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Summer Splash: The Valley | THEATER NOTES

Comforting News

Theatricum Botanicum installs new seating and renews a tradition.


The big news at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum this summer is that there is stadium seating, replacing the unspeakably uncomfortable old railway ties.

As for the program, that, too, has some pleasant surprises.

The rotating repertory season will begin on June 8 with a new production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It," one of the Bard's lightest comedies, playing Sunday matinees throughout the summer.

Beginning July 6, artistic director Ellen Geer once again delves into the Tennessee Williams canon for "Sweet Bird of Youth," with Richard Tyson as Chance Wayne and Geer playing the role of the fading film star Alexandra Del Lago.

Starting July 27, there's something of a departure for the venerable outdoor theater in Topanga Canyon. It's a piece Geer first saw at the Mark Taper Forum and decided was perfect for the Theatricum. It's Alred Uhry's folk musical "The Robber Bridegroom," based on the novella by noted Southern writer Eudora Welty.

"This production ties us to our roots," Geer said. "The Geer clan, and the beginning of the theater, had a lot to do with folk history. This has that flavor . . . and it has the musical instruments that are so folk."

Joining the rep on Aug. 29, for the closing week will be a reprise of the Theatricum's popular family-oriented production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

This summer will also feature a closing night performance of what used to be a Theatricum staple, called "The Woody Show." It's the story of Woody Guthrie's early life, full of his music, and a show that Geer has not repeated since her father, Will Geer, passed away in 1978. For reservations and information, call (310) 455-3723.


Another Dream: At another outdoor site, Thousand Oaks' Kingsmen Park, Lane Davies' Santa Susana Rep will also present "A Midsummer Night's Dream," June 20-29.

In addition to the play, there will be a maypole, a sword fight, vendors and a puppet show, all the elements of a festival, said Davies.

Presented in association with Cal Lutheran University, this event could be a dry run for a festival of larger proportions.

"When we decided to do 'Midsummer' outdoors," Davies explained, "I thought, 'Let's test the waters for a Shakespeare festival.' The infrastructure is ready-made. We have the full support of Cal Lutheran."

And it might be a good omen that Shakespeare's own theater company was called the King's Men, just like the park.

Admission is free, except for some special seating near the stage at $20. Call (805) 520-1868.


Summer Staples: A couple of programs presented by two of the Valley's more visible theater companies are becoming standard summer fare for theatergoers.

Interact Theatre Company is once again presenting its "Interactivity," a monthlong marathon of programs of something old, something new and, occasionally, something very different. Beginning May 31, and running through June 29, there are 22 evenings of theater pieces that have special resonance for company members.

The titles range from "Arsenic and Old Lace" to August Strindberg's "The Father," from George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" to a theater piece based on "Tobacco Road."

Company member Carol Mayo Jenkins said the series "is done out of passion. It's somebody's passion to either play a role, or direct a play, or simply see something come to life."

Two projects that came to life out of "Interactivity" were the company's hit productions of "Counsellor-at-Law" and "Into the Woods." For information and schedules, call Interact's 24-hour hotline, (818) 773-7862.

In a similar vein, one of the oldest Valley companies, Theatre West, will present its three-weekend "WestWorks97" beginning June 13 and playing on alternate weekends through July 13.

The first weekend will feature three one-acts, Cherie Fogelstein's "Date With a Stranger," Steven Dietz's "After You" and a one-man show written and performed by Charlie Mount, "The Scary Magic Needle Show." Howard Korder's "Boy's Life" plays two weekends later. Two weeks after that, the festival will conclude with another one-person premiere, Cynthia Gates Fujikawa's "Old Man River."

As with Interact, Theatre West's annual festival is the place to look for upcoming main stage productions. For information on "WestWorks97," call (213) 851-7977.

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