Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Blind Folly or Alzheimer’s? – A Noise Within’s questionable take on King Lear

Geoff Elliott’s “King Lear” with Erika Soto’s Cordelia in the final scene at A Noise Within [photo: Craig Schwartz]


It is an interesting new spin on Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to look at the downfall of this unwise king from the lens of Alzheimer’s Disease. That is what director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott does in the production now in repertory at A Noise Within. It turns the focus almost exclusively on Lear, and allows for his admittedly conniving daughters to seem legitimate in their frustrations and outrage with him (at least at first). As someone who has watched a parent dissolve into this dread disease, I can say that the concept makes for interesting conversation.

However, when taken as a whole, to dismiss his behavior as the result of this condition is to negate much of the rest of what Shakespeare has to say about familial love, envy, and lust for power. It could (though actually does not) make a uniquely wrenching star turn for Geoff Elliott in the title role, but at what cost? It is too easy on Lear, for one thing, and twists the focus away from other important themes.

Essentially, Lear is a foolish man. Having ruled his country with intensely loyal people around him, he is used to expecting richly voiced praise. When he insists his daughters say how much they love him, he gets two fulsome answers and one honest, practical one, and turns on this last as a sign of disrespect. Thus, he hands over power to the two women who have his interests least at heart, and their own greed at the fore. He becomes an inconvenience and they whittle away at his dignity and even ability to defend himself until there is nothing left. Madness, thus, becomes a thing of circumstance, playing on a weak mind but not on a disabled one, as one can tell when he comes to himself toward the play’s end.

In the ANW production this last thing is made tricky by the disease itself – one which is emphasized over and over by projections of MRIs of slices of the brain which add color to the intentionally bleak set. When you descend into Alzheimers you forget who you are. No coming back from that.

Still, the larger loss is to the importance of and subtext about the moral decay present in daughters Goneril and Regan, and in the villainous Edmund, who determinedly destroys his legitimate brother Edgar and his father, the Earl of Gloucester. It also makes the dogged, sacrificial devotion to Lear by the banished Earl of Kent make less sense, and it makes the king’s Fool occasionally rather superfluous.

Finally, this interpretation leaves Elliott’s Lear without much room to expand. By making him significantly altered even at the start, he blossoms into what becomes (in this interpretation) an unreasoning fury so early that the rest of his long journey becomes a certain amount of emotional station-keeping. Still, as expected, Elliot uses Shakespearean language as if it was his own, and consistently stays true to the concept of this particular form of human disintegration.

Indeed, the cast itself is splendid. Trisha Miller and Arie Thompson advance the two older sisters from a radiation of privilege and power to a sense of self-focused obsessive, destructive behavior. In this they are matched by Jeremy Rabb as Regan’s noble, but easily vicious husband, while Christopher Franciosa provides an increasingly empowered foil for Goneril as her equally high ranking spouse. Freddy Douglass radiates evil in every tone as the deadly Edmund, and Rafael Goldstein handles desperation well as the maligned Edgar.

Apollo Dukakis gives the Earl of Gloucester some of what one hopes to see in a Lear: a happiness born of power and authority which dissolves thanks to his undeservedly horrifying fate. Perhaps most memorable, in this production, is Kasey Mahaffy’s wry, tuneful and audacious Fool – whom Rodriguez-Elliott has given a most spectacularly apt exit.

Fred Kinney’s bleak but extremely adaptable set design underscores the militaristic nature of the piece, which has been reset as if in the mid-20th century. Angela Balogh Calin does her best work in designing the dresses worn by the royal women, while Robert Oriol’s music sets the sense of doom throughout the piece.

In short, this is a good production of “King Lear,” except that in one important way, it isn’t. All the parts are there, but in service to a somewhat skewed interpretation which denies the larger play much of its power. “King Lear” plays in repertory with “Ah, Wilderness” and the soon-to-open “Man of La Mancha”.

