If you’re a fan of the Bard, summer is your season. There are all sorts of wonderful Shakespeare productions going on, some indoors, some outdoors, some right in our neighborhood.

Shakespeare Santa Monica wins the prize for most unusual venue, serving up their 10th anniversary season on the tournament-style tennis courts at Christine Reed Memorial Park.

Two comedic works are on the bill. “Twelfth Night” and “The Taming of the Shrew” are performed in repertory with plenty of physical comedy, full-cast dance romps and lots of laughter. Their audience-friendly adaptations offer a great introduction to Shakespeare for the uninitiated.

The company is comprised of aspiring student artists and professional actors unified by their commitment to lifelong training in the classics. Every year the handpicked company of students and professionals train together for weeks before they pick up their scripts. They train with Louis Scheeder of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Classical Studio; Jean Louis Rodrique of UCLA; and John Farmanesh-Bocca, former directing fellow at The Juilliard School and guest faculty at NYU.

Shakespeare Santa Monica serves as a summer professional training intensive in classical theatre acting, with teachers and directors from some of the finest arts institutions in the nation. They study text analysis, voice and speech, physical approach, scene study, as well as audition technique. They focus on elevating the actors’ all around “game” so that they approach classical text, as well as all other work, with specificity, clarity, inspiration and daring.

“Twelfth Night” is a comedy of mischief, madness, moustaches and the love of love. When shipwrecked and bereaved Viola disguises herself as a boy, mistaken identities, unrequited love and other mishaps ensue. It’s a hilarious and riotous tale of looking for love in all the wrong places and reminds us that happiness may come about in completely unexpected ways.

And “The Taming of the Shrew,” immortalized on film by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, depicts a feisty courtship between stubborn, headstrong Kate (the shrew) and gentlemanly suitor Petruchio, who through a series of psychological torments finally breaks down her resistance (the taming) until she becomes an obedient bride.

Something of an early anti-feminist treatise (or is it?) which manages to lampoon chauvinistic behavior while simultaneously reaffirming its social validity, the play celebrates the quick wit and fiery spirit of its heroine even while reveling in her humiliation. Set in a Rockabilly world full of Johnny Cash tunes and riotous fun.

The park is located at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Seventh Street; performances take place Friday, Aug. 9 through Sunday, Aug. 30. For tickets and detailed information visit www.shakespearesantamonica.com, or buy them at the door. And kids and teens 16 years and younger always attend free, so bring the family.


Behind the curtain


Unlike politics and sausage making, watching a theatre production in progress is something you do want to see. The Actors’ Gang in Culver City has extended the run of its workshop production, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

A devoted shepherd to his theatrical flock, artistic director Tim Robbins has helmed this wonderfully inventive and imaginative company for decades and directs this production.

This Shakespearean romp is performed without a stage set, leaving the audience to imagine the court of Athens and the forest in which all the mayhem transpires. Actors quickly shift between costume and character within view of the audience from the sides of the stage.

When nothing is hidden how does magic arise? That’s the theatrical sleight of hand this company excels in. For the most part, the play works as it should. We witness the confusion of four young lovers, a feuding fairy king and queen, roughshod workmen portraying actors who hope to perform for the royal couple’s nuptials, and potions that throw the whole works into confusion.

Workshop productions are plays in progress and are usually not quite ready for prime time, as things are still being worked out. That’s certainly true in this case. Several of Robbins’ directorial choices confused me. For example, he has three actors playing Puck; and sometimes the young lovers’ words come from the actors holding branch props as they stand in for trees in the forest.

In a chat during intermission, Robbins told me that because Puck describes himself as a shape shifter he went with three actors. He also said he views some of the text spoken aloud in the woods by the lovers as “interior monologues.” While these explanations make sense viewed intellectually, I’m not sure they serve their purposes well on stage.

But for me the most egregious error is not witnessing the transformation of Bottom the Weaver from human to donkey. This, I believe, is essential, and unfortunately takes place off stage.

Some of the comically exaggerated scenes go on too long past their punch lines, becoming a bit self-indulgent and could easily be trimmed. Sometimes less is more.

However, my faith in The Actors’ Gang is complete and I know they’ll work out the kinks. Enjoy this rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the passion of this essential Los Angeles company. It takes place at their Ivy Substation stage at Venice and Culver boulevards. Tickets and info at www.theactorsgang.com.

The Actors’ Gang’s gift to the community is their annual free outdoor Summer Family Shakespeare in the Park, which takes place in Media Park, surrounding the Ivy Substation. This year’s adaptation is “Twelfth Night: The Superhero Edition,” in which your favorite superheroes play out the classic love triangles, disguises and mistaken identities. Adapted and directed by Cynthia Ettinger, “Twelfth Night: The Superhero Edition” has fun performances, music, dance and audience participation that delivers the timeless message of “Twelfth Night.” It’s a rollicking adaptation for children and adults alike.


Farther afield


Lastly, the Independent Shakespeare Company puts on The Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival with upcoming productions of “Macbeth” and “As You Like It,” closing out their season through Sept. 1. Visit www.independentshakespeareco.org for dates, details and location.


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.

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