Category: Shakespeare

Theater review: 'Richard III' at Theatricum Botanicum

July 4, 2011 |  2:24 pm

Chadpepperstory Watch your neck: A bottled spider reaching for the British crown roams Topanga Canyon, beheading with glee, in director Ellen Geer’s fast-paced take on “Richard III.”  With a huge cast and lavish Elizabethan costumes by Perry Bret Ash, this Theatricum Botanicum production serves up old-fashioned Shakespeare with scale and confidence. If the show doesn’t fully mine the richness of the text, it’s still a bracing look at theater’s most lethal spin doctor.

With lank dark hair, pale skin and glittering black robes, Chad Jason Scheppner’s Richard is a smirking Goth tactician whose self-disgust drives his disdain for others. (Scheppner alternates the title role with Melora Marshall.) This usurper moves hapless royals around like chess pieces. Kings, widowed queens, innocent princes? They’re pawns to him. 

Despite the Cassandra-like warnings of the deposed Queen Margaret (a powerful but one-note Earnestine Phillips), Richard and his sidekick, the Duke of Buckingham (the capable Christopher W. Jones), manage to depopulate most of the court.

Like the best political operatives, Richard has a genius for turning an unlikely tactic into a winning move: Was there ever a more outrageous (and weirdly convincing) love scene than Richard putting the moves on Lady Anne (Willow Geer), just inches away from the bloody corpse of her husband, slaughtered by Richard himself? Outcasts are experts in human weakness, and the play’s best moments occur when this hunchbacked would-be king infects others with the poison of self-doubt. Scheppner may twirl his mustache one too many times--it's a hazard of the role--but he understands Richard’s curdled heart.

From our comfortable seats, we get the inside scoop on Richard’s murderous plans; we feel superior as courtiers fall for his flattery. Of course they are us—anyone—who follows a leader because it’s easier than taking responsibility.  

Focused more on the play’s politicking than its bloodshed, the evening lacks the creeping horror we should feel as Richard twists the kingdom into his own dark image. His nightmare before the final battle happens on the far right edge of the stage, minimizing its effect. His big sword fight feels unequal to his force of ambition. And never mind the famous lost horse Richard calls for during the climax--the real blow has already been dealt by his cursing mother, the Duchess of York (Marshall, alternating with Cindy Kania-Guastaferro). It’s tough to defend your crown knowing your mom hopes you die.

Is this crippled king bad to the bone, or was he warped into a bully through humiliation and prejudice?  That question has kept “Richard III” alive for 400 years and remains worth pondering on a summer night in Topanga Canyon.


Theater review: Kevin Spacey in 'Richard III' in London

Theater review: 'Blood Wedding' at the Odyssey Theatre

Theater review: 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' in Griffith Park

--Charlotte Stoudt

“Richard III” The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. See website for schedule. Ends Oct. 2. $10 to $32. Contact: (310) 455-3723 or Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes. 

Photo: (l to r): Chad Jason Scheppner and Abby Craden. Credit: Ian Flanders.

Theater review: 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' in Griffith Park

July 3, 2011 |  2:41 pm

WivesThe spirits of Joseph Papp and Mack Sennett currently hover above Griffith Park, where "The Merry Wives of Windsor" goes for knockabout broke. Independent Shakespeare Company launches its seventh season of free outdoor productions with a corker of a revival.

First published in 1602, likely written somewhat earlier, "Merry Wives" is largely prosaic, the Bard's sole look at the middle class of his era. Legend has it Elizabeth I requested more of rotund rascal Sir John Falstaff (Danny Campbell) from the "Henry IV" plays, and the gusto that director Melissa Chalsma and her aerated players supply indicates that the Virgin Queen was spot-on.

Placing the action in the post-World War I period -- designer Kate Bishop's costumes evoke silent film comedies -- Chalsma keeps the pribbles and prabbles cascading well beyond the platforms and hanging laundry of Caitlin Lainoff's functional set. The company's mission -- to make Shakespeare accessible to modern audiences through analogous performance conditions -- is everywhere in evidence, plot convolutions ricocheting over the grounds, to convulsive effect.

Campbell, pitched between Ned Beatty and Timothy Spall, exudes understated braggadocio as Falstaff. From initial Garter Inn departure to behorned confusion at the final Windsor Forest masquerade, this Sir John forms the rib-tickling fulcrum of a wittily capable troupe.