What: “King Lear” When: in repertory through May 6, 7:30 p.m. April 13 and May 4; 8 p.m. April 8, 14, 23 and May 5; 2 p.m. matinees April 8, 23, and May 6 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd in Pasadena How Much: from $44, $20 student rush Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

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“Macbeth” at SCSF – Flawed But Still Worth Seeing

Robert Shields as Macbeth with Daniella Tarankow as Lady Macbeth in the Southern California Shakespeare Festival presentation of Macbeth at Cal Poly Pomona

Robert Shields as Macbeth with Daniella Tarankow as Lady Macbeth in the Southern California Shakespeare Festival presentation of Macbeth at Cal Poly Pomona

The Southern California Shakespeare Festival, now in its 11th season, makes its home at Cal Poly Pomona. There each summer it utilizes current students in minor roles, current and former students behind the scenes, and Equity actors – both alumni and others – in the major parts of the great Shakespearean plays. As with many such enterprises this gives any production they do an interesting balance of polish and the up-and-coming, which can be either ennobling or a distraction.

In their new production of “Macbeth,” one gets a bit of both. Under director David Fox, there is an overt contemporary feel – an aura of timelessness – which both solves some costuming issues with ease, and makes the director’s point that these people are as addled by war as any population would be. Still, as is common with college productions, the female-heavy company leads to some creative casting which moves the piece out of the real and into the almost Brechtian realm of stretched suspension of disbelief.

Along the way, one encounters an equally various group of performances, ranging from solidly on point to over the top. In the end, “Macbeth” does indeed overcome all, but somewhat unevenly.

Admittedly, one of my favorite things to look for in any production of “Macbeth” has to be the use of the “three weird sisters” or witches. Here, in the persons of Linda Bisesti, Annie Dennis and Christine Menzies, they are played fairly straightforwardly, appearing and hissing their curses with considerable menace. Still, it provides what is needed. This cannot be said of Jasmine Mosebar’s Hecate, who so overspeaks her consonants in the tiny production space that one becomes more fascinated with her pronunciation than what she is saying.

As the tormented Thane who gives in to raw ambition, Robert Shields makes Macbeth extremely human. His passion for his wife, and his constant wrestling with the difference between his moral certainty and the enticements of the spirit world make him at once more pitiful and more humanly understandable than many who’ve taken on the role. This balances against Daniella Tarankow’s Lady Macbeth. She starts at a fever pitch, all but frothing at the mouth over the potential advancement of her husband. Thus even the calculated murder of Duncan comes with a seething overtone which leaves little chance for expansion, even when the character goes mad.

Sam Robinson supplies a solidly interesting Banquo, the saner head which never has a chance to prevail, and Nathaniel Akstin-Johnson, as King Duncan’s son Malcolm, seems at least initially to carry himself more nobly than his royal father. On the other hand Matthew Reidy’s Duncan is delivered with a stagey and artificial rhythm.

The absolute best of this production comes with Kris Dowling’s measured but passionate Macduff – reasoning and heartwrenching by turns – who brings a most human face to the terrible proceedings, and Will Dinwiddie’s silly, drunken, on-point Porter.

The entire production – the largest cast this company has ever fielded – is fitted into the tiny space of the Cal Poly Studio Theatre. There, set designer Sonia Fracasso has created a physical manifestation of the general flotsam of war, which becomes the backdrop to everything base and majestic. Costume designer Valerie Philyaw has pulled together a fantasy-modern style which mixes mens’ suits and 20th century fatigues with swords and battle axes. Lighting designer Clayton Fournival has worked with sound designer Spencer Saccoman to make the pre-production feel of the space full of foreboding, but almost too dark to walk through.

At the end of each “act” (Shakespeare broke it into 5, SCSF breaks it into two) both the intermission break and the final lines come almost as a surprise. This is less that any lines have been cut (they have not, especially at the end of the play) but that there is a lack of the flourish which would give a tone of finality. This is a pity, in that people who wish to applaud are not given the usual cues to do so.

