The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum celebrated their 40th anniversary of music, poetry and performance, opening their Summer Season with a tantalizing performance of the The Taming of the Shrew, June 1st, 2013 in the magnificent outdoor amphitheatre terraced into the hillside of the rustic Topanga canyon.
Directed by Ellen Geer this is one of two signature productions, the other being Midsummer Night’s Dream, co-directed by Melora Marshall and Willow Gear that will open this weekend and will continue in repertory throughout the summer until Aug.1st,.
Shakespeare’s “Shrew” story is a wonderful rowdy comedy based on familiar and popular tales and folklore written approximately 1573.
The script is one of his sharpest and funniest. The tale a simple one:
Katharine Minola “The Shrew” is one of two daughters of Baptista Minola, a rich Paduan gentleman. Baptista, Franc Ross, concerned for the future and well being of his brash and intolerable Katharine, Willow Geer, wants to marry her off and will not allow his other daughter Bianca, Christine Breihan, who’s known for her beauty and kindness to marry until Katherine is off his hands.
From the moment we first see Willow Geer as Kate bullying her sister there is no doubt that she needs “taming”. Her aggressive and ill humor is played with such intensity your heart will race. It is clear that her behavior is merely a response to her father’s adulation of his beautiful quiet “pet” Bianca, Christine Breihan, making her feel envious and neglected.
Miss Geer is both passionate and very free in her expressions. It is no surprise she is so comfortable with the Shakespearean language being that she has been part of the company from an early age. She is both poised and tall and switches easily from the shrewd Kate into the obedient maid and loving wife.
Both actresses unlike one another, play their part as siblings with such intensity and passion, one forgets who to route for.
Katherine refuses all the suitors suggested by her father not only to spite him but also her sister Bianca who has fallen for Lucentio, John Maidman, who disguises himself as “Cambio” a tutor to plead his suit pretending to teach her Latin. But Bianca has two other suitors, Grumio, Melora Marshall, and Hortensio, Christopher Jones, who try desperately to gain her father’s interest and go through great lengths to win his consent.
Then Petruchio, Aeron Hendry, a handsome, ostentatious young gentleman from Verona arrives at Padua, looking for a wealthy wife.
Petruchio hears of her wealth and resolves to marry her and tame her shrewdness. Played by Aeron Hendry with such confidence and conviction, the audience immediately takes a liking of his “boasting with humor” character. The constant play and horsing around between Mr.Hendry and Miss Geer combined with almost acrobatic finesse more than entertain the audience. Ignoring Geer’s abuse and assaults Hendry responds equally aggressively and immediately takes the rains by changing her name to “Kate” and announcing to marry her “on Sunday” against her will. What follows is a delightful but too familiar struggle of the sexes that reminds much on the book “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars”. Petruchio deliberately showing up late to his wedding, leaving the embarrassed Kate fearing she will become an old maid. Funny also is the outfit, consisting of a bare chest and a pair of orange, black puffy tights with a pouch dressing up his manhood with a flower. Mr. Hendry, as Petruchio presents himself gladly as the fool that goes above and beyond to break his betrothed Kate will and make her see him as her equal.
After their wedding they set out to his country home where he sends Kate to bed without food and is consistently subdued and cowed on their way back to her father’s house. Equally wonderful to watch is Melora Marshall as Petruchio’s humble servant and sidekick Grumio. She has truly mastered immersing herself in the period and gives much attention and importance to detail adding fun sound effects while listening to her master or crawling artfully across the stage, or pouring wine out of her wine skin adding much to the life and humor of the play.
Equally enthusiastic are in the role of Tranio played by Jeff Wiesen and Hortensio, Christopher W. Jones, truly impersonating gentlemen of this time period and quickly winning the audience by not only bringing the Shakespearean language but also colorful their character’s alive on stage.
At the final banquet one can’t believe the humiliation Kate has endured for love and the audience is truly touched by her transformation.
There is much merriment and play between the actors on stage, embracing and interacting the audience in so many different ways.
One of the key figures is the musician Liz Eldrige, also as the widow tucked upstairs overlooking the stage. She is in charge with sound effects and brings the play truly to life accompanying each actor on their journey on stage.
While the company has gone through much transformation since it’s beginnings in the 1950is the philosophy of the company has been preserved. It provides youth, teen and adult actors to learn Shakespeare in an Enrichment program that takes place both in the Summer as well as during the winter providing a training ground for actors and broadening the theater’s community outreach. Today the 299 amphitheater is also one of the few mid size houses in L.A, receiving critical praise and numerous awards for Excellency and Career achievement award for artistic director Ellen Geer. Weekly children’s programming with” Family Fun Days” offered every Sunday offer a creative playground for new generations to come.
While most of the character’s are dressed in period costumes the opening scene is played by actors dressed in modern day clothing, led by the drunken Sly, Gerald C. Rivers, and who facilitates the time travel to Shakespeare’s period. You may also be surprised to see him mingling with the audience in character way before the play starts.
So come and join this summer and bring the whole family and a blanket. You may also consider doing a picnic and bringing some food or drink before the performance start. The grounds provide a fairytale setting where you may find yourself inspired telling tales and sing-along, feeding the soul with joy and laughter.
For more information or to purchase tickets please call 310-455-3723
Or log on to www.theatricum.com
Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
1419 North Topanga Canyon blvd. in Topanga between Malibu and San Fernando Valley.