Lear at Theatrical Botanicum in Topanga Canyon….
Last Sunday I had the best time heading out to Theatrical Botanicum deep in Topanga Canyon. They invited me out to a matinee performance of Shakespeare’s Lear, in a completely new gender-role reversal way.
Traditionally the story of King Lear, this time around, they have made the title character Queen Lear with Theatricum Artistic Director, Ellen Geer, nothing short of magnificent in this role. If she were to portray this on Broadway, there is no doubt in my mind she would be nominated for a Tony award.
The story opens in ancient Britain, where the elderly Queen Lear is deciding to give up her power and divide her realm amongst her three sons, Cordelian, Regan, and Goneril. Lear’s plan is to give the largest piece of her kingdom to the child who professes to love her the most, certain that her favorite, Cordelian, will win the challenge. Goneril and Regan, corrupt and deceitful, lie to their mother with sappy and excessive declarations of affection. Cordelian, however, refuses to engage in Lear’s game, and replies simply that he loves her as a son should. His lackluster retort, despite its sincerity, enrages Lear, and she disowns Cordelian completely. When Lear’s dear friend, the Earl of Kent, tries to speak on Cordelian’s behalf, Lear banishes him from the kingdom.
From the get-go, you can see that this Queen is very elderly & not in her right mind. When we’re introduced to The Earl of Gloucester, we meet his illegitimate daughter, Igraine, who is determined to be recognized as a rightful daughter & goes as far as betraying The Earl’s legitimate daughter, Eden, by saying she is plotting against his life, while she tells Eden that her life is in danger & that she should run away. Eden then disguises herself as a begger.
Abby Craden as Igraine, grabs you from her first moment on stage. Her ability to go from the nice, misunderstood girl to flat-out deceitful is brilliant. Her facial expressions & talent are at its greatest in Lear. Alan Blumenfield, as Earl of Gloucester, is also a notable performance; especially in his scenes once blinded by Regan & his wife, The Duchess of Cornwall, for his traitorous acts in helping Lear, when he is unknowingly reunited with Eden, played by Willow Geer, who shines also.
Having been my first time at The Botanicum, it is easy to see why this theatre has been named “Best Theatre in the Woods” (LA Weekly), “One of Southern California’s beguiling theatre experiences” (Sunset Magazine) & “One of the 50 coolest places in LA” (Buzz). You are truly transformed into a mystical fairy land, with a feeling that anything is possible, & you could be anywhere but in LA. All outdoors, their matinees definitely call for a hat, sun screen & light clothing. I cannot wait to see this magical venue light up the sky in an evening performance.
Literally off the canyon, after a winding drive, there is parking aside the road, as well as parking on site for only $5. They also rent seat cushions as the seats are benches. For more information on one of the best kept secrets in LA, click onto their web-site here. xo
(A huge thanks to The Theatricum for providing me with press comps in exchange for this review!)