In short, this production of “The Scottish Play,” as theatrical types superstitiously call it, has things to recommend it, but still has the aura of the college production: coping with occasional odd casting and performance/design experimentation which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Yet the program is ambitious. This show even went on tour during its first week, if only to Pomona’s School of Arts and Enterprise.

In the end one is generally glad to have seen a Shakespearean production which takes its material, and the intelligence of its audience seriously, even if it has its faults. This approach is frankly refreshing, when compared to those who feel they have to invent actions to overcome an audience they don’t expect to understand what is going on. I’ll take the former any day, even if it wobbles a bit.

What: “Macbeth” When: Through October 4, Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. with an added performance Friday, September 25 at 8 p.m. Where: Studio Theatre on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave. Building 25, in Pomona How Much: $15 general, $12 seniors/students/Cal Poly faculty and staff Online ticketing: http://classicsupomona.tix.com Info: (909) 869-3987 or http://www.southerncaliforniashakespearefestival.org

Fine Performances Highlight ANW’s “Julius Caesar”

 Freddy Douglas (Cassius) and Robertson Dean (Brutus) join the other conspirators in "Julius Caesar" [Photo: Craig Schwartz]


Freddy Douglas (Cassius) and Robertson Dean (Brutus) join the other conspirators in “Julius Caesar” [Photo: Craig Schwartz]

The third segment in A Noise Within’s spring repertory, a new rendition of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” offers up a production extremely strong on performance, innovatively timeless in setting, and powerful in final feel. If, in the process, it has a bit of a rough – or internally derivative – start, the net result outweighs the awkward beginning.

Directors love to toy with “Julius Caesar.” Its setting has proved surprisingly malleable, and has been reset everywhere from Mussolini’s Italy to JFK’s Washington. Some directors wallow in its bloodiness. Some revel in the political discourse. Some underscore the internal wrestles of people like Brutus or Mark Antony, or even Cassius. Most do some combination of the above.

At ANW, co-directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott have chosen to at least begin the piece in an otherworldly, Brechtian way (not surprising in a repertory season also featuring a Brecht-Weill musical), but seem to abandon this somewhat as the tale unfolds. So cast members come up – as they do in the Elliotts’ other spring production, all speaking their important lines at once, don costumes hanging on stage, and then – in true Brecht fashion – hold up cardboard signs proclaiming what part they are playing. Then, things get serious, and except for continuing to use painters’ scaffolding as the set’s skeleton, we move into a separate arena.

And what an arena! What makes this production work is a series of individually impressive performances which mesh in exciting ways. Robertson Dean gives Brutus both the simple faith and anguished legacy which ground his political fortunes, making him far more three-dimensional than he is often played. Rafael Goldstein turns Mark Antony into a ferociously righteous wolf, initially mistaken as boyish in this intense power struggle. Patrick O’Connell gives Caesar himself an innate nobility which makes one question the ambitions read into him more than one usually does.

Still, the most fascinating role proves to be Freddy Douglas’ Cassius. Here he becomes a true, devout and unalterable revolutionary: the kind of man who fights not just on principle, but because he aims to preserve a belief (in this case, in the preservation of the Roman Republic) which is the definition of his entire world.

All these fine men are surrounded with a solid supporting cast. In something as intricate as the political discussions of “Julius Caesar,” it is essential that all involved not only speak Shakespearean language as if it was native to them, but truly understand – with depth – what they are talking about. They become the translators for the general public, and here that is exactly what happens. Each person fits into their part or, in this case, parts (as the rest of the company each fill several roles), not only defining them as separate individuals but giving each a distinct understanding of the surrounding upheaval.

