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Curtain Up: Drama al Fresco

This outdoor theater brings performances sure to entertain.


By Anne Burke

Published Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Ellen Geer, a UCLA visiting associate professor and Topanga Canyon's favorite thespian, turns her director's hand this summer to Omnium Gatherum, the edgy new political play making its West Coast premiere at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.

Omnium Gatherum is a comedy-drama set around a post-9/11, New York dinner party hosted by a domestic diva à la Martha Stewart. The seven guests — plus a surprise eighth who arrives late — are all wildly incompatible, making for incendiary table talk.

Geer, the artistic director at Theatricum Botanicum, says Omnium Gatherum confronts theatergoers with uncomfortable truths while also treating them to a night of rollicking good fun. "It's an amazing piece of writing," Geer says. "It brings up everything that disturbs us, and confuses us, and frustrates us, but it does it in a funny way."

Omnium Gatherum plays at Theatricum's 299-seat outdoor amphitheater July 29 through Oct. 7, with a preshow discussion Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. The summer repertory season opens on June 4 with Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, followed by Twelfth Night, and George Bernard Shaw's social comedy, You Never Can Tell. Plays are staged on a rotating basis through early October. When all four are up and running, theatergoers can see the entire lineup in a single weekend.

Geer is the daughter of Will Geer, "Grandpa Walton" from the long running TV series The Waltons. In the early 1950s, Will Geer was blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Unable to find work in Hollywood, he started an outdoor theater on his woodsy Topanga property, where he also grew and sold fruits and vegetables to support his family. After Will Geer's death in 1978, Ellen Geer took over the Theatricum Botanicum, whose name reflects her father's passion for horticulture. She has taught acting at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television for more than a decade.

Ellen Geer imagines that her father, who famously loved to stir the political pot, would have enjoyed Omnium Gatherum for its rousing call to action. The play "makes you realize that you have to take some kind of action. I don't care what direction you go in, because that's very personal, but you have to speak out," she says.

Theatricum Botanicum is an Actor's Equity theater and over the years has helped dozens of UCLA students earn coveted Equity cards. The tradition continues this summer. You can catch Marc Fellner '03 M.A. '04 and Paul Moore and Michael Pappas (both M.F.A. '06) in Antony and Cleopatra, and Paige White and Scott Tishaun (both M.F.A. '06) in Twelfth Night.

Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. (310) 455-3723; Tickets: adults, $15 and $25; seniors, students and equity, $12 and $15; children 6-12, $8; and 5 and under, free.



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