Independent Shakespeare landed in LA with a bang in 2002. The NYC expats mounted a ripping Henry V at the Odyssey with a terrific ensemble, minimal stagecraft, and a laser’s focus on the language. The company moved onto well-received summers at Barnsdall Park and ultimately decamped to Griffith Park a few years ago. It’s a large yet systematic leap from a few patrons in a Westside black box to thousands in the open air of a former zoo. With size has come some compromise. The style is broader, humor is pushed to the forefront and there are costumes, lights, and amplification. There’s also music, live bands, and singing. Mercifully not enough to be musical theatre but we paranoids will worry.
Romeo and Juliet, recently closed, came off just as Andy Griffith said it ought to. As ISC has steadily grown in size and ambition it has simultaneously identified, cultivated, and grown young talent. Nikhil Pai’s Romeo convinces as a generally honorable lad whose blood runs just a shade too hot for his own good. Erika Soto is lovely as diffident ingenue Juliet in the first act, morphing into an assertive, determined woman in the second. It takes talent and presence to hold the stage alongside Bernadette Sullivan (Nurse), Aisha Kabia and Sean Pritchett (Lady and Lord Capulet). Soto shows plentiful stores of both and the switch flip after intermission is impressive. Just a couple of seasons ago, Pai and Soto were on the periphery, now they’re front-and-center to crowds of 2,500. Kalean Ung (Benvolio) shows similar promise. This is transformation and it looks nice, indeed.