His romantic targets, the titular spouses -- Bernadette Sullivan's acerbic Meg Page and Aisha Kabia's resonant Alice Ford -- devour their counter-plotting, the celebrated laundry hamper scene but one object lesson in comic technique. Richard Azurdia's vividness turns on a hysterical dime from affability to outrage as Page. David Melville has a field day as Ford, the impacted Cockney ire shifting to Eric Idle-worthy faux-silkiness in his "Master Brook" incognito.

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Monster Mash: 'Spider-Man' creative team talks damage control; lost Da Vinci painting identified

June 29, 2011 |  7:50 am

Spiderman Rescue mission: Members of the new creative team behind "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" talk about how they salvaged the troubled Broadway musical. (Playbill)

Found: A lost masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci has been discovered in a private American collection and will be unveiled publicly for the first time by the National Gallery in London later this year. (ARTnews)

Coming soon: Roman Polanski's film adaptation of the play "God of Carnage" is set to open in the U.S. on Nov. 18. (Indiewire)

Broadway bound: Recent plays by David Henry Hwang, David Ives and Theresa Rebeck are headed to Broadway in the fall. (Chicago Tribune, Theatermania and New York Times)

Getting closer: The Barnes Foundation said it had surpassed the $200-million fundraising target for construction of its new facility in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

He dreamed a dream: Hugh Jackman confirms that he'll appear in the upcoming movie version of "Les Miserables." (Broadway World)

Big crowds: The British Museum is the most popular cultural attraction in the U.K. for the fourth year running. (The Guardian)

Commemoration: Stage director Rupert Goold is planning a new production that will explore the legacy of 9/11 on its 10th anniversary. (London Evening Standard)

Austerity: Canada's finance minister has warned arts and cultural groups not to rely on regular government funding. (CBC)

Imperiled? An anti-nuclear war sculpture in Santa Monica could be in danger of falling apart. (Los Angeles Times)

High culture: An anthropologist wants to know if William Shakespeare wrote under the influence of marijuana. (Live Science)

Passing: Robert Miller, an art dealer who was closely associated with Robert Mapplethorpe, has died at 72. (New York Times)

Also in the L.A. Times: A Catholic group is protesting a new production of "Jerry Springer: The Opera" in Orange County.

-- David Ng

Photo: The marquee for the Broadway musical "Spider-Man Turn: Off the Dark" is seen outside the Foxwoods Theatre in New York. Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press

Monster Mash: Wisconsin governor replaces painting in mansion; 'Million Dollar Quartet' moving

June 8, 2011 |  7:50 am

Walker Controversial decision: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has removed a painting depicting three children of different races that was hanging at his mansion, replacing it with a painting of a bald eagle. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Moving: Broadway's "Million Dollar Quartet" will close June 12 and transfer to an off-Broadway venue. (Playbill)

Complicated: The Barnes Foundation will continue to use its site in Merion, Pa., even though its art will reside in the heart of Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Stubborn: Attempts to remove an unauthorized mural in Encinitas depicting the Virgin Mary on a surfboard are proving to be more difficult than expected. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Tragic: The death of one of William Shakespeare's relatives may have provided the inspiration for the character Ophelia in "Hamlet." (Agence France-Presse)

Canceled: The New York Philharmonic said it would not be presenting its traditional Concerts in the Parks Series this summer. (The Wall Street Journal)

Change of plans: The Historical Museum of Bern, Switzerland, has scratched plans to put on an exhibition about the scientist Albert Einstein in Shanghai. (BBC News)

Back to work: Conductor Seiji Ozawa, who has been recovering from cancer, said he will return to the podium in August. (Agence France-Presse)

And in the L.A. Times: The Getty Research Institute has acquired the Harald Szeemann archive and library.

-- David Ng

Photo: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Credit: Astrid Riecken / MCT

London's Globe Theatre to broadcast Shakespeare plays to movie theaters

June 2, 2011 | 11:51 am


The Globe Theatre in London is joining the growing number of theater companies to broadcast their stage offerings to cinemas around the world. The British venue, which opened in 1997, is a replica of the circular space where William Shakespeare premiered many of his plays.

