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Griffith Park Shakespeare Festival

Don John (Sean Pritchett) is such a bastard. Really. He's the bastard son of Don Pedro (Luis Galindo), prince of Aragon. Imagine smearing the reputation of an innocent bride, Hero (Mary Alton) in order to cast doubts in the mind of her groom, Claudio (Erwin Tuazon) — who believes the worst without fact-checking. If this weren't a comedy, it would look a whole lot like Othello. Oh, that's funny, what a coincidence: This same company just did that play earlier this summer, also alfresco in Griffith Park. Independent Shakespeare Company's artistic director and managing director, respectively, Melissa Chalsma and David Melville (also husband and wife in real life) play the dubiously romantic couple, Beatrice and Benedick, cousins who pleasure in hurling insults at each other with echoes of The Taming of the Shrew. That love resides beneath such hostility is an unflinchingly optimistic idea in an unflinchingly optimistic comedy. Melville's Benedick is a comedic masterpiece — surly while lampooning his own world-weariness, in the tradition of English comedian Gerard Hoffnung. Chalsma, like the rest of the ensemble, bounces every syllable off the highest leaf of the farthest tree. No microphones. This is what old cranks like me call training. Director Ron Bashford throws in a Commedia parade, with masks and music. Characters who are hiding do so amongst the audience of picnickers. On the eve I attended, there were hundreds in the crowd, absorbing the multiple players of wit like a sponge. Independent Shakespeare Company in Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; through August 29. (323) 913-4688.


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