Director Kenn Sabberton's wonderfully warm-hearted production of Shakespeare's comedy of gender confusion may lack flashy gimmickry and provocative innovation, but it more than makes up for it with clarity, gently introspective sense of humor and a lovely outdoor setting. Beautiful Rosalind (Tessa Thompson) disguises herself as a boy and flees the tyrannical Duke (Michael Dorn), taking refuge in the murky woods of Arden. There, she commences a Tudor-era Bromance with handsome nobleman Orlando (Peter Cambor), who can't quite figure out why he finds the new guy in the woods so ... sexy. Sabberton's staging emphasizes characterization and language to brilliant effect, with particular attention paid to the rich veins of humor often hidden unspoken beneath the lines. An excellent production for someone who has little prior familiarity with the play, the show heaps "honey as a sauce for sugar," with performances that are quickly paced, fully realized and likable, if somewhat straightforward. Thompson and Cambor's confused relationship is handled with charm and just the right amount of bemused embarrassment. In supporting roles, John Lavelle offers a hilarious, Jim Carrey-like turn as the fool Touchstone and Diane Venora's moody courtier Jaques is unexpectedly complex and nuanced. The Japanese Gardens on the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center Campus, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., W.L.A.; Tues.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through July 29. (800) 838-3006, shakespearecenter.org.
Tuesdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: July 14. Continues through July 29, 2012