PHOTO BY IAN FLANDERS Joey Major as Lysander and Julia Lisa as Hermia plot to run away to escape her fatherâs insistance she marry Demetrius.
What magical place had I stumbled into, here in Topanga Canyon? IRL couples, families, friends, milling about with drinks in their hands, smiling from ear to ear, gazing at their fellow humans. I felt it too. Anticipation. Joy. Excitement for the world of possibilities that exist again and the promise of live theater! It was almost too good to believe. Like every dream I had in 2020 was coming true in mid-summer!
I was here to see the acclaimed repertory company, Theatricum Botanicumâs opening night performance of Shakespeareâs A Midsummer Nightâs Dream. The theater is set in an enchanted forest under the canopy of Coastal Live Oaks, the perfect place for this captivating story to unfold.
I was curious if, like me, this was the first theater outing for other people, since the plague that shall not be named and I asked the two women sitting behind me. Libby has been seeing shows at Theatricum for 40 years. She was thrilled to finally bring her long-time friend Susan, for the first time becauseâŚthey had been in a production of this very play at their all-girls school, in 1964. They promised they would try and not say their lines aloud during the show. They were ready.
So was the cast.
With all the artists finally getting to show up and give their hearts to the audience after an entire year away, it was clear they were energized and full of merriment.
PHOTO BY IAN FLANDERS Lisa Wolpe as Oberon, King of the Fairies, dukes it out with Melora Marshallâs Titania, Queen of the Fairies, over possession of a changling boy.
This year, under the brilliant and innovative directing of Melora Marshall, with original music by Ellen Geer and Marshall McDaniel, more music was added (with Shakespeareâs prose sung at perfect intervals). The songs that were performed by all the cast members were such a breath of fresh air. The play has been expertly shortened to 80 minutes (no intermission), making it even more accessible to children. It did not detract from the show, with the pace and the laughs rolling along seamlessly.
The play alternates between three different worlds. First is the court of Duke Theseus (Jose Donado) and his betrothed, Hippolyta, (the fierce Jordan Tyler Kessler). The Patriarchy is in full force, with a father, Egeus (Tim Halligan) insisting on the arranged marriage of his daughter, Hermia (Julia Lisa)âfunny, effervescent and head-strong, proving that one should never underestimate a woman because of her diminutive sizeâto the boy she does not love, Demetrius (Ethan Haslam). who demonstrated an amusing mix of comedy and callousness.
It is Lysander (Joey Major) she wants and he, her, but the entire court is forbidding the union because of the wishes of her father. Majorâs Lysander is earnestly played with great physical humor and charm.
Meanwhile, Hermiaâs best friend Helena, portrayed by the hilarious and physically adept Sara Mountjoy-Pepka, has unrequited love for Demetrius, who also wants Hermia. Farcical mayhem ensues as the four star-crossed lovers escape into the forest.
PHOTO BY IAN FLANDERS Sara Mountjoy-Pepkaâs Helena is in love with Demetrius (Ethan Haslam), who is determined to marry Hermia.
The second world is a group of dramatically challenged actors who are planning to perform a theatrical piece at the royal wedding. They are played by veteran actors who eat up the stage, causing our smile muscles to get sore. Thad Geer as Bottom can do no wrong. He gets bewitched, turns into an ass, and every child and grownup in the audience is enthralled. Peter Quince leads the troupe, played by Earnestine Phillips, a mistress of finding the richness of the comedy and sweet nuance in every line she speaks. The rest of the troupe are all delightfully committed to their âcraftâ while constantly tickling us with the absurdity and devotion to their own play.
The fairy kingdom, ruled by King Oberon, played by Lisa Wolpe with a magnetic presence, power and energy, is battling over a human child with his Queen, Titania (Melora Marshall). Marshall, who, from the theaterâs inception, has probably played almost every role in A Midsummer Nightâs Dream, is inimitable in her sultry, unyielding royal-ness, while committing fully to the serious silliness of being in love with an ass, while under a fairy spell). Marshall is at once sweet and dangerous. You cannot take your eyes off of her.
Oberon, with his loyal sidekick, Puck, use magical flowers and spells to unleash chaos and hilarity on all three worlds. Jackie Nicole is all you could ever want in a Puck. Mischievous, impish, with kinetic energy, commanding rapt attention from the audience of children and adults alike. The whole show is beautifully choreographed by Max Lawrence.
Throughout, the fairies, who serve their mighty Queen, flutter about mirthfully, enchanting us with their songs, poetry and beautiful costumes. From the moment the fairies came onstage, they mesmerized us and we knew we were in for an evening of magic.
Julius Caesar continues Saturdays at 7:30;. A Midsummer Nightâs Dream continues at 4 p.m. on Sundays. The Last, Best Small Town opens on July 31. Other dates continue through November 7. Tickets are $10-$60; ages 4 and younger are free; Friday nights are pay what you will.
NOTE: Pandemic precautions remain in place at Will Geerâs Theatricum Botanicum with distanced seating in the outdoor amphitheater. As of July 17, 2021 masks are required by all regardless of immunization status when in the amphitheater. Thank you for helping us support the safety of our artists and community.
Theatricum is located at 1419 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga CA 90290. For information: theatricum.com; (310) 455-3723. The outdoor amphitheater is terraced into the hillside of rustic Topanga Canyon, so dress casually. Bring a sweater for evenings, sunscreen and hat for matinees.