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Playing with Shakespeare

With the last traces of sunlight fading over the Verdugo Mountains, about 300 people sprawled on lawn chairs and blankets in Two Strike Park on Friday, reveling in a true midsummer night’s dream.

Children scampered about with fairy-themed painted faces, stopping only now and again to watch the other “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” as put on by the Southern California Lyric Theater.

The event marked a first foray for the Crescenta Valley Arts Council, a nonprofit organization founded in January, into bringing free community art outings to the area, council co-founder and board member Sharon Hales said.

“There are lots of people who have never seen Shakespeare, and this is a great opportunity for kids to see this,” Hales said.


Hales said she thought to bring the Sierra Madre-based Southern California Lyric Theater to La Crescenta after she saw one of their performances last year.

Comprising professional actors and advanced students of all ages, the theater company does Shakespeare with a modern twist, artistic director Alison KalmusÖ said.

On Friday, Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy — which was set in ancient Athens, Greece — was instead portrayed in 1950s Athens, Ga.

The characters wore poodle skirts and bowling shirts, with the play’s rebellious bad-boy Lysander decked out in leather and blue jeans.


Instead of a Greek chorus, the crowd in Two Strike Park was treated to a cappella doo-wop.

“Shakespeare is for the ages,” Kalmus said. “It’s translatable because the verities, the truths, people’s relationships don’t change. . . .  This play is so universally adapted to any time period because the man who wrote it today was very clever.”

Still, Kalmus and Hales both were worried that Shakespeare’s name — which conjures ideas of academia and even boredom to some — would keep La Crescentans in their homes or elsewhere Friday night.

Instead, residents from the nearby neighborhood showed up early to claim a front-row patch of grass on which to lay their blanket or set down their chair.

Dozens of families dined on box dinners packed from home or picked up from local eateries.

“It shows that there’s a desire for it,” said Sharon Raghavachary, a member of the Crescenta Valley Town Councilwoman.

Before the show had even started, some residents were already looking forward to future events put on by the arts council.

“This community is just begging for stuff like this,” said Mary Ellen WalkerÖ, a 20-year La Crescenta resident. “I wish they would do more things like this.”


Residents learned about the event from fliers that were posted around town and hand-delivered by arts council volunteers.

“I didn’t realize it would be such a big deal,” La Crescenta resident Sue Walters said.

If all goes as planned for the arts council — and for those pleased with Shakespeare in the Park — the next event could be an even bigger deal, Raghavachary said.

“The word of mouth from this one will make the next one even bigger,” she said.