Willow Geer

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Hillarity Ensues at Theatricum Botanicum with Shaw’s “Heartbreak House”

Published July 23, 2012 by mickala

When you combine the witty words of George Bernard Shaw, incredible acting talent and present them in the enchanted setting that is Theatricum Botanicum, it gives you an absolutely delightful evening. Heartbreak House is just one of 5 productions that can be seen at Theatricum this summer. I was very much looking forward to this production after my positive experience with their presentation of Measure for Measure. Using some of the same actors in both productions (why wouldn’t they when they have such superb actors on hand) this play is hilarious and bizarre and the equally talented cast gives themselves over completely to Shaw’s clever dialogue.

Heartbreak House is a farce that takes place in a country house in England in 1914. There are a variety of house guests who fall in and out of love with one another in a matter of minutes. I always judge a great play on whether or not it feels like I am actually watching a play. Due to the impeccable acting and brilliant direction by Ellen Geer, this production felt more as if I was a neighbor, peeking in on this bizarre evening.

Melora Marshall who plays the slightly off her rocker Hesione Hushabye, floats around the stage as if she is on some sort of drugs. Her constant smirking, reminds one of the Cheshire cat, as she plays master puppeteer over her house guests and family. Hesione’s half-delirious father Captain Shotover played to quiet hilarity by William Dennis Hunt, steals the show whenever he moseys on stage muttering some nonsense about pirates or dynamite.

The play itself may be full of utter nonsense but it has many themes that echo true today even though it was written in 1919. Mention of economical status and the unfairness of the business world and those who run it, could all have been words written about today. It is often true that plays written many  years ago, can come full circle and have the same meaning they did when they were written.

            It is a compliment to the theater company who can flawlessly present any play, particularly one nearly a century old. I highly recommend both Heartbreak House and Measure for Measure. And though these are the only two I have seen thus far, I will take a leap and suggest the others as well. For going to see a play at Theatricum Botanicum is not just a night out at the theater, it is an experience.

Due to the high volume of shows, show times for each play varies weekly. Please check their website for a full schedule.

–Mickala Jauregui

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“Measure for Measure”: a Hidden Treasure in the Hills

Published June 3, 2012 by mickala

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.

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