So, in the end this is what one remembers from this “Caeser”, as the thing becomes a play of passions, and an examination of how differing passions can lead people to clash even as both can be seen (at least in hindsight) to have been right. One must mention Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes, which work hard to make almost all characters look essentially the same, in drapery deeply reminiscent of clerical cassocks. One gets the point, but the audience must strain sometimes to keep the people straight. Good thing she gives them differing colored scarves by the end, so at least we can tell which side those with multiple parts are on at that moment.

So, go check out A Noise Within’s “Julius Caesar.” It plays in repertory with Charles Morey’s very funny adaptation of the Beaumarchais farce, “Figaro,” and the aforementioned Brecht-Weill “The Threepenny Opera.” Each has a distinct feel, and each will – on a certain level – leave a bit of disquiet in their wakes.

What: “Julius Caesar” When: Through May 8; 2 p.m. matinees April 11, 25 and 26, and May 3; 7 p.m. April 12 and 26; 7:30 p.m. April 16 and May 7; 8 p.m. April 17 and 18, and May 2 and 8 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40, student rush $20 Info: (626) 356-3100 ext. 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

A Noise Within’s “The Tempest” – When a formula fits the product

Deborah Strang is Shakespeare's magical Prospero [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Deborah Strang is Shakespeare’s magical Prospero [photo: Craig Schwartz]

If you have encountered the works of Shakespeare enough times at A Noise Within, you begin to see certain patterns emerge. Any of them which have ANW artistic directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliot as co-directors of the production will have reoccurring central elements from show to show, as well as certain guaranteed casting choices which you can almost bet on.

These elemental moves include concepts borrowed from Asian and Classical Greek theater traditions, and there will also usually be an odd whimsy, often involving the injection of a carnival-like moment, at some point in the show. Sometimes this all feels like a non sequitur to the plot, but in their new production of “The Tempest” their signature moves gel, and help sell the play itself.

From the very start, the hovering “ensemble,” anonymous in Greek-like masks and acting similarly to the pseudo-invisible stage hands of Chinese opera, makes a huge impact. As the magical Ariel (Kimberleigh Aarn) tosses a ship about, the fabric sea is made menacing by this chorus. Indeed, the very magical nature of the tale of Prospero, an overthrown noble with magical powers who wreaks his revenge through the use of spells and spirits, benefits from the eerie otherworldly quality of this production.

In a bit of a twist, though not a precedent-setting one, ANW stalwart Deborah Strang is Prospero. It’s an interesting choice, in that it redefines the parent-child relationship Prospero has with Miranda, the innocent daughter who will become the love interest of a young man tossed by Prospero’s magic onto the island’s shores. Still, though solid, it is not Strang’s finest performance, mostly because one expects more from someone that strong. The dependence upon magic and the gradual rejection of it, not to mention the internal war between revenge and forgiveness, would seem to give her a greater palate to work with than that which is is used.

Eliza Kiss (who also sings the best of the original music), Kimberleigh Aarn and Dekyi Ronge as Ariel and her ensemble spirits [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Eliza Kiss (who also sings the best of the original music), Kimberleigh Aarn and Dekyi Ronge as Ariel and her ensemble spirits [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Aarn’s enslaved spirit, on the other hand, seethes with that odd combination of duty and desire for freedom. She enjoys her magic, yet chafes at the control over her life. The Elliots have chosen to have Geoff Elliot play the monster Calaban more as a grotesque human than as a truly monster-ish monster. It certainly makes his situation more pitiful, and the comedy which surrounds him more approachable. Alison Elliot’s Miranda proves as sweet and openly joy-filled as one could want, while Paul David Story’s earnest Fernando has the right kind of boyish charm to make the romance between them a sweet balance to the oddity of their environment.

Indeed, the rest of the company shipwrecked upon this strange place also offer up fine performances, especially William Dennis Hunt’s touchingly antique Gonzalo. One sometimes wishes they had more to do, as they spout long explanatory passages about the strangeness of their environment. Still, the silliness of Kasey Mahaffy’s Trinculo and Jeremy Rabb’s Stephano, as they get Calaban drunk, makes up for much of the rest.

