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Theatricum opens 2017 Summer Season
with timely-as-ever ‘Merchant of Venice’
TOPANGA, Calif (May 2, 2017) –– William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice opens the summer season at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum on June 3.
In 2017, Shakespeare’s comic tragedy, arguably one of the most controversial plays ever written, continues to raise penetrating questions about racism, religion, mercy and justice.
Alan Blumenfeld stars as Shylock, the Jew who demands “a pound of flesh” from Antonio, the merchant of the title who is a Christian (Sheridan Crist), in payment for a forfeited loan. Antonio borrowed the enormous sum of 3,000 ducats from Shylock to fund the marriage quest of his friend Bassanio (Colin Simon), who is in love with the wealthy heiress, Portia (Willow Geer). Meanwhile, Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Maia Luer), has fled her father’s domination, eloping with Lorenzo, her Christian fiancé (Dane Oliver), spurning her Jewish heritage and taking Shylock’s money. Also in the cast are Susan Angelo as Nerissa, Perry L. Brown as the Duke, Tim Halligan as Gratiano and Melora Marshall as Launcelot. Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer is at the helm.
“The current resurgence of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment, nationally and internationally, makes it more critical than ever to explore these issues through art and conversation,” notes Rabbi Susan Goldberg of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles.
With its one-of-a-kind outdoor setting in the heart of Topanga Canyon and its roots in the 1950s McCarthy-era, when actor Will Geer created the theater as a haven for blacklisted actors, Theatricum is best known for its productions that frame contemporary social issues through the lens of classic literature.
Original music and sound design for the The Merchant of Venice are by Marshall McDaniel, costume design is by Beth Glasner, lighting design is by Zach Moore and the properties master is Sydney Russell. Cameron Rose and Jackie Nicole assistant direct, Elna Kordijan is the production stage manager, and Karen Osborne is the assistant stage manager.
Unlike most theaters in the L.A. area that stage continuous runs of a single play, Theatricum’s season consists of five mainstage productions performed in repertory throughout the summer using a single company of actors.
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will follow the opening of Merchant on June 4; Sir Peter Hall’s adaption of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, with music by Richard Peaslee and lyrics by Adrian Mitchell, opens on June 17; Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz joins the season on July 8; and Trouble in Mind by pioneering African American playwright, author and actress Alice Childress, kicks off on July 29. By the time August rolls around, it will be possible to see all five plays in a single summer weekend.
Theatricum Botanicum has been named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine, “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine, and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly. “The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum’s maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn’t get any better than this,” writes StageSceneLA. Says Los Angeles magazine, “The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills.”
Theatricum’s beginnings can be traced to the early 1950s when Will Geer, a victim of the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist (before he became known as the beloved Grandpa on The Waltons), opened a theater for blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property in Topanga. Friends such as Ford Rainey, John Randolph and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties. Today, two outdoor amphitheaters are situated in the natural canyon ravine, where audiences are able to relax and enjoy the wilderness during an afternoon or evening’s performance. Theatricum’s main stage amphitheater sports a new and improved sun shade for increased audience comfort, installed last season with support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Ralph M. Parson’s Foundation. Theatricum is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Margaret Harford Award for “sustained excellence,” which is the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s highest honor.
The amphitheater is terraced into the hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.
The Merchant of Venice opens on Saturday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Oct. 1. Tickets range from $10 – $38.50; children 4 and under are free. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310–455-3723 or visit www.theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum.
Details for Calendar Listings
‘The Merchant of Venice’
The Merchant of Venice — Alan Blumenfeld stars as Shylock in what is arguably one of the most controversial plays ever written. In 2017, Shakespeare’s comic tragedy continues to raise penetrating questions about racism, religion, mercy and justice.
• Written by William Shakespeare
• Directed by Ellen Geer
• Starring Alan Blumenfeld as Shylock
• Also featuring Susan Angelo as Nerissa; Perry L. Brown as the Duke; Sheridan Crist as Antonio; Willow Geer as Portia; Tim Halligan as Gratiano; Maia Luer as Jessica; Melora Marshall as Launcelot; Dane Oliver as Lorenzo; and Colin Simon as Bassiano
• Presented by Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
Performances: June 3–Oct. 1:
• Saturday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, June 10 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, June 17 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, June 24 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 1 at 7:30 p.m.
• Sunday, July 9 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 15 at 3:30 p.m.*
• Sunday, Aug. 6 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 19 at 3:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Aug. 27 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 10 at 3:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 23 at 3:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m.
*Prologue (pre-show discussion):Saturday, July 15 at 2:30 p.m. (included in ticket price)
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
• Adults: $38.50 (lower tier); $25 (upper tier)
• Seniors (65+), Students, Military Veterans, Teachers, AEA Members: $25/$15
• Children (5-15): $10
• Children 4 and under: Free
The outdoor amphitheaters at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum are terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.