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Oscar-winning writer Ernest Thompson revisits, revises ‘The West Side Waltz’ for an “all new” Geer family revival at Theatricum.
Forty-one years after its premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum presents the world premiere of an “all new” revival of The West Side Waltz by Academy Award-winning writer Ernest Thompson (On Golden Pond). The production, directed by Mary Jo DuPrey, will run June 25 through October 1 at the company’s beautiful outdoor venue in Topanga, part of the 2022 Summer Repertory Season sponsored by the S. Mark Taper Foundation.
Thompson’s newly revised, music and heart-filled comedy stars Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer as Margaret Mary Elderdice, an aging concert pianist living alone on New York’s Upper West Side. Geer’s sister, Melora Marshall, takes on the role of Margaret’s spinster neighbor, the violin-playing Cara Varnum, and her daughter, Willow Geer, plays Robin Bird, the would-be actress who comes into their lives. Also in the cast are Miguel Pérez as the building’s super and Charles Lin as Glen, a young attorney with eyes for Robin.
Originally commissioned by Center Theatre Group, the 1981 production, which starred Katharine Hepburn and Dorothy Loudon, toured to sold-out houses across the country, including four months on Broadway. The 1995 film starred Shirley MacLaine, Liza Minnelli and Jennifer Grey.
”When Ellen approached me about a production at Theatricum, I re-read the play, which I hadn’t looked at since we made the movie,” says Thompson. “It’s been a gift and a privilege to go back in and dig deeper into the relationships among these three women, to investigate them anew and give the play more gravitas than it had before. The play gets done all over the world, but not as much in the U.S., partly because of the difficulty that ‘playing the music’ places on the performers. But I also think that perhaps it’s because I never really finished the play, and now I’ve had a chance to finish it.”
”With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s a great time to be doing a comedy, and a great time to be doing a relationship, character-oriented piece, and that’s what I tried to do—to enhance that and get into the hearts and guts of these characters,” he says.
The West Side Waltz will run in repertory every weekend with The Merry Wives of Windsor and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, each of which opened earlier in the season. A fourth production, the world premiere of a new stage adaptation by Ellen Geer of Trouble the Water, Rebecca Dwight Bruff’s historical novel about escaped slave Robert Smalls who went on to become a U.S. Congressman, will join the repertory season on July 9.
Unlike most theaters in the L.A. area that stage continuous runs of a single play, Theatricum, using a company of actors, will perform each of the plays in repertory, making it possible to see all four plays in a single summer weekend.
Playwright Ernest Thompson has won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Writers Guild Award and a Broadway Drama Guild Award for Best Play. His work has been nominated for a Tony, an Emmy and a British Academy Award. His more than 35 plays have been seen in theaters around the world. The most enduring, On Golden Pond, has been translated into 30 languages and played in more than 40 countries on six continents. His other plays include A Sense of Humor (Jack Lemmon and Estelle Parsons), White People Christmas, (two wildly successful holiday runs at the Zephyr Theatre on Melrose), Ax of Love, Amazons in August, Murdering Mother, The Elixir and Human Beings. His soon-to-be-released anthology of 25 short plays contains the collections Political Suicide, The Penis Responds, Answers and Valentines for Two. His films include On Golden Pond (Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda), Sweet Hearts Dance (Susan Sarandon and Jeff Daniels), The Lies Boys Tell (Kirk Douglas), 1969 (Robert Downey Jr. and Bruce Dern), The West Side Waltz (Shirley MacLaine and Liza Minnelli), Out of Time, and the live On Golden Pond (Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer), the last four of which Ernest also directed, as he has his latest films, Time and Charges and Heavenly Angle.
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.” In 2017, Theatricum was named “one of the best outdoor theaters around the world” by the Daily Beast.
Theatricum’s beginnings can be traced to the early 1950s when Will Geer, a victim of the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist (before he became known as the beloved Grandpa on The Waltons), opened a theater for blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property in Topanga. Friends such as Ford Rainey, Della Reese, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties. Today, two outdoor amphitheaters are situated in the natural canyon ravine, where audiences are able to relax and enjoy the wilderness during an afternoon or evening's performance. Theatricum’s main stage amphitheater sports a new and improved sun shade for increased audience comfort, installed with support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Ralph M. Parson’s Foundation. Theatricum is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Margaret Harford Award for “sustained excellence,” which is the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle's highest honor.
The amphitheater is terraced into the hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance. Check the Theatricum website prior to each performance for current, up-to-date Covid-19 safety protocols.
The West Side Waltz opens on Saturday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m. and continues through October 1.
Tickets range from $10 – $42. Premium seating is available for $60. Children 4 and under are free. There will be one Pay-What-You-Will performance (cash only at the door) on Friday, July 29 at 7:30 p.m.
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 visit theatricum.com.
Presenter / Producer: Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
Theater > Musicals
Theater > Theatrical Comedy
Event Phone: 310-455-3723
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290
LA - Hollywood / Westside
LA - San Fernando Valley
Performance Dates: 6/25/2022 - 10/1/2022
$10-$42 (premium seats available for $60)
Pay-What-You-Want on Friday nights
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