Monday, November 14, 2016

The Tempest (review)

Disclaimer: I helped a little with the design of the show's poster, mostly in terms of fonts and text layout.

Spoilers ahoy!

Interesting thing about Shakespeare's The Tempest--one of his last plays, it marks the only time he obeyed the so-called "Three Unities" of theatre (a popular academic view based on Aristotle), and in terms of set-up resembles a revenge tragedy rather than a comedy.  More than one critic has noted the play seems more modern than some of his other works, given its exploration of what we would call "Colonialism."

What Jana Wimer decided with this production was to focus on these darker aspects of the work.  On top of that, she went with a distinctly science fiction setting.

At this point many a reader might start thinking of seminal science fiction film Forbidden Planet, which was openly a re-telling of Shakespeare's play.

Credit:  Jana Wimer
Instead--and refreshingly--we get a blend of many tributes to science fiction, from Star Trek to Avatar with a dash of Doctor Who.  The ship that crashes as the play begins is clearly some kind of spacecraft. Ariel (Elif Savas) proves to be an alien, with Caliban (Jonica Patella) a half-breed of the same species.  In a dark turn--one of many--both wear pain-inducing collars placed there by Prospero (Bert Emmett) who bears a distinct resemblance to Count Dooku of Star Wars in some ways.  A similar collar ends up on Prince Ferdinand (Vanessa Cate) who as per the script almost immediately sets out seducing Miranda (Alex Kereszti) -- a fairly vacuous teenager brimming with hormones quite dazzled by this very handsome prince wooing her.

Credit:  Jana Wimer
All of which sounds fun and certainly is!

But what really makes this production stand out are two factors.  First, the cast overall gives some amazing performances.  Emma Pauly and Zack Zoda as Prospero's brother Antonio and King Alonso's brother Sebastian in particular do a lot with what cannot be called very fleshed-out characters, as does Ernest Kearney as Ferdinand's Dad the King of Naples, wracked by guilt in the wake of what he believes to be his son's death.

(One nicely dark touch--Ferdinand used his belief in King Alonso's death to impress a local girl.  Ah, the young.)

Mark Dakota meanwhile plays the good lord Gonzalo as an android--equal parts Lt. Cdr. Data and the Tin Woodsman.  It makes for a nicely bizarre touch, especially since Ariel and Gonzalo end up rather fascinated/pleased with one another.

Credit:  Jana Wimer
But maybe the most impressive and moving scenes actually belong to Caliban and drunken ship's Captain Stephano (Jason Britt).  Oddly enough, by cutting Trinculo, Wimer made these scenes so much more poignant -- the drunkard and the slave becoming friends over a bottle of wine, or the nearest thing maybe they've ever had to friends.  By turns funny, grotesque, heart-warming and sad, these few scenes prove the emotional core of the production--leading up to the tragedy of its climax.

Yes, tragedy.  It is right there on the poster.  She adapted the play, using Shakespeare's words but allowing the tragedy the original literally waves away with a magic wand to play out. It made for a startling night, and one I find simmering still in my subconscious.  Makes for a Tempest well worth checking out!

The Tempest plays Fridays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 7pm until December 18, 2016 (no shows Thanksgiving weekend) at ZJU 4850 Lankershim (just south of the NoHo sign), North Hollywood CA 91601.

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