Theatricum Botanicum to Present TITUS ANDRONICUS, 7/30-10/1

How should a nation choose its leaders? What happens when a government insulates itself from the citizens it once served? These are some of the questions Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum explores with its staging of Shakespeare's earliest tragedy, a sensational and brutally shocking revenge drama. Ellen Geer directs Titus Andronicus, opening July 30 on Theatricum's outdoor stage in Topanga.

Leave the children at home for this violent and disturbing saga of vengeance and retribution. When the general Titus Andronicus returns from war with prisoners Queen Tamora, her lover and her sons, he hands over Tamora's eldest son for sacrifice, and so sets off a bloody cycle of violence that swiftly accelerates out of control.

"Here's a 400-year-old play that outdoes even the unimaginable horrors we hear about daily in today's news," says Geer. "At its core, it's the story of a government gone awry. These leaders haven't been elected by the people. They have been put into positions of power by political insiders. They don't answer to their citizens, but to the gods of greed, envy and revenge."

Titus Andronicus is often seen as Shakespeare's early attempt to emulate the popular, bloody revenge plays of his contemporaries. According to dramaturg Isabel Smith-Bernstein, Shakespeare may have set the play in ancient Rome because he was living in a time reminiscent of the cruelties of that era, a time when violence and death were part of everyday life: in sports such as bear baiting and hunting, in public floggings and executions, and in the wars that divided empires. Death was always looming with threats of illness and plague.

Viewing the play as a cautionary tale for our own times, Geer has chosen to set Theatricum's production in the not-too-distant future - a setting evoked through Jordan-Marc Diamond's costumes and an original soundscape created by composer Marshall McDaniel.

Sheridan Crist stars in the title role, with Marie-Françoise Theodore as Queen Tamora; Michael McFall as Tamora's lover, Aaron; Christopher W. Jones as Saturninus; Willow Geer as Lucia; Mark Lewis as Publius; and Melora Marshall as "Marcia" (Marcus) Andronicus. Also in the cast are Kamran Abbassian, Raúl Ramón Bencomo, Clayton Cook, Turner Frankosky, Bradley Gosnell, Alexandra Hensley, Nima Jafari, Richard Johnson, Cindy Kania, Finn Kerwin, Kathleen Leary, Shane McDermott, Kelvin Morales, Precious Ra'Akbar, Alexander Sheldon, Talya Sindel, Daniel A. Stevens, Sky Wahl, Alexandre Wauthier, Michelle Wicklas and Miebaka Yohannes. Lighting design is by Zach Moore; fight choreography is by Aaron Hendry; and the production stage manager is Pete Parkin.

With its one-of-a-kind outdoor setting in the heart of Topanga Canyon and its roots in the 1950s McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklist - when actor Will Geer created the theater as a haven for blacklisted actors - Theatricum is best known for its productions that frame contemporary social issues through the lens of classic literature. Unlike most theaters in the L.A. area that stage continuous runs of a single play, Theatricum performs five plays in repertory each season, making it possible to see all of the plays in a single summer weekend, with many of the same actors performing in two plays or more.

Theatricum Botanicum has been named "One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles" by Buzz magazine, "One of Southern California's most beguiling theater experiences" by Sunset magazine, and "Best Theater in the Woods" by the LA Weekly. "The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum's maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn't get any better than this," writes StageSceneLA. Says Los Angeles magazine, "The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills."

Titus Andronicus opens on Saturday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Oct. 1. Recommended for mature audiences due to adult themes and violence. Tickets range from $15-$38.50. Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310-455-3723 or log onto theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum.



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