Kudos to Peter Bayne for the fascinating original music – some of which sets Shakespeare’s lyrics – and the general sound design. Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes set this fantasy piece solidly in the “English gentleman” period of the late 1800s. The whole thing has an air of calypso about it, but a subtle one which suits the vagueness of Shakespeare’s location just fine.

In short, though I cannot say this is the finest rendition of “The Tempest” I have ever seen, I appreciate the way it establishes a sense of mystery, and the way in which things which have become Elliot signatures continue that “presence” as the ancient tale unfolds. And then, of course, I always like a chance to root for Ariel, waiting for her freedom as these silly mortals sort out their dramas.

What: “The Tempest” When: Through November 22 as part of their repertory season, 8 p.m. Oct 3, Nov. 1 and 22, 7 p.m. Oct. 26 and Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6 and 20, and 2 p.m. Oct. 4 and 26, and Nov. 16 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: Single tickets from $40, $20 for student rush Info: (626) 356-3100 ex 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

Witches Rule the Dark in A Noise Within’s “MacBeth”

Elijah Alexander is the ill-fated "MacBeth" at A Noise Within [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Elijah Alexander is the ill-fated “MacBeth” at A Noise Within [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Like any big Shakespeare fan, I collect productions of “MacBeth.” This dark and cynical tale contains some of the Bard’s finest language, and its focus on the rapidity with which ambition can overtake ethics certainly resonates in our modern world. Besides, its mystical aspects provide a rich canvas for a good director. What form shall the witches take? How shall the superstitions inherent in the piece be incorporated into the larger play?

Now, at A Noise Within in Pasadena, director Larry Carpenter has set his play in no time and every time, where swords occasionally compete with pistols and modern military garb blends with 15th century armor. In the midst of it all, three amorphous characters take on most of the “minor” roles – servants, doctors, murderers – when not embodying the witches who spark the madness. It’s great entertainment, with its aura of doom and its constant physical engagement with the audience. Even some of those scenes which often become awkward have a consistency of vision which pull them into the spookiness of the whole.

Elijah Alexander is MacBeth, making him a likable man, but a man of physicality – easily manipulated by desires, whether for his honor, his wife, or power – not a man to ruminate on consequences before it is too late. Jules Willcox steams as his lady, radiating a passion which moves MacBeth to murder, yet is not going to be able to control the resulting whirlwind which puts him largely beyond her reach. As these two collide with and repel each other, the rest of a strong cast rounds out the story of their whirlwind.

Matt Orduna’s solidly noble Duncan plays well against MacBeth’s lighter-weight sensibility. Leith Burke’s Banquo becomes the image of the stalwart, if admittedly somewhat ambitious friend, until he is undone. David DeSantos’s resolute, wise MacDuff, gradually working to right the ship of Scotland, echoes Duncan’s nobility and intelligence. Feodor Chin, as that odd combination of wisdom and changeable nature, Duncan’s son Malcolm, makes his vagaries almost make sense. Katie Pelensky and Theo Taplitz, as MacDuff’s doomed wife and son, create a moment of light and home in the midst of the terror.

Amin El Gamal is a witch and a very creepy servant in A Noise Within's "MacBeth" [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Amin El Gamal is a witch and a very creepy servant in A Noise Within’s “MacBeth” [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Still, it is the witches who give the play its focus and fascination. Amin El Gamal, Thom Rivera and Jeremy Rabb create the rich foreboding and mystery which elevates this production, not only in their initial roles but as many other smaller elements – a necessity when spreading 28 major and minor characters among a cast of 17. They also effectively underscore how central the idea of the evil is to everything in MacBeth’s life, as, for example, they enhance the often badly handled “dagger I see before me” speech in a way both literal and spooky. Standout in all of this is El Gamal’s truly creepy androgynous servant, who can make one’s skin crawl as a complicit voice of doom.

