Jack Mikesell and Christina Elmore Star in SCLA's ROMEO AND JULIET, Now thru 7/26
Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (SCLA), under the artistic direction of Ben Donenberg, returns to the Japanese Garden at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare Campus for the third consecutive summer, with a Los Angeles-centric summer production of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet -- directed by Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal National Theatre alum Kenn Sabberton -- for seventeen performances only, today, July 8 to 26 (press opening July 13).
The cast includes Jack Mikesell (Rizzoli & Isles) as Romeo, Christina Elmore (Fruitvale Station, The Last Ship) as Juliet, Elijah Alexander (Metamophoses on Broadway, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) as Lord Capulet, Tracey A. Leigh (Grey's Anatomy, Death of a Salesman at SCR) as Lady Capulet, Gregg Daniel (True Blood) as Lord Montague, Wyatt Fenner (Rest and The Whale at SCR) as Benvolio, Gregory Linington (Shameless, Major Crimes) as Mercutio, Chris Rivera (Shakespeare Center Los Angeles, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, ER and Castle) as Tybalt, Michael Manuel (Medium, National Treasure) as Friar Lawrence, Tony-Award-Nominee Kimberly Scott (I am Sam, The Velocity of Gary) as Nurse, Cristina Frias (Black Butterfly, Culture Clash) as Prince and Colin Bates (Billy Elliott) as Paris.
The Japanese Garden is located on the grounds of the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare Campus at 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90073 (adjacent to the Brentwood Theatre). Tickets, starting at $20, are available by calling 213.893.8293 or online at www.shakespearecenter.org. For information about the ticket program for active military and veterans, call SCLA at 213-481-2273.
Artistic director Ben Donenberg said, "This July, we light up the Japanese Garden with a new production of Romeo and Juliet that draws its inspiration from 1920s Los Angeles, when the rivalry between newspapers seeking readers, influence, revenue, and power broke out into gang skirmishes that matched the lurid and sensational brand of journalism popular then as we reimagined the Capulets and the Montagues as the Chandlers vs. the Hearsts. For the fourth time for Shakespeare Center of Los
Angeles, the imaginative director Kenn Sabberton invigorates our stage with Shakespeare that speaks directly to modern audiences. It is also our third summer at the Japanese Garden, a unique venue which exemplifies how wondrous our city can be."
More about the cast:
Elijah Alexander (Lord Capulet), last seen onstage in the title role of Macbeth at A Noise Within this spring, was in Metamophoses on Broadway and the film Mr. and Mrs. Smith as well as Touch and JAG.
Gregg Daniel (Lord Montague) is known for his role as Reverend Daniels on True Blood and appearances in the films Van Wilder and Spiderman 3 as well as Harry's Law, Castle and Parenthood.
Christina Elmore (Juliet) was seen in Fruitvale Station and stars in The Last Ship, Michael Bay's new series on TNT.
Wyatt Fenner (Benvolio) originated the role of Ken in the World Premiere of Rest, and played Elder Thomas is the West Coast premiere of The Whale both by Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Martin Benson at South Coast Repertory.
Gregory Linington (Mercutio) has been seen on Grey's Anatomy, Shameless, and Major Crimes; he is known for multiple roles at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Michael Manuel (Friar Lawrence) was recently seen in South Coast Repertory's Tartuffe, performs with A Noise Within and Yale Repertory Theatre, and appeared in Medium and National Treasure, among other TV and film roles.
Jack Mikesell (Romeo) has appeared on Rizzoli & Isles and onstage in Our Town at La Jolla Playhouse.
An Obie and NAACP Award-winning actor, Tracey A. Leigh (Lady Capulet) has performed locally at Shakespeare Center LA, South Coast Repertory, UCLA Live and Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, along with numerous TV appearances on Modern Family, Grey's Anatomy, and Criminal Minds.
Chris Rivera (Tybalt) has worked in three past productions with SCLA, as well as having multiple appearances at Oregon Shakespeare Fest; he has been seen on Castle, ER and CSI:Miami.
Kimberly Scott (Nurse) has a long television and film career (I am Sam; The Velocity of Gary; Love and Other Drugs; Everybody Loves Raymond, Will & Grace) as well as extensive stage work; she was nominated for a Tony Award in 1988 for August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone.
Two years ago, Don Shirley wrote in LA Stage Times, "This brings us to the biggest Shakespearean news of the season - the return of the Shakespeare Center to summer activity. The venue is the Japanese Garden ... a great place for a summertime idyll, with an accomplished cast." Les Spindle of Theatermania.com? wrote, "A joyously entertaining outdoors staging of Shakespeare's rollicking romantic comedy under the summer stars." Last year, Sarah Spitz said in the Santa Monica Daily Press, "There's no delight quite like Shakespeare performed in a magical outdoor venue on a summer's night. The mark of terrific Shakespeare is the ability of the actors to breathe fresh life into it. This cast of actors does that masterfully. A truly enchanted evening."
Sabberton and Shakespeare Center received rave reviews for As You Like It in 2012 and A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2013, bringing back to life the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Campus' idyllic Japanese Garden. About Midsummer, the Los Angeles Times said, "The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles' effervescent production features so fine - and so rare - an example of an ensemble working, playing, singing and creating havoc together. Director Sabberton and the terrifically versatile cast grant the audience the great good favor of trusting it not to be stupid. They trust their audience to follow the language. They trust it to grasp the speedy doubling of roles. The gift of this trust is that the actors can get away with anything."
