Best Theater Featuring a Chorus of Frogs

(Illustration by Ronald Kurniawan)

{mosimage}Wildlife in the theater is generally considered a problem, but at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, in Topanga Canyon, it’s a boon. With an open stage set into one of the canyon’s many nooks, and bench seats stacked up a steep natural rise, the theater is a magical part of the topography of L.A.’s most overgrown ZIP code. Dragonflies dart about, a chipmunk takes an impromptu scurry across the proscenium, an enormous and intricate spider web catches the stage lights.

The theater began informally in the 1950s, when blacklisted actor Will Geer invited other blacklisted actors and singers to perform on his Topanga property. Unable to find work in Hollywood, Geer and his family earned a living by selling fruits and vegetables grown on the land. Geer finally broke out as “Grandpa” on The Waltons in 1973, and, after his death in 1978, the family pushed to create a professional repertory theater, which remains family-run.

This season’s production of Twelfth Night, set at the turn of the 20th century, with petticoats and parasols, bucks gently against the theater’s woodsy surroundings. The natural mise en scène seems perfectly suited to a more ethereal, organic conception of Shakespeare’s works. The herbs for his alchemists’ potions seem to be growing wildly about, and a nearby creek is the embodiment of lilting wordplay. But, after more than 30 years staging Shakespeare in the Topanga wilderness, a thriving theater group, as this is, might feel compelled to avoid the obvious. Still, the performance and the canyon complement each other in a dynamic way. The polyphony of frogs isn’t distracting; it’s more like a heartbeat or breathing — constant, alive, essential to the place. Had the froggy din cut out, the silence would have been distracting. The 2006 season runs through October and includes Antony and Cleopatra, George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell, and Omnium Gatherum, the 2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros.

Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723 or

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