Carpenter’s use of ghosts – not just that of Banquo, but the gradually swelling host of MacBeth’s silent, observing victims – emphasizes the sense of doom, and underscores the madness of the storyline. It’s a great concept.

The witches, with puppet enhancements [photo: Craig Schwartz]

The witches, with puppet enhancements [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Their otherworldliness as witches is aided by Sean T Cawelti’s fascinatingly simple, yet creepy bits of puppetry. Susan Gratch’s facile platform of a set and evocative lighting set the tone of dark portents. Jenny Foldenouer’s fanciful costuming allows both the swift-change aspects of the witch characters and the quick definition of everyone else.

In short, from the consistency of tone to the layered portraits to the clever and facile use of witches, this “MacBeth” is a treat. By paring down the often overwhelming volume of persons onstage, the central characters stand out more brightly, and the point is more effectively made. In short, it’s a finely crafted production worthy of sold-out audiences, and a true pleasure for a longtime Shakespeare aficionado such as myself.

What: “MacBeth” When: in repertory, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 22, 8 p.m. April 22, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. April 12, 7:30 p.m. April 24, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 27, 2 p.m and 8 p.m. May 3, 7:30 p.m. May 8, 8 p.m. May 9, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 11 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $34 general, $20 student rush Info: (626) 356-3100 ext. 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

Bad Shakespeare Makes Good Theatre! – “Cymbeline” Shines at A Noise Within

Adam Haas Hunter is the idiotic Cloten in A Noise Within’s “Cymbeline”


If you ask the ordinary, reasonably educated person to list the plays of Shakespeare, many will forget to include some of his final, generally less admirable ones. Other than “The Tempest,” the later “Romances” can be a tedious lot, borrowing as they do from other more successful plays, both of Shakespeare himself and his contemporaries, and using plot devices already pretty much beaten to death.

Of these, one of the least is “Cymbeline,” a mash-up of deviousness, betrayal, diplomatic idiocy and royal pomposity, with the most ridiculously happy ending in all of the Shakespearean canon. Okay. Now ignore all that. A Noise Within has started their new season with a production of this rarely seen work directed as if a comedy. And, as a comedy, it works. Indeed, as a comedy it is no more ridiculous than any of his earlier silly turns, and often so dramatically over the top that it proves a delight.

Director Bart DeLorenzo starts from the concept that the play is essentially silly. He fiddles with the audience’s perception by double-casting his performers: The pompous, Lear-like English king is also the gentle and understanding Roman nobleman. The devious, plotting queen is also the good-hearted, banished woodsman. The foppish pretender to the throne is also the devoted, banished husband of the princess. It provides a delightful challenge for the actors, and brings a symmetry to the plot.

Helen Sadler as Imogen, and Adam Haas Hunter as her husband Posthumus, in A Noise Within’s “Cymbeline”

Joel Swetow is Cymbeline, the English king whose sons were stolen in infancy leaving only a daughter to inherit. Even as his second wife plots to wed her son, Cloten, to this young princess, the princess stealthily marries Posthumus, a comparative nobody raised in the palace. Faced by challenges from Rome over a lack of tribute, and challenges from at home in what he perceives as a wayward daughter, the King overreacts: Posthumus is banished, and the Rome is angered to the point of impending war.

Add to this an Othello-styled plot to convince Postumus his wife is cheating, include the two stolen sons as burly folk raised by a woodsman, add in a passionately loyal servant, and you’ve got the plot.

DeLorenzo has set all this in a fantasy time, partly Restoration, partly Empire, with the embellishments of the Baroque. In short, it is a fairy tale, and a funny one. Adam Haas Hunter makes the devoted but easily fooled Posthumous impulsively endearing even as he creates a Cloten so idiotic and overdone as to inspire peals of laughter. Francia DiMase, as the queen, vibrates with sensual energy, even as she stumps sturdily about as the woodsman.

