If all the world's a stage, then Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum must be a sliver of utopia. Nestled in the verdant canyons of Topanga, the outdoor theater run by three generations of Will Geer's immediate family members has been offering a respite from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for over 40 years. Their annual repertory season includes the fan-favorite "A Midsummer Night's Dream" along with another of Shakespeare's plays and staged classics as well as contemporary plays and experimental work in their 99-seat intimate stage area, all surrounded by trees, gardens and a sense of otherworldliness by its natural environs.
Summer is the Bard's season. Throughout the city, productions from Griffith Park to Downtown L.A. pop up like dandelions, but between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley, the Geer family have continued a legacy seeded by controversy during the blacklist of actors during the McCarthy era. During this winter of discontent, Will Geer, (famous for his portrayal of the kindly grandfather in the hit TV show The Waltons), and his wife Herta Ware cultivated their passion for horticulture with a love of the arts, creating a safe haven for artists such as Woody Guthrie and John Randolph to share their talents and perform for locals seated on bales of hay. This is how Theatricum Botanicum took root, blossoming over the years into a professional theater with outreach programs for local schools, playwright workshops, children's music series and even a Halloween haunted house attraction.
Whether a regular theatergoer or not, Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum is a novel experience all to itself with its rustic charm and fertile hinterland. Outside the main stage, picnic tables under the shade of surrounding oaks provide visitors the opportunity to dine before show time. There is a concession stand, the Hamlet's Hut for any snacks or beverages, and on select days, usually Thursdays, guests can revel in a buffet style dinner complete with cast members like fairies from "A Midsummer…" attending to diners in full dress—an unrivaled, immersive event.
Family friendly, most of the productions are appropriate for children approximately five and up. The amphitheater itself is netted to dispel bugs, but do wear a hat and apply sunscreen for matinee shows and dress warmly for the evening. Long wood seats can be uncomfortable, so spring for a renting a seat cushion when entering the main stage area. Two is recommended.
The quality of the productions has seen an uptick in recent years. The last couple of seasons have been stellar from Ellen Geer's rendition of a queenly Lear to the ensemble family cast "The Royal Family." Their intimate stagings have been critically well-received in the S. Mark Taper Pavilion, and balances the classics with hard-hitting, occasionally controversial works like "My Name is Rachel Corrie" or "Tone Clusters" by Joyce Carol Oates.
This season, themed as 'Americana' stages "As You Like It" in the Civil War era, followed a week later by the stage version of "To Kill a Mockingbird," and the Pulitzer prize-winning "August: Osage County," (not recommended for young children), and a lesser known work which inspired the musical "Oklahoma" – "Green Grown the Lilacs" directed by Ellen Geer.
Depending on where you live, Topanga is easily one of the best places to visit for a day trip. Just down the road from the Theatricum theater is Topanga Village chockfull of boutiques, second hand stores and restaurants for every budget and taste. Rocco's is a pizza lover's dream, the ever popular Froggy's is usually closed but if you can get in, is well worth checking out, The Cayon Bistro is a fine dining experience while locals dig into one of Abuelita's burritos on the outdoor patio area.
Men and women may be merely players on the world's stage, but the players here provide a welcome escape into an enchanted wood where everything is as you like it.
Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum 2015 season
June 6-Sept. 25 – A Midsummer Night's Dream
June 7-Sept. 19 – As You Like It
June 13-Sept. 19 – To Kill A Mockingbird
June 20-Sept. 27 – August: Osage County
July 11-Sept. 26 – Green Grows the Lilacs
Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, CA 90290;