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

LA Weekly