We’re lucky to have Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga. It is one of the best theater’s in Los Angeles. There’s never a performance that disappoints. We can thank not only the dedicated talent that performs there, but the theater’s artistic director, Ellen Geer, for continuing her father’s legacy.
By Kriss Perras
The theater’s beginning’s wind back to the early 1950’s when Will Geer became a victim of McCarthyism and found himself on the Hollywood Blacklist. This Topanga theater was born from the juggernaut of twisted politics spewing from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s lips. Actor Will Geer and his wife, Herta Ware, created a theater as a haven for Blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property here in Topanga. Geer’s friends such as Ford Rainey, John Randolph and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties.
“This Topanga theater was born from the juggernaut of twisted politics spewing from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s lips.”
Theatricum Botanicum is back this season with an exciting summer line-up of socially conscious theater, music and performances. The season includes five plays set to open in rapid succession and perform in repertory throughout the summer together with a host of satellite events. The stage will open June 2 and continue through mid-October. This season’s repertoire includes performances of The Crucible, Coriolanus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Chalk Garden and Haiti.
To start the season off, Theatricum will begin with an allegory for today’s turbulent times. Shakespeare’s crushing tragedy is one of his more openly political plays. It is a cautionary tale of revenge. Rome, a city where the one-percenters rule, is led by a populist general who has nothing but contempt for the 99 percent. Unable to reconcile his disdain for the common people with his love of country, Coriolanus finds himself driven into the embrace of his sworn enemy. Coriolanus is a hero lacking in political prowess and destroyed by his pride and inability to compromise. The play is set in Rome’s transition from Monarchy to Republic.
McCarthysim, witch hunts, Hollywood blacklists and fake news all come into play in the upcoming Theatricum Botanicum performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
The play is a parable of mass hysteria that draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch hunts of 1692 and McCarthyism, which gripped America in the 1950s. Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer, Will’s daughter, is at the helm, with family members Thad Geer, Willow Geer and Melora Marshall featured in the cast.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
What a classic tale from Shakespeare and our annual audience favorite. The magic of Theatricum’s natural outdoor setting will stand in for the Bard’s enchanted forest, as director Willow Geer conjures up a world of wonder, magic and romance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Chalk Garden
Long-time Theatricum company member Susan Angelo directs the Geer family revival of Enid Bagnold’s classic The Chalk Garden. This timeless classic that has seen broadway and performed on many stages, even across the pond in London, is brought to our stage here at Theatricum with a dyed in the wool British dowager known as Mrs. St. Maugham, a selfish and eccentric woman who spends her days gardening but is unable to make anything grow. Her teenage daughter, Laurel, is a precocious liar. When enigmatic Miss Madrigal is hired as household companion and manager, the two finally meet their match.
The theater will present a revival of Haiti, a historical melodrama about the 1802 overthrow of the colonial Haitian government written by William DuBois for the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). It was subtitled A drama of the black Napoleon. The play was presented in 1938 by the FTP’s Negro Theatre Unit in a radical and controversial production that saw white and black actors performing together onstage at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. The FTP was part of the Works Progress Administration Federal Theater Project (FTP), and part of the New Deal economic recovery program. Negro Units, also called the Negro Theatre Project, were set up in 23 cities across the US. It only survived from 1935 – 1939 but provided employment and apprenticeships to hundreds of black actors, directors, theater technicians and playwrights. This project was a huge leg up for black talent during the Depression Era. The Lafayette Theater in Harlem was the best known of the FTP program theaters. Two white directors, John Houseman and Orson Welles, headed it in 1935. Three black directors, Edward Perry, Carlton Moss, and H. F. V. Edward, replaced them in 1936.
Other Theater Programming:
In addition to theater, Theatricum will present other special events on its mainstage.
• Wednesday, July 4 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.: Theatricum’s fourth annual Family Barn Dance and Bar-B-Que;
• Saturday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.: The Woody Guthrie Story, the Geer family’s annual tribute to the songwriter, folklorist and labor leader who was also a longtime Theatricum friend.
• Sunday, Oct. 7 at 4 p.m.: Inara George and Friends, the acclaimed singer/songwriter’s annual concert that benefits the theater’s artistic and educational programming.