The VA location speaks to many long-time themes of the Shakespeare Center - including presenting Shakespeare in a relevant way through settings that speak to present-day Angelenos, working with veterans with its Veteran Summer Employment program, and using theatre as a tool for personal and community transformation. Shakespeare Center creates great art that does great things.
Donenberg continued, "Collaborating again with the VA continues our work hiring and training veterans on the job. Last summer, veterans made up over half of the entire company's workforce. Vets work as valued members of our backstage and front of house team -- and we make free tickets available to active military personnel, veterans, their care-givers and family members as part of our efforts to reach out to them."
Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles is well known and beloved for its unique and engaging Los Angeles focused interpretations of Shakespeare's plays. This Romeo and Juliet is set in 1923 in a Los Angeles that was booming -- as a real estate sign proclaiming HOLLYWOODLAND is erected.
Silent films are all the rage, prohibition is in full swing, and flappers are dancing the Charleston through their bathtub gin-soaked, non-stop party lives - some parties running for weeks at a time -- that would be memorialized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.
Crime, starting with illegal booze, was everywhere. Juvenile delinquency was on the rise as hoodlums and criminals became role models. From 1900 to 1925, the average age of jail convicts dropped from 50 to 25. At first the crimes were smaller - by "tomato gangs" whose weapons were rotten fruit and vegetables - and were soon followed by street fights. Thugs - like the gangs of today - engaged in turf wars.
Los Angeles grew big enough for two newspapers to emerge and it is in this world of rival editors that this Romeo and Juliet unfolds. Lord Capulet (think Harry Chandler) edits one of the papers; Lord Montague (think William Randolph Hearst) edits the other.
The inspiration for this concept came from the book Mickey Cohen, in My Own Words: the Underworld Autobiography of Michael Mickey Cohen.
About The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles: Since 1985, The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles has been a cherished community resource committed to making Shakespeare accessible, relevant and enriching for students, educators, artists and audiences from all walks of life.
Ben Donenberg, one of the city's greatest proponents of Shakespeare, started the Shakespeare Center with a free production of Twelfth Night in Pershing Square in 1986 and since then has provided performances of Shakespeare, along with outreach programs such as Will Power to Youth, which provides hands-on artistic experience with paid job training and arts education for at-risk youth. The program has been so successful that it has been replicated in communities around the country.
Well known for its L.A.-centric approach to Shakespeare, past Shakespeare Center production highlights include A Midsummer Night's Dream featuring jazz standards set in the 1920s along Central Avenue, a 1990s Julius Caesar on the steps of City Hall, Twelfth Night on Venice Beach, As You Like It featuring Peter Seeger's music imagined in Yosemite National Park, The Two Gentlemen of Verona featuring Beatles music in a suburban 1970s San Fernando Valley, as well as a contemporary The Taming of Shrew at a time-share, featuring music by contemporary Los Angeles composers. Throughout its 26-year history, the Shakespeare Center has presented Shakespeare that reflects the landscape, history and people of Los Angeles, rendering interpretations that are artistically, financially, geographically, and physically accessible to all.
The center recently presented its 25th Anniversary production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre starring Helen Hunt, Tom Irwin, Lyle Lovett, Grace Gummer, Dakin Matthews, Stephen Root, David Ogden Stiers, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins; it also hosted the West Coast Premiere of The Trial of Hamlet having previously been presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Boston and Chicago.
Now in its 19th year, Will Power to Youth (WPY) is the highly acclaimed youth development program at The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. WPY combines academics, human relations, job training and art to create a unique summer employment opportunity for youth aged 14-19.
WPY has also been nationally recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts, First Lady Laura Bush, and The U.S. Department of Justice for its effectiveness at addressing unemployment, youth violence and high-school dropout rates. In 2008, WPY was selected as one of ten arts programs for inclusion in the groundbreaking report The Qualities of Quality: Excellence in Arts Education and How to Achieve It released by Harvard's Project Zero. In 2005, The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles was selected by Bush as a destination point on her "Helping America's Youth" tour. The tour highlighted model youth programs that made a significant difference in the lives of young people. Subsequently, SCLA's Will Power to Youth program was invited to participate in the White House Conference for Helping America's Youth, as the Featured Lunchtime Presenter.
About Ben Donenberg: Ben Donenberg has performed as an actor on and off Broadway, in Central Park at the New York Shakespeare Festival's Delacorte Theater, on television and in film. He annually directs Simply Shakespeare, a star-studded staged reading, hosted by Board Members Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, which benefits The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles.
In 2006, the United States Senate unanimously approved his Presidential appointment to a six-year term as a Member of the National Council on the Arts, overseeing the work of the National Endowment for the Arts. Donenberg is also featured in the National Endowments' award-winning inspirational documentary Why Shakespeare? which was distributed to more than 40,000 high schools throughout the country.
He has served as a National Juror for the Coming Up Taller Awards, under the auspices of The President's Committee for the Arts and the Humanities, a volunteer on the National Endowment for the Arts Theater Grant Panel and the Los Angeles County Performing Arts Commission's Theater Grant Panel. Mr. Donenberg holds a Bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Southern California and is a graduate of The Juilliard School's Drama Division.