Andrew Elvis Miller has one of the larger spreads, moving from the happily lascivious Italian whose lies create discord for Posthumous to a practical and noble Roman general. Jarrett Sleeper and Paul David Story play the stolen boys, noblemen and others, creating separate treatments for each, ranging from court sophisticates to boorish but well intentioned woodsmen/princes.

Though one might think their jobs a bit simpler, the work of Helen Sadler, as the princess who becomes a pawn, then eventually has to pretend to change gender to save her own life, has plenty of challenges, well met. Time Winters, as the princess’ loyal servant navigating his way through the complexities, the silliness, and the deadly, acts as a man of solid logic in a swirling maelstrom. It becomes the glue which holds this fanciful tale together.

Indeed, these performances combine to create magic out of mediocre Shakespeare. They make the thing funny, touching and entertaining far more than the words do. Put that together with the initial light-hearted concept, and this thing is a startlingly unexpected winner.

Kudos also to Angela Balogh Calin’s fairy tale costuming, and to Keith Mitchell for catching the sense of intentional stagey-ness which makes the whole thing come together.

“Cymbeline” as a play is not great art, regardless of its venerated author. That doesn’t keep it from being great fun. Come for a comparatively unique experience, considerable laughter, and the silly satisfaction of one of the most outrageously improbable scripts the Bard ever wrote.

What: “Cymbeline” When: In repertory selected dates through November 18, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40 – $52 Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org

A Noise Within Takes “Antony and Cleopatra” for a Spin

Note: Apologies for the late posting of this review, due to medical issues.

Susan Angelo and Geoff Elliott let Cleopatra and Antony get carried away.(PHOTO CREDIT:Craig Schwartz)


One of the joys of live Shakespeare is its variety. The Bard wrote characters with nuances people have been exploring for centuries, and placed them in settings which can be treated literally or figuratively. Directors and actors can let their creativity run amok, giving new insights to 400-year-old words.

Which makes A Noise Within’s new “Antony and Cleopatra” particularly worth watching. Directed by Artistic Co-Directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, and starring Elliott, this version becomes less the great romantic tragedy often portrayed, and more the story of a weak-willed whiner who falls for a manipulative and hedonistic foreign queen. The loyalties they trifle with, and the devastation they invite become far more interesting, or frustrating, than simple star-crossed romance. Still, some will miss a nobler spin.

Elliott’s Antony is besotted and,while swept up in passion and overconfidence, makes decision after decision which cannot help but disturb his fellow Triumvirs – the Romans running the post-Julius Caesar world. He plays politics extraordinarily badly, and expects a loyalty from his followers he rarely gives any foundation. Through it all, Elliott’s Antony weeps and bemoans his lot in ways which trumpet his essential weakness so intensely one wonders he has any supporters left.

Susan Angelo gives Cleopatra a disproportionate sense of her own majesty – commanding and spoiled. She assumes her power over and manipulation of Antony will keep her safe, and her shock at her own downfall is as much about the sudden realization of powerlessness as it is a confirmation of romantic fatalism. This is a woman who must be in control, and cannot stand the concept of losing.

Backing these title figures, Max Rosenak makes Octavius Caesar strong, youthfully ambitious and driven to lead. Christian Rummel’s Pompey looks a bit much like a refugee from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, but makes an emotionally stark contrast to the orderly Roman sensibilities of his enemies. Jill Hill, Diana Gonzalez-Morett and Amin El Gamal make interesting work of Cleopatra’s handmaids and personal eunuch, while Roberson Dean, as Antony’s right hand man, displays all the nobility his master lacks.

Costumer Angela Balogh Calin gives a decent impression of Roman military and civilian garb (though some of the armor doesn’t fit very well) and of the comparatively diaphanous clothing of the Egyptian nobility. Only those piratical followers of Pompey give one pause. Tom Buderwitz’s simple but brilliant scenic design allows a multi-level use of the theatrical space subtly evocative of a classic Shakespearean stage.

