For what appears to be primarily decorative reasons, director Ben Donenberg sets Shakespeare's comedy on a Vineyard in Messina, California, in a time once upon. These decisions alone open up all kinds of possibilities, such as set designer Douglas Rogers to create a courtly Ranchero-fantasia set. This is a California fairy tale unencumbered by even the suggestion of murkiness in California's actual history. And this seems something of a lost opportunity, because Shakespeare's play is about a paradise that almost slips away. The production is nonetheless a fantasia well-enough staged, and well-enough rendered, that fundamental essences of human folly emerge as though in a mirror. This would be a funhouse mirror with the distortions of fancy dress in some fantastical era. The performances, particularly Ramon De Ocampo's Claudio and Grace Gummer's Hero, are so impassioned and vitriolic supplemented by Hero's dad (Dakin Matthews) lashing out against his only child with rash ferocity they all demonstrate exactly how close this comedy teeters on the brink of tragedy. This makes the choice of irony-laden melancholy country music, with an onstage band headlined by Lyle Lovett, a particularly deft juxtaposition that slathers on emotive texture like linseed oil on a raw wooden cabinet. Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (213) 628-2772.
Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Starts: Dec. 12. Continues through Dec. 19, 2010