Ensemble Shakespeare Theatre Brings Us Something New With “What You Will”

theatre review

PHOTO: Brian Elerding | South Pasadena News | The company players of Ensemble Shakespeare Theater in "What You Will" at Descanso Gardens.

On a beautifully sunset-lit evening in Descanso Gardens, audience members were summoned down a pathway that led to a magical outdoor stage where they were encouraged by the players of Ensemble Shakespeare to cheer, jeer, sing and generally play along with them. Artistic director, Brian Elerding, implored us to “make something new.”

PHOTO: Brian Elerding | South Pasadena News | The players of Ensemble Shakespeare Theater at Descanso Gardens

Indeed, it was something new, although Elerding’s point was that live theatre is always something new and something that is experienced once. One can’t “replay” it because each performance is singular and each audience is unique. And with the amount of improvisation in this particular production, truly no two shows are alike.

PHOTO: SouthPasadenan.com | South Pasadena News | The outdoor stage in Descanso Gardens

So this isn’t a typical Shakespeare in the Park with a company performing one of The Bard’s famous plays like Midsummer Night’s Dream, but rather a compilation of Shakespeare’s most famous scenes combined with new scenarios created by the company of actors based on their own lives. But these writer/performers are so well versed in Shakespeare’s language that they are able to weave the two seamlessly together, all the while engaging and improvising with whatever the audience is giving them.

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The result is both hilarious and beautifully poignant. Although many take place in and around Los Angeles, the stories remain universal, whether it’s about the tribulations of dating, the thrill of falling in love, or the heartache of loving your child.

PHOTO: Brian Elerding | South Pasadena News | The players of Ensemble Shakespeare Theater on stage in Descanso Gardens

It’s a highly entertaining and moving evening of theatre with a final scene created wholly out of one audience member’s answers to a few questions. On opening night, the scene was fall down funny, brilliant really, and I only wish I could have seen each night’s final scene to marvel at what the actors came up with. But alas, such is the ephemeral nature of live theatre. I had my singular, well, shared with my fellow audience members that evening, experience with the brave and talented players of Ensemble Shakespeare that now only lives in my mind. Luckily for you, they are bringing the show to Lineage Performing Arts Center in Pasadena in November. Don’t miss it!