Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tempest Redux (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Tempest Redux is a re-imagining of one of Shakespeare's last plays (many believe Prospero is a stand-in for the Bard himself). For the most part, this re-imagining consists of a careful edit, streamlining the show with considerable skill.  At least that takes up the most time in terms of changes.

But so much more awaits those who see this production.

Allow me to admit (as before) that as an audience member I'm very stingy when it comes to standing ovations.  Many the time, after a very good performance, my applause has been sincere and long, yet my seat remained occupied while others rose.  Just quality alone does not deserve a standing ovation.  My standard for such is when I feel genuinely changed by a performance, when my world is rocked in a way and on so many levels the world itself seems a different place.  Easily can I name really fantastic, wonderful, even trascendent works of theatre for which I did not rise.  Yeah, I'm tough that way.

Photo by Enci Box
For Tempest Redux, I could not help but rise to my feet.  In awe and gratitude, at the same time needing some time to recover from the power of this show.

I'll get to final revelation that felt like a slice into my soul in a little bit, but first -- the production overall.  Shakespeare's plays have the fantastic power of allowing all kinds of styles and methods to tell their tale.  This one, arising from the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and the New American Theatre, startles in many ways.  One is its physicality, including having no less than three actors (Shea Donovan, Briana Price, Emily Yetter) simultaneously portray Ariel, lipsyncing recorded words in a kind of dance with sound and movement and even lights.  Likewise two actor together (Dash Pepin, William Long) were together Caliban, often entwined, sometimes hand-in-hand, or moving in complete unison.  The effect proved dazzling, even magical, and appropriate for the non-human characters.

Photo by Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin
Kudos to the entire cast, actually, up to and including Mimi Davila as a feisty, kind, obedient and unafraid Miranda (just think about trying to convey all of those qualities at the same time).  Charles Hunter Paul likewise proved a refreshingly believable young prince, one capable of seeing in this strange girl all his heart might desire. Arguably these are the two most difficult roles in the play (much like Hero and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing).  Dennis Gersten likewise did wonders as Antonio, faithless brother to Prospero, as well as the cook Trinculo.  Gildart Jackson shone in his double role as well--a grieving and sincere King Alonso, and as the delightfully supercillious Stephano, drunken butler to His Majesty (and would-be God King to the simple-minded Caliban).

But the star of any Tempest needs must be Prospero (Jack Stehlin), the aging father, exiled Duke, and powerful sorcerer.  Here lies the most startling and vivid performance of all, which frankly took some doing!  But then, this is the part to do it with.  We halfway expect to see Prospero as a version of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings or maybe Dumbledore from Harry Potter.  No.  Here we meet a dying old man, one distracted by his musings and full of sorrows, but also capable of the most tender emotions imaginable.  Indeed, at times he seems overwhelmed by his own heart, while increasingly surprised by events.

Photo by Enci Box
And here we get to the gut-wrenching spoiler.  Outline the next paragraph is you want to learn it.  You might prefer to wait and see the show.

Nothing we see is real, or very nearly nothing.  Prospero's loneliness and tragedy have driven him mad, until at last waking dreams of a sublimely happy ending take form.  I myