Woozy effectively captures the ambiance of Saturday afternoon, September 25, 2004. Our professor for weeks passed around a list asking students if they would be interested in seeing a live performance of a Shakespeare Play. After receiving an overwhelming response, she was able to tackle the stringent purse strings of the English Department and procure a chartered coach and forty free tickets. Roughly fifteen people showed up to see Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, California. The enticing invitational flyer stated, “Join us on a Saturday excursion to experience one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays, in one of the Los Angeles area’s most beautiful settings”. Beautiful indeed. The Topanga Canyon area, locally known as the historical site famous for housing past hippie communes and currently harboring an occasional eccentric millionaire is smack in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains. The second the coach began ascending the Thousand Oaks 7% grade wooziness set in, along with popping ears and light queasiness. “Keep your eyes looking out the windows; keep your eyes looking out the window…”
Fortunately for me, another student, a native Californian and the daughter of a legendary Malibu spear fisherman shared my desire for Dramamine. While we were commiserating, she became my unofficial tour guide, rich with entertaining trivia and native tidbits. She was also, (while scorned by the rest), the person who happily clapped at the bus drivers stale jokes, hence, encouraging him to continue.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum stage was perfectly nestled by the surrounding mountains and shaded with a verdant canopy. Our lower tier seats placed us only feet away from the actors. The stage was probably on the flatest piece of land, because immediately where the wooden floor of the stage ended began an ascent up the side of a mountain. This was also the case on every side, including the audience’s seats, which went up coliseum style.
“Will Geer—best known for playing the grandfather on “The Waltons” TV show —
was an established working actor in the fifties, sufficiently well-known to be called before the most demanding and critical of audiences — the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). He had always been politically active, never afraid to speak his mind. And so he — and thousands of others — became prime targets of Senator Joseph McCarthy and HUAC’s witch hunt to root out alleged communists and communist sympathizers from, most publicly, Hollywood. When asked that most infamous question, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” Geer stood his ground, and cited the Fifth Amendment. But civil rights mean little in the court of public opinion — the “public” in that instance being studio heads who were unwilling to hire anyone who might be considered “un-American”— and Geer joined the ranks of the blacklisted.While many people who were blacklisted lost everything, Geer eventually made something positive out of it. It was during this time that he purchased about five acres of undeveloped land in Topanga Canyon, which soon became a gathering place for Geer’s friends, actors, folk singers (including Woody Guthrie), artists and other victims of the blacklist.”
—Santa Monica Mirror
The play was very good. I have never seen or read, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I was a little worried that I would not understand the plot or keep up with the story. However, instantly the actors were able to intoxicate the spectators and deliver not only an understandable interpretation, but an extremely funny and enjoyable one.
I loved Helena played by Willow Geer and was charmed by Elizabeth Tobias’s Puck. Hermia performed by April Hall plucked my last nerve. It was not the actor, but definitely the part, I do not like or sympathize with Hermia. I was rooting for Helena from the start!
Apparently, two actors, perhaps because of a closing night tribute or something shared the part of “The Wall”. They both would appear locked arms. The tribute was more than likely for the older thespian; —-he had to be at least 102. Nevertheless, it was clear that he was a formidable actor in his day. I fall in hysterics every time I think about how I convinced my trusty tour guide that the older gentleman was the original landowner of the Theatricum and it was in the lease that he must have some part in every performance. Remembering her face as she thought this over, then realizing I was joking kept my side aching, —even with the wooziness. LOL!
After the play was over, we crossed the mountains west heading to Malibu for dinner. We ate at the Pleasant Cove Restaurant. According to my faithful guide, the trailer park we passed through to enter the restaurant’s parking lot was the very neighborhood of one Jim Rockford of the Rockford files. I do not remember the show very well, but I always had the impression that he was struggling for cash. Noteworthy is, if there is a trailer park anyway in the continental United States that can pull off pretension, it is Pleasant Cove Trailer Park in Malibu, California. I mean my gosh, there were trailers that had glass enclosures, fancy mountainside balconies, and any other representation of money properly misplaced. To add to the orchestrated “my trailer is just as good as Cher’s seventeen million dollar mansion two miles away” was the astronomical fifty dollar per bus plus five dollars a person parking fee! Absolutely unreal, paying to park, to pay to eat. Luckily, I brought eighty dollars with me, something I hardly ever do, so I was able to tell Heather to get whatever she wanted. Nevertheless, she relieved my anxious thriftiness with a $7.95 bowl of tortilla soup and I indulged in $23.95 golden fried ocean shrimp, which regrettably contributed to my queasiness. The professor graciously indulged us all with wine, daiquiris, and cokes. I should have had a salad like my first instincts told me, —-oh well.
It was very fun and worth the time, and for all the stupid saps who allowed the other twenty-five tickets to go to waste, —-it was their loss.