Theatricum Stars & Shakespeare Soiree

Queen Elizabeth I makes her appearance with Ernestine Philips (the Duchess), Gerald C.
Rivers (Jacques), Wendie Malick and Ed Asner look on. Photo by Ian Flanders

The evening of Saturday, November 18, Theatricum Botanicum’s Benefit Soiree and fundraiser, “Stars & Shakespeare,” was indeed a world of Elizabethan delights of costumed players, musicians and madrigal singers greeting you at the gate of the Mountain Mermaid.

Libations of wine and honey mead flowed, Layne Sanden of Layne Catering provided the hors d’oeuvres and Marshall McDaniel’s cello filled the room with melodies appropriate to the occasion, as about 70 guests surveyed the Silent Auction, some standing close by their choices, lest someone should wrest it away.

Theatricum’s repertory actors—our local stars, who entertained us all summer with five plays and extraordinary performances—joined guest stars who read and performed selected scenes and monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.

Ed Asner as King Henry (Henry IV) came to terms with his son, Prince Hal (Dane Oliver). Ernestine Phillips, as the Grand Duchess, chided Willow Geer, the servant girl afraid to proclaim her love for the Duchess’s son (All’s Well that Ends Well). Steven Weber read Shakespeare Sonnets accompanied by McDaniel on cello. Michael McFall was the tempestuous Caliban, dressed in rags and bemoaning his slavery under the great wizard, Prospero (The Tempest). Dan Lauria’s Richard III yearned for war and his ascendancy to the throne. Wendie Malick as Gertrude described to the brother of Ophelia how she died in her madness (Hamlet). Peri Gilprin as Mistress Page and Melora Marshall as Mistress Ford, had a conspiratorial moment as they gleefully planned their revenge on the womanizing Falstaff (The Merry Wives of Windsor). Gerald C. Rivers’ Jacques’ ruminations on the cycle of life brought that familiar soliloquy to life (As You Like It). Harry Hamlin did double duty, first as Macbeth, dagger in hand, as he went to kill a king; then, as the heroic Henry V, sword in hand, bolstering his troops on St. Crispin’s feast day before the Battle of Agincourt.

How Jonathan Blandino and Dane Oliver managed a sword fight in such little space is a tribute to their skill and that of the choreographer.

The highlight, of course, is always the appearance and royal address of Queen Elizabeth I, played by the irrepressible Elizabeth Tobias, always a treat.

See “Hearts for the Holidays” Donor Guide on page 17, to donate to Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, L.A.’s oldest classical repertory company, that will be celebrating 45 years in 2018. In addition, get your 2018 subscription now for next summer’s plays featuring William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and its signature performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at

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