The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum is a classical theater company that resides in Topanga Canyon and stretches back to the early 1950is. Founded by Will Geer, the company has since been kept within the family and has won numerous awards- including the Margaret Hartford Award for Sustained Excellence from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and the LA Weekly Career Achievement Award for artistic director Ellen Geer.
What makes this theater company different is not only their involvement in educational outreach and enrichment programs but also their bi-annual workshops for youth, teen and adult actors at their Academy of the Classics.
Sunday, June 10th, 2012, the Will Geer Theatricum opened their summer repertory season with a wonderfully witty production of George Bernard Shaw’s “The Heartbreak House”, a play I had neither read nor seen on stage.
Watching Melora Marshall in the role of Hesione Hushabye gracefully trot the stage, followed by Susan Angleo as her cookie sister Ariadne Utterwood who is returning to an unchanged home after 23 years to find her father Captain Shotover, played by William Dennis Hunt, refusing to recognize her was the perfect set up for these endearing characters of this bohemian family to come to life.
With the appearance of the delicate, sweet guest Ellie Dunn, played by Willow Geer, all three family members are forced to face new challenges that disturb their seemingly peaceful and womb-like life once they find themselves under one roof again.
Ariadne is constantly followed by her brother in-law Randall Utterwood, who is seemingly smitten by her but doesn’t ever get any approval from her. Aaron Hendry does an excellent job in portraying this very endearing but flustered character.
Captain Shotover, although excessively old, is filled with delicious punch lines and satirical wisdom. He comes between marriage plans of boss Mangan, who destroyed Ellie’s fathers business in order to be favored as Ellie’s future husband. Boss Mangan, soon to become discovered as Alfred, uncovers his affections to Hesione and realizes that Ellie is no good match.
Captain Shotover soon confesses to Ellie that his forgetfulness has more to do with spending too much time in the company of his bottle of rum and by the end of the play he wins her affections completely.
Sitting in the 299-seat outdoor amphitheater in the rustic setting of Topanga Canyon with its beautiful real oak trees, watching the young but very confident Willow Geer as the clever Ellie Dunn, discover her affections first for Hesione’s husband Hector, later contemplating marriage with Mengan and finally embracing Captain Shotover’s charm, one is smitten by the liveliness and passion this young actress brings to life on stage.
Seeing Mark Lewis, as Hector Hushabye, David Stifel as Mazzini Dunn, Ellie’s father, Katherine James, as the nurse Guiness and finally Ed Giron as the burglar indulging into the mountain of Shaw’s language, one was easily catapulted into pre WWI England.
All actors proved to be in tremendous command of a very authentic British accent and moved all very much in character from beginning to finish.
The performance brought back fond memories of long summer nights I had spent personally in the Shakespeare Winter Intensive and later Master class under the critical supervision of Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall, mastering and projecting my voice on stage, learning scansion and adjusting to period movement in endless monologues and scene study classes. I couldn’t help but think how challenging this classical material is and how many hours of memorizing and rehearsing must have gone into this production mastering the Excellence on stage as all the actors ended up moving up into the audience and as the evening progressed, showing no sign of fatigue.
The audience listened carefully and embraced every joke despite the cold and the 3hour length of the play and while the canons signaled the end and the approaching war, a roar of applause concluded the perfect ending to a perfect night under the stars.
The company also performs “Measure for Measure” and “Midsummer night’s Dream”, Saturday and Sunday June-September.
Adult tickets: $20-33
Children 6 or under: free
For more information please contact 310-455-3723 or www.theatricum.com
1419 N. Topanga Cnyn. Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290