It’s not quite the Brit-centric haven it used to be, but Santa Monica is still a place that hundreds of British expatriates call home.
On April 25, at Santa Monica’s Moss Theatre on the campus of New Roads School, the city will serve as host to one of the centerpieces of this year’s BritWeek Celebration. Founded in 2007, BritWeek is an annual festival of 40 events that showcase the creative connections between the United Kingdom and Los Angeles.
BritWeek’s “Evening of Shakespeare, Music and Love,” celebrating the Bard’s 450th birthday, will feature 20 actors performing sonnets, readings and songs.
“Evening” will be co-hosted by Ioan Gruffudd (“Titanic”) and Joely Fisher (“Ellen”), and feature actors: Ashley Bell, Eric Braeden, Claudia Christian, Suzan Crowley, Nigel Daly, Neil Dickson, Mira Furlan, Judy Geeson, Michele Greene, Harry Hamlin, Malcolm McDowell, David Melville, Victoria Platt, Jane Seymour, Joan Van Ark, Sophie Winkleman, Robert Wisdom and Michael York.
A portion of the evening’s proceeds will support the Hobart Elementary Shakespeareans and the Inner City Shakespeare Ensemble. The night is being sponsored by Beverly Hills Wealth Management, with a VIP reception provided by carmaker Aston Martin.
Shakespeare scholar and director Louis Fantasia is the producer of this one-night-only event. He said the actors are appearing without a fee, “taking time out of very busy schedules to brush up their Shakespeare ,and giving up their free time because they’re excited about the work these local groups are doing.”
Since the actors are donating their time, Fantasia said one of the challenges he faced “was to make sure they are happy doing their favorite Shakespeare piece, or happy doing the piece we’ve suggested for them.
“The next biggest challenge was to structure a narrative for Joely Fisher and Ioan Gruffudd, our co-hosts, which I did by stealing bits and pieces of Shakespeare’s lovers — Beatrice and Benedick, Rosalind and Orlando, Romeo and Juliet — to build a thread that evokes our theme,” Fantasia said. “Since rehearsal time is at a premium, a lot had to be worked out on paper such as entrances, exits, cues, etc. In theory, it should go smoothly and people should think we’ve prepped it for years.”
Live music will be provided by the Millennium Consort Singers, conducted by Martin Neary, and jazz artist Sherry Williams.
General and VIP tickets for BritWeek’s “Evening of Shakespeare, Music and Love,” are on sale now at www.britweek.org.
A pair of potent plays written and directed by local writer Steve Stajich examine the issue of addiction on a personal and societal level. Don’t expect a didactic lesson; this is an original, engaging and intelligent look at how we enable substance abuse, told both touchingly and amusingly.
In a back-to-back production, “Co-Dependents: Two Plays on Drugs” delivers a thought-provoking punch in just under 95 minutes.
In the first play, “Group,” Cassie (Ashley Love) appears to be attending a 12-step meeting. Standing in a semi-circle of empty folding chairs, she announces her name and that she is an alcoholic. Then she laughs and says she’s just kidding.
But she’s not. She’s a drunk in denial. And she may have caused an accident that makes her reconsider her self-delusion.
The meeting ostensibly takes place in her own living room, but perhaps it’s really only in her mind, as she struggles either to justify continuing or ridding herself of her personal demons one final time.
When her brother David (Shawn Boyd) appears, the complexity of her situation begins to emerge. A gay junkie, David excoriates her for her addiction, trying to get her to admit she has a problem. Making no progress, he tries to leave … but can’t.
It becomes clear that she is speaking to a ghost. David died of a heroine overdose and is her excuse to continue drinking. The pain of his death and her inability to forgive him have locked her into a cycle of continued abuse.
They circle around one another in this state of co-dependency until Cassie finally finds the courage to recognize that the hold David has on her is really just her own addiction; that only she has the power to release both it and him.
This isn’t soppy sentimental stuff. It’s well-written, hard-bitten prose that gets at the heart of the emotions that drive substance abuse. The relationship between David and Cassie feels quite real, despite the fact that one of them is a phantom.
As for the second play, take a minute and think of those erectile dysfunction commercials on TV. Then think of the lengthy disclaimers (e.g. — Do not take this if you experience an erection for more than four hours) that accompany the pretty music and images of the perfect, phony life portrayed in those ads.
That’s the basis of “Needed Language,” which pits hippie-ish former addict and brilliant copywriter Thomas (Ben Sharples) against ruthless pharmaceutical executive Carlisle (Frank Noon).
Thomas was once the marketing mastermind who manipulated language to take the edge off the list of damaging consequences of the company’s dangerous drugs. But his conscience got the better of him.
Now that same prescription drug company is pushing a deadly new anti-smoking drug. Carlisle, trying to lure him back into the fold, shakes a bottle of Thomas’s drug of choice in his face. He plays Thomas the company’s current ad for this drug and says take these pills and go fix this for us.
The fake drug’s disclaimer is simultaneously hilarious and awful. When Thomas returns from his week on the mountain, with his bottle of drugs untouched, and presents what he’s produced, Carlisle is in for a big surprise.
The two final performances of “Co-Dependents: Two Plays on Drugs” are at 8 p.m., tonight and next Thursday at The Little Theatre, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., in West Los Angeles. Call (310) 396-0716 for reservations.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.