PICK GO ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA With shrewd and ruthless cutting, director Ellen Geer reduces Shakespeares most sprawling tragedy to a brisk, absorbing two hours and 15 minutes, including intermission. Some important elements may be sacrificed, but the plays pervading irony is still apparent: By showing the action from constantly shifting points of view, Geers production employs a Brechtian distance thats intellectually fascinating while still gripping, emotionally. The energetic outdoor staging emphasizes physical action and comedy, which serve the play well for the first four acts but leave us a bit unprepared for the tragic finale. Abby Craden plays Cleopatra as a feckless, flamboyant, and surprisingly funny drama queen till grimmer events overtake her and this Serpent of the Nile wears a live boa as a boa. Joel Swetows Antony is a slightly over-the-hill warrior, trying desperately to hold on to the powers and passions of his youth. Chad Jason Scheppner provides a touchy but imperious Octavius Caesar, and other noteworthy performances include Steven Matt, Melora Marshall, Mike Peebler, Aaron Hendry, Mark Lewis and R.J. Victoria. The complex plot, which mingles personal with political, requires serious concentration, but the rewards are considerable. (You may need a sun hat and a cushion.) WILL GEER THEATRICUM BOTANICUM, 1419 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (310) 455-3723. (Neal Weaver)
GO BLUEBONNET COURT Kelly Ann Fords expertly mounted production of Zsa Zsa Gershicks comedy-drama about lesbians connecting in an unlikely corner of Texas in 1944 is full of surprises, including an ensemble that deftly interprets a relatively low-key lesson about clandestine love. The story, which revolves around a romance between a Jewish writer (Leslie Cohen) and a black motor-court charwoman (Dalila Ali Rajah), captures the nations mood of self-assurance at the dawn of the American Century, while hinting at its darker realities. HUDSON MAINSTAGE THEATER, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (323) 960-7721. See Stage feature in two weeks. (Steven Mikulan)
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GO LOVES LABORS LOST is among Shakespeares few minor works. Its worth seeing it on the boards, first because productions are so rare, but mainly because it opens a window onto a little known view of the Bards brain and heart. Simon Abkarians very French, starkly presentational staging, set against Ara Dabandjians original, moody accompaniment on acoustic guitar, treats the play as a sonnet about the friction between the tempests of love and the compulsions of duty, with great care given to Abkarians own choreography and visual tableaux, and Sarah Le Febers scrumptiously sexy costumes. A fine ensemble enacts the story of the King of Navarre (Matt Huffman) and three of his noblemen (Ethan Kogan, Daisuke Tsuji and Brian Kimmet) trying to uphold a ridiculous oath of abstinence when a French princess (Nancy Stone) and her entourage of ladies (Lolly Ward, Sabra Williams and Shana Sosin) show up. The saga unfolds around linens and lace and wispy curtains, which also allow for shadow plays. A Russian-themed masked ball that turns slapstick is part of a beautiful spectacle that nonetheless tests ones patience. The influence of director Ariane Mnouchkine is unmistakable in a show thats a long and winding road to a haunting, artfully ambiguous conclusion about the exigencies of love. ACTORS GANG AT THE IVY SUBSTATION, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (310) 838-4264. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.