Plays capture tragedy reminiscent of the Bard

Vanguard Repertory Company has kicked off La Cañada Flintridge Shakespeare Festival’s summer season with “Tragic Women” and “After the Autumn,” a duet of powerfully moving, world-premiere pieces.

Inspired by some of the Bard’s best known tragedies, these one-acts are excellently paired given their unconventional styles and poignant performances.

In “Tragic Women,” a trio of Shakespeare’s female characters sentenced to Purgatory must face the effects of their individual demons.

Chelsea Taylor, the newly arrived Juliet, delivers a stirring portrayal as she searches for her Romeo.

Eliza Kiss as Hamlet’s Ophelia and Kirsten A. Snyder as Othello’s Desdemona are obviously longtime residents of this barren place.

Kiss perfectly relays Ophelia’s mental instability as she suffers a series of emotionally charged breakdowns.

Meanwhile, Snyder’s Desdemona is the rational balance, supporting her companions while attempting to decipher the meaning behind their existence in this eternal solitude.

Their movements, meticulously choreographed down to the slightest detail by Elizabeth Ross, are incredibly effective as they utilize nothing more than three straight back chairs and their signature hand props.

Juliet’s dagger, Desdemona’s handkerchief and Ophelia’s flower play as critical a part in the proceedings as the characters that possess them.

Most noteworthy is the masterful way in which playwright/director Sam R. Ross has constructed this entire 15-minute script using only the lines the characters respectively speak from each of Shakespeare’s original plays.

Equally impressive is playwright Matthew Kellen Burgos’ use of “Macbeth” as both a parallel and vehicle for his new piece “After the Autumn.”

Set against the backdrop of a governmental rehabilitation center, a psychiatrist has been brought up on charges for disobeying his superiors’ directives concerning his treatment of a nearly catatonic army captain.

Through a series of exceptionally assembled monologues and flashback scenes, the audience is given hints as to the story’s eventual outcome.

Sam R. Ross gives an award worthy performance as the conflicted medical professional. His refusal to allow his patient to simply wallow in a state of medicated stupor is the driving force behind the story.

Likewise, Clay Wilcox is heart wrenching as the terror bound captain, perpetually convicting himself with the passages he utters from Shakespeare’s horrific tale concerning the Thane of Cawdor.

As the supporting medical personnel, Alice McFarland and Adam Burch are in a word, fantastic, as is David Ross Paterson as Wilcox’s battlefield colleague.

Without giving away the piece’s shocking conclusion, it’s fair to say that Burgos, who also directed this phenomenally talented ensemble, has created a nearly flawless dramatic labyrinth of clues and revelations.

Performed outdoors on the grounds of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend a beautiful summer evening surrounded by artistic and celestial stars.

Dink O’Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.


What: “Tragic Women” and “After the Autumn”

When: Running in repertory with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” through July 31. 8 p.m. performances.

Where: Byrnes Amphitheater, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, 440 St. Katherine Drive, La Cañada Flintridge.

Tickets: $12 to $29 for individual tickets; $22 to $48 for festival passes

Contact: (818) 745-3327 or visit

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