This year's broadcasts from the Globe will include "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (June 27), "Henry IV, Part 1" (Aug. 1), "Henry IV, Part 2" (Aug. 18) and "Henry VIII" (Sept. 15). Organizers said that each broadcast will begin at 7 p.m. local time and will include a 20-minute historical segment on the Globe.

L.A. residents will be able to catch the broadcasts at cinemas including the AMC Century City 15, AMC Burbank 16 and the Cinemark North Hollywood 8. In Orange County, participating theaters will include the Regal Irvine Spectrum 20, Cinemark Huntington Beach 20 and Orange Stadium Promenade 25.

Tickets for the broadcasts can be purchased at Fathom Events. The productions were filmed in 2010 at the Globe. The staging of "Merry Wives" was the same that toured the U.S. last year, including a stop at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

The Globe was the brainchild of American actor-director Sam Wanamaker, who died in 1993 before seeing the project completed.


MerryTheater review: "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Broad Stage

Critic's Notebook: The stark relevance of NT Live's "Frankenstein"

Critic's Notebook: Seeing London's National Theatre in a Hollywood multiplex


-- David Ng

Upper photo: The Globe Theatre in London. Credit: Associated Press

Lower photo: Christopher Benjamin, Serena Evans (right) and Sarah Woodward in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Shakespeare not a hit with voters in online charity contest

May 26, 2011 |  1:14 pm

OlivierHamletUnitedPressInternational William Shakespeare would be a front-runner if experts were to vote on the greatest creative artist of all time, but he was just an also-ran in the Chase Community Giving competition, an online charity-by-popular-vote contest that ended Wednesday night.

JPMorgan Chase will donate $3.125 million to the top 25 vote-getters; the other 75 -– including the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, which finished 51st  -- get $25,000 each for making the final round of 100. In all, Chase will donate $5 million based on voters’ clicks for the charitable “Big Ideas” posted on its contest’s page on Facebook.

Whatever else the Bard may be, he isn’t Jewish -– and the get-out-the-vote campaign was strongest in some sectors of the Jewish community, which led to five of the top 10 finishers, and seven of the top 15 being Jewish-affiliated organizations, six of them schools. The top prize of $525,000 will go to the New York-based Chabad of Argentina Relief Appeal, whose “Big Idea” is a program to help Argentine youngsters who are at risk of child abuse.

The top Los Angeles-area finisher, the Conejo Jewish School of Thousand Oaks, came in sixth and will get $125,000 for its area-wide initiative against bullying, which includes developing online videos and other teaching materials to be circulated in schools. The foundation that supports the Arcadia Unified School District gets $45,000 for finishing 21st.

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The Arts on TV: 'Mona Lisa'; 'Hamlet'; 'Cyrano de Bergerac'

May 19, 2011 |  5:30 am

Et-erxuoggy-may19 "Late Show With David Letterman" 11:35 p.m., Thursday, CBS: A performance from "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

"How It Was" 7 a.m., Friday. NGC: "Secrets of 'Mona Lisa'": Historians discover that Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" can answer longstanding questions about the artist and his methods, materials and model.

"Great Performances" Midnight, Saturday, KVCR: The Royal Shakespeare Company presents a contemporary retelling of "Hamlet."

"The Artist Toolbox" 9 p.m., Sunday, KLCS:  Abstract artist Sam Gilliam.

"Great Performances" 12:30 a.m., Monday, KVCR: Kevin Kline stars as Cyrano de Bergerac in the play's first return to Broadway since 1984.

"Craft in America" 8 p.m., Tuesday, KOCE:  Artist Charles Carillo evokes a traditional Spanish colonial style; jewelry and metalsmith Thomas Mann; blown glass still-life artist Beth Lipman; glass bead artist Joyce Scott.

"Masterclass" 6 a.m., Wednesday, HBO: Frank Gehry helps five artists understand the challenges in urban design.

-- Compiled by Ed Stockly

Image: Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa"

The Old Globe's 2011-2012 season to include to four world premieres

May 6, 2011 | 12:01 am

Bacharach The Old Globe in San Diego will produce four world premieres in its 2011-12 season, including "Some Lovers," a musical from the minds of music legend Burt Bacharach and Tony-winning Steven Sater ("Spring Awakening"), the theater's executive producer Lou Spisto announced Friday.