In the long run, it is almost refreshing to see Antony not as a betrayed but essentially heroic figure, but as a man impressively unfit for leadership. The play is long, but the ANW’s new theater seats are comfortable. Sit back and enjoy this very classic, rather sumptuous riff on history – not particularly historically accurate, but filled with entertaining drama. The “character map” in the program will be a welcome help to the uninitiated.

What: “Antony and Cleopatra” When: through May 13, in repertory with two other plays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $42 – $46 Info: (626) 356-3100 ext. 1, or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org

A Noise Within is at home with “Twelfth Night”

Geoff Elliott as the unlovely Malvolio

A new theater in any form – as in “a building built to be a theatrical space” rather than a repurposed storefront, warehouse, or basement – is a rare bird in this era, whether or not it can brag of being state of the art. So, it goes without saying that there is much joy in the opening of A Noise Within’s grand new, technically splashy home in Pasadena.

A Noise Within, Pasadena

In the end, however, the space is only as good as what goes on inside it. This becomes A Noise Within’s task: to provide the same kind of classical theater excellence in this ritzy building that they aimed for when operating on a comparative shoestring. The first shot at this goal comes with their first Pasadena offering: Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” set in pre-Castro Cuba.

The results are mixed. The thing looks terrific, and some of the performances shine. Others are rather more mundane. Still, it does show off to fine effect what this new building can do.

Two elements must be present for a good “Twelfth Night.” First, in telling the central tale of a girl whose romantic complications come from her necessary disguise as a boy, there must be a certain amount of magnetism, both between Viola the woman and Duke Orsino, and between the passionate Olivia and Viola disguised as Cesario. Second, the tale of the pompous servant Malvolio and the humiliating practical joke played upon him by Olivia’s lesser relatives and servants mustn’t devolve into too much pathos.

In this production, one need have no worry about that latter issue. Geoff Elliott makes Malvolio so snippy, moralistic and dour that his downfall seems well earned. Apollo Dukakis’ continuously drunken Sir Toby Belch, Jeremy Rabb’s incessantly whiney Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Deborah Strang’s infuriated maid, Maria, work well as a team and give a sense of righteous payback which makes the humor of this element work as it should.

On the other hand, it takes time for the Viola’s romantic entanglements, welcome or otherwise, to attain any heat. Angela Gulner makes fine work of the man-woman role, becoming a mildly convincing man while never letting the audience forget her true leanings. Abby Craden has a ball with the florid Olivia, making her mercurial enough to account for her swift changes of heart. Roberston Dean’s noble duke takes a while to warm to the stage, at first speaking too softly and then too often upstage. There are missed opportunities for connection along the way, the lack of flair between him and his Cesario offering little to build on.

Even so, the whole thing looks fabulous, from Kurt Boetcher’s minimal set (those palm trees are particularly wonderful in concept and design), to Angela Balogh Calin’s bright, culturally correct, vibrantly period costumes. Everyone on the technical side is having fun playing with the new capacities of this theater.

Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott choreographs the movements upon this stage with confidence, if not pizzazz, using the setting merely as backdrop. In this Cuba one finds great, sensual music to dance to, palms, beaches, and machetes to don in place of swords. And, of course, Cuba is an island (a prerequisite) and its romanticism is a balance to the original Italianate setting. Actual Cuban culture gets a nod mostly through the use of cigars and rum.

In sum, one will find a trip to the new A Noise Within an adventure. The pleasant, and sometimes quite clever “Twelfth Night” bodes well for the company’s future in this new space. With this new venue added to the ones already available, both venerable and otherwise, a theatergoer can get a remarkable education in the medium all in one city.

What: “Twelfth Night” When: Through December 16 in repertory, 8 p.m. selected Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. selected Sundays, with matinees 2 p.m. selected Saturdays and Sundays Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $42 – $46 Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org

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