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Magic spell cast in the Bard's forest

July 13, 2007|Philip Brandes, Charlotte Stoudt, David C. Nichols

Forest retreats, magical enchantments and romantic extravagance make "A Midsummer Night's Dream" a perennial favorite for outdoor staging. Independent Shakespeare Festival brings a distinctively whimsical touch to its charming, accessible production on the South Lawn of Hollywood's Barnsdall Art Park.

One can endlessly debate the finer points of interpretive staging, but the acid test for Shakespeare is how many times you find yourself wondering, "What did they just say?"

Credit director Melissa Chalsma and her first-rate cast for all but banishing confusion with consistent insight into the characters' feelings and intentions. The limitless depths of self-abasement and humiliation the love-smitten are willing to endure in the pursuit of their beloved are hilariously exemplified in Chalsma's bewitched fairy queen Titania and the two pairs of headstrong young lovers (Maude Bonnani, Erik Mathew, Aisha Kabia and Ahmad Enani). Freddy Douglas brings a mischievous presence to his nicely differentiated dual roles as the respective rulers of the human and fairy domains. Danny Campbell animates Bottom with lowbrow clowning, while Sean Pritchett's scantily fur-clad Puck sets fairy hearts aflutter.

Rachel Ford Pritchett's costumes, a witty clash of faux antiquity and hip contemporary, provide colorful adornments on an otherwise minimalist stage.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 14, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
"Merrily We Roll Along": A review in Friday's Calendar section of the Chromolume Theatre Company's production of "Merrily We Roll Along" at Theatre/Theater listed the ticket price as $5 and gave an incorrect phone number for reservations. The ticket price is $25. The reservation number is (323) 938-3700.

The result is Shakespeare that's fun. The catch is that despite the nocturnal setting, the staging is relentlessly sunny. The broad humor eclipses the play's darker elements -- the obsessive side of love and the horrific aspects of Bottom's transformation into a braying jackass.

Still, it's a small price to pay for a free evening of much higher-quality entertainment than one could reasonably expect.

-- Philip Brandes

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays and some Wednesdays. Free, but reservations recommended. (818) 710-6306. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

A Swift job on Gulliver's trip

Adapting Jonathan Swift's 1726 epic satire "Gulliver's Travels" for the stage is a bit of a blivet: shoving 10 pounds of manure into a 5-pound bag. But the Actors' Gang has staged a smart, irreverent -- and yes, scatologically emphatic -- version of the shipwrecked doctor's classic journey through a series of fantastical civilizations. This is "Masterpiece Theatre" for an adult's inner 10-year-old and probably great fun for certain preteens who have been told the facts of life.

In style and design, director P. Adam Walsh's production has the feeling of Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" -- a wrecked romanticism run amok. Francois-Pierre Couture's inventive set features hanging fabrics that frame a central cloth scrim for John Burton's witty shadow puppetry. And as Gulliver journeys from Lilliput (doll-sized) to Brobdingnag (giants) to the Houyhnhnms (brainy horses), each new world presents an opportunity for the production team to take us by surprise.

Highlights include a "dwarf-off" challenge, where Gulliver goes joke to joke with a Lilliputian court jester ("Thy mother art so small ..." "How small art she?") and a three-minute history of the world that includes a puppet version of evolution so simple even Pat Robertson might be convinced.

This Gang's "Gulliver" has all the jaunt of commedia but also its flattened psychology. Given the source material's picaresque style and blunderbuss satire, this is probably unavoidable, but the result can feel driven by jokes instead of story. In Josh Zeller's freewheeling adaptation, we're never quite clear if Gulliver really wants to get back to England -- he tends to get homesick when narratively convenient. Yet the piece more or less holds together because of Zeller's spun-out sense of humor, Ara Dabandjian's music, the ensemble's infectious energy and the focused charm of Keythe Farley as Gulliver, who trips lightly through his adventures while managing to convey their dark psychic cost.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

"Gulliver's Travels," The Actors' Gang, Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 8. $20-$25. (310) 838-4264 or Running time: 2 hours.

Lurchingly the viewers roll along

Given that its founders named the Chromolume Theatre Company in an obscure reference to "Sunday in the Park With George," their passion and commitment to staging the works of Stephen Sondheim are beyond question. In tackling the notoriously difficult "Merrily We Roll Along," however, limited resources aren't up to the demands of this 1981 follow-up collaboration among Sondheim, "Company" book writer George Furth and producer Hal Prince.

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