"Some Lovers" tells a Christmas Eve story of estranged lovers whose memories conspire to reunite them in a reimagining of O. Henry's classic tale "The Gift of the Magi."

The Old Globe's winter season will also premiere "Nobody Loves You," by Gaby Alter and Itamar Moses, about a grad student who joins a reality TV show to win back his girlfriend but is seduced by fame instead.

The season's third musical will be the previously announced Tony-nominated "The Scottsboro Boys."

The world premiere plays are "Somewhere," by the Globe's playwright in residence Matthew Lopez, and "The Recommendation," by Jonathan Caren.

"The season is particularly exciting because of all the new work, and I think it is quite varied in terms of style and story," Spisto said. "We are working with some of today's most interesting and accomplished writers, and they all have something to say that both resonates with us and sparks a reaction."

Also in the lineup are "Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show," "Dividing the Estate" by Horton Foote, Eugene O'Neill's classic "Anna Christie" directed by Pulitzer winner David Auburn, and the Old Globe's annual production of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"

Rounding out the season are Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," produced by the University of San Diego Graduate Theatre Program, and "Odyssey," a musical event commissioned by the Old Globe to celebrate the theater's 75th anniversary.

The Old Globe's 2011-12 winter season:

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Culture Watch: 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' at UCLA's Royce Hall

May 4, 2011 |  9:00 am

Hanks Tom Hanks, Kenneth Branagh, Faith Hill, William Shatner, Christina Applegate and many more actors will gather onstage for the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles' production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" on Monday for a star-studded celebration of the center's 25th anniversary.

Seats for the fundraising event at UCLA's Royce Hall are going for $95 and $175, with VIP seats at $500. Proceeds will benefit the Shakespeare Center and its youth employment, education and community-outreach programs. Hanks is chairing the event along with his wife, Rita Wilson.

"Merry Wives," directed by Ben Donenberg, will have a country-Western theme and feature singer Reba McEntire. The comedy follows the romantic and sexual escapades for Sir John Falstaff (Shatner) and the women he vainly attempts to seduce.


Hankswilson Kenneth Branagh, Faith Hill, Tracey Ullman among stars set for Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles benefit

Shakespeare Center of L.A. to stage 'Much Ado About Nothing' starring Helen Hunt and Tom Irwin


-- David Ng

Photo (top): Tom Hanks. Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

Photo (bottom): Hanks with wife Rita Wilson. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times


Kenneth Branagh, Faith Hill, Tracey Ullman among stars set for Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles benefit

April 13, 2011 |  9:11 am


The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles has long had a knack for lining up marquee names for its annual Simply Shakespeare benefit readings of the Bard's plays.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the center has assembled what Ben Donenberg, founder and executive artistic director, calls "one of our starriest and most adventurous casts ever." Christina Applegate, Kenneth Branagh, Faith Hill, Eric Idle, Arte Johnson, Eugene Levy, Tim McGraw, William Shatner, Martin Short, Tracey Ullman and event co-chairs Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks are set to perform "The Merry Wives of Windsor" on May 9 at UCLA's Royce Hall.

Donenberg, the evening's director, says the reading will have "a kind of country-western theme," including musicians playing and singing Hank Williams songs. "We try to make things fun and user-friendly for the audience," he said. "The actors are at liberty to improvise. This is impromptu and unplugged."

The chance to do Shakespeare in a relaxed setting with high-caliber casts keeps attracting well-known performers to the benefits, which are now in their 21st year. "Most of the people involved this time have participated before," said Donenberg. "And the others have attended."

The center is offering a small speaking role to the high bidder in an EBay auction that will run April 21 to May 1. The winner also will receive perks including an invitation to the post-show party and billing in the program.

Proceeds from the event and auction will go the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles and its youth employment, education and community-outreach efforts.

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets, which cost $95 and $175, will go on sale Friday, April 15, at and through Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000. Gala tickets --  which  include admission to the reading and party -- cost $500 and are available at 310-201-5033 or


Theater review: "Romeo and Juliet" at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles

Theater review: "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

--Karen Wada

Photos: From left: Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet in the film of the Shakespearian tragedy that he also directed; Faith Hill in a more familiar role; and Martin Short in the TV series "Damages. Credits: Castle Rock Entertainment; Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times; Craig Blankenhorn / FX


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