A trip to England, no airport lines involved

Special to The Times

CRAVING a bit of the mother tongue, pub life and British theater at its apex, but don't have time and or funds for a weekend trip to London? There is a much cheaper and time-efficient way to satisfy your English cravings.

In San Pedro, the folks at Shakespeare by the Sea offer a free alternative to summer blockbusters. Since 1998, the organization has been staging Shakespeare plays on the bluffs at picturesque Point Fermin Park. (Movie buffs will recognize the gazebo as the scene of a critical meeting in the Oscar-winning film "The Usual Suspects.")

Many bring a picnic to the park, and set out blankets or beach chairs. It makes for a serene evening of dining alfresco. On this Friday night, though, my date and I get ourselves in the mood for the Bard by hitting the Whale and Ale.

The quaint restaurant-bar's interior resembles a cottage in the British countryside. Adding to the warmth is a versatile piano player who leads the crowd through a range of tunes from Kansas' '70s classic "Dust in the Wind" to the theme from "The Sound of Music." Several selections are augmented by a fiddler.

The food is in line with the atmosphere. We start off with some chips served with curry sauce. For our main courses my date goes for a hot, open-faced turkey sandwich slathered in creamy gravy, while I have a grilled salmon salad with cilantro pumpkin dressing. It's not typical pub fare, but it's lighter than the fish and chips.

Then it's off to Point Fermin to take in "Hamlet." As in previous summers, the Shakespeare by the Sea folks are staging one comedy, "The Comedy of Errors," and one drama, the story of the Danish prince. This being the last Friday before SBTS heads out on tour to Manhattan Beach, Newport, Hermosa, Torrance and elsewhere, the park is filled. The audience is a cross-section of families and couples, enraptured. In particular compliment to Mark Joseph in the title role, a boy of about 10 stops kicking the soccer ball he's been playing with as the actor delivers the play's climactic speech.

With dinner at just more than $40, that leaves a few dollars to spare for a well-deserved donation to SBTS. Though usually we put it in the box on the edge of the stage at play's end, tonight we buy a deck of Shakespeare-great writers playing cards for $8, which benefits SBTS.

A whole night of English culture for $48.56: Sure beats plane fare to London.


The tab

Dinner $40.56

What: Dinner at the Whale and Ale. Chips with curry sauce, turkey sandwich with side dishes, grilled salmon salad, soft drinks. 327 W. 7th St., San Pedro. (310) 832-0363; www.whaleandale.com

Play $8.00

What: Shakespeare by the Sea, Point Fermin Park, 807 Paseo del Mar, San Pedro. Cost was for a deck of playing cards; proceeds benefit the theater group. Note: Shakespeare by the Sea is on tour, appearing tonight in South Pasadena, returning to San Pedro to end its season Aug. 11-12. Info: www.shakespearebythesea.org

Total $48.56

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