By Michael Berick
For a man who died nearly 500 years ago, William Shakespeare remains a remarkably popular playwright. His work is staged constantly in Southern California and around the world. Summer is a particularly prime time to catch a Shakespeare play, and there are several outdoor productions that appear especially intriguing.
The Independent Shakespeare Company (www.facebook.com/indyshakes) has been doing interesting productions in Griffith Park’s Old Zoo since 2010, and this year’s opening play looks like a winner. The comedy Twelfth Night will be infused with elegant Downton Abbey touches and zesty English music-hall music, with free performances at 7 p.m. Thurs.-Sun. through July 20 (no show July 4) and Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24 and 30-31. This production will be done in repertory with The Taming of the Shrew.
The Kingsmen Shakespeare Company, operating out of California Lutheran University’s Kingsmen Park (60 W. Olsen Rd., Thousand Oaks; www.kingsmenshakespeare.org), has set Twelfth Night in the Vaudeville era, which will accentuate the play’s slapstick humor and comical disguises. Performances are at 8 p.m. July 3, 5-6 and 11-13, and the park opens at 5:30 p.m. for pre-show picknicking. This play will complement the other half of the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival – the historical tragedy Antony and Cleopatra. $20, free for ages 18 and younger.
The timeless romantic drama Romeo & Juliet will time travel to the 1920’s in Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ summer show at the scenic Japanese Gardens on the West L.A. VA grounds (11301 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; www.shakespearecenter.org). The familial rivalry has been re-imagined as a powerful struggle between two competing Los Angeles newspapers, and will be performed at 8 p.m. July 8-13, 15-20 and 22-26. $20-$74. Last summer, the SCLA staged a smartly conceived version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so interest is piqued for this production.
Speaking of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it should come as no surprise that it will be staged this summer. The Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County production, however, is surprisingly set in 1700s Polynesia. To enhance the tropical vibe, performances at the Garden Grove Festival Amphitheater (Euclid Park, 12762 Main St.; www.skakespeareoc.org) will feature song and dance from the award-winning, Garden Grove-based Polynesian grou, Hitia O Te Ra. 8 p.m. July 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19. $25.
Both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet will be performed by Shakespeare By The Sea this summer. These travelling thespians will stage productions on more than 20 different stages across Southern California – from San Pedro to South Pasadena, Newport Beach and Woodland Hills – through Aug. 16. Learn more at www.shakespearebythesea.org.