with proper guidance. Lucio, played to immense and hilarious perfection by Marshall, is as sleazy as he is obnoxious. She transforms herself into the conniving but well meaning man. After concluding that Claudio’s death is definite Lucio becomes blistering drunk and makes an outright fool of himself in front of the disguised Governor. Marshall’s comedic choices bring the entire audience to their knees with laughter.
Marshall is not the only stellar performance that this production encompasses. Willow Geer’s tortured Isabelle is heart wrenching and loveable. There are parts where her character’s actions could seem forced and unconvincing but Geer places them with utmost certainty and determination making every move and word as necessary as the last. Gerald C. Rivers as Pompey, a Pimp, bejewels the audience with his colorful performance. There is also a wee one, who spends the entire show strapped to her mother’s bosom. Though adorable and extremely well behaved, the thought of the little tyke being there for three hours and the combination of her pure cuteness was distracting and caused me to miss some of the action taking place.
If I were to pick a downside to this production, it would perhaps be the length, translating to the time spent on the uncomfortable benches of the theatre. However, this is both Shakespeare and the outdoor experience. It helps bring us back to the earlier days of theatre, and honestly most of the time you are laughing and so captivated that your back doesn’t really bother you. Overall, I am most excited to see more of Theatricum Botanicum’s work, because from what I hear they rarely disappoint, and with “Measure for Measure” I was far from disappointed.