"Troilus and Cressida" at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company and "The Tempest" at The Long Beach Playhouse both seem a traditional take on pleasure and revenge.
At Long Beach Shakespeare, the epic "Troilus and Cressida" fits neatly into tight quarters. The plot of this comedy centers around its title characters against the backdrop of the Trojan War. An unlikely location for laughs, but Director Brandon Alexander Cutts uses the setting and the spaces lack of square footage to ably tell this odd pair of love stories.
The B plot line here feels more like the real center. Achilles and his lover Patroclus cause a stir among the generals who complain about their relationship. In classical accounts of the Trojan War, their relationship was a key element and is so here. Robert Watson (Achilles) and Alexander James Salas (Patroclus) have good chemistry and handle the language well. Aaron Joseph (Troilus) and Amanda Swearingen (Cressida) also feel natural together, which is a feat as kudos are due to Swearingen for taking over the role a mere four days before opening night.
The sets and costumes established a tastefully sparse ancient Greece. Lighting created specific moments that brought great variety to the simple space.
The brightest light of the evening was Leonardo Lerma’s performance as Thersites. It is delightful to realize you are still listening to Shakespeare’s language but, hearing it as you do common English. It is a rare actor who can accomplish this so completely as Lerma.
Across town, the Long Beach Playhouse offering "The Tempest" exploded onto the stage in a crash of thunder. Shakespeare’s tale of love and revenge on a magical island is one of his most beloved.
In the intimate Studio Theatre, the opening scene of the shipwreck was sadly rendered incomprehensible by the sound of wind and waves that had the actors shouting through the sequence. It wasn’t until later in the play when the action returned to the shore that it became entirely clear that Director Mary Schaugh had cleverly recast Alonso King of Naples as Queen Alonsa and Ferdinand had become Ferdina.
Holland Renton (Queen Alonsa) turns in a heartfelt and touching portrait of a stoic royal in deep grief. And Amara Phelps (Ferdina) was everything a standard Ferdinand is not. Her willowy frame and elegant diction made for brand new character interpretation. The connection between her love interest Jessica Bell (Miranda) was charming in a way that a Miranda and Ferdinand have never been.
The costumes for the production that were traditional worked best, however the “magical” elements were missing the surprise and scale they needed to transport the audience. The set too seemed to be of two minds. As a classically painted dunescape it seemed complete, however it was covered in unnecessary silk foliage that no breeze could activate. Luckily, Haley Jackson (Ariel) filled the space with infectious laughter that kept the evening's sails full.
"Troilus and Cressida" continues through Sept. 15. Tickets are $22.50, $12.50 for students. Go to www.lbshakespeare.org. Long Beach Shakespeare Company's Richard Goad Theatre is at 4250 Atlantic Ave.
The Tempest continues through continues through Sept. 29. Tickets are $20 on Friday and $24 Saturday and Sunday. Go to www.lbplayhouse.org. The Long Beach Playhouse is at 5021 E. Anaheim St. The show is in the Studio Theatre, located on the second floor and only accessible by stairs.