One of my favorite things to do, hands down, is attend theatre and concerts in an outdoor setting. One of the most mystical, magical venues I have had the pleasure of attending is, none other than Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum.
Bringing to mind my nights when I worked at The Festival Theatre in Solvang, The Botanicum boasts several acres of land knee-deep in Topanga Canyon. You truly expect a court jester to walk by with his banjo, or swear you saw a faerie run by you. It is the ultimate “Mary Land” and a best kept secret in LA.
I got to head out last weekend to see their season’s premiere play, William Shakespeare’s tragic love classic, Romeo and Juliet. While Shakespeare is undoubtedly the most beloved playwright in history, Romeo and Juliet is easily one of his best known. With countless adaptations, you’re never sure just how you will see this play unfold, and, for The Botanicum, they have placed their star-crossed lovers in The Middle East, modern-day. The outcome? A brilliantly penned story set in the often devastating times we’re living in as a society.
It was my first time witnessing this play live. I am one of those Millennials, you could say, who best knows Romeo and Juliet from Cliff Notes and the modern twist it got in the 1996 film.
We’re introduced to our cast in East Jerusalem, a city beset by age-old prejudices, street violence and religious differences. The time has come for young beauty, Juliet (Judy Durkin) to marry, and her Father, who is Patriarch of House of Capulet, has chosen her a suitor. It is all fun and games until Juliet meets Romeo at her party. Romeo (Shaun Taylor-Corbett) just happens to be the son of the Patriarch of the House of Montague, meaning these love birds should be, in fact, enemies.
Just like her alter-ego, Durkin is also 16 years old, and Corbett looks to be early 20’s, at most. This young casting is pivotal to the play, and I am sure our duo is much like what Shakespeare had in mind when producing this story.
Both leads have that “love at first sight” innocence down. At times, perhaps even more than necessary. While their interpretations mean well, I thought there were moments when the “puppy love” was a little over played. It seemed rather forced, and I found myself not feeling as swept up in their love as I should have been.
Botanicum fave, Melora Marshall, is once again, a scene stealer in the production. Having first seen her in 2014’s Lear as The Fool, Marshall is gifted in her ability to erase all recollections of what you have seen her in prior. As Juliet’s Nurse, she is the ultimate BFF and confidant to the love torn Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet will play in repertory at The Theatricum Botanicum through October 2nd. Word to the wise: Always bring a sweater! Even if it’s a hot day, those canyons get chilly. Visit them HERE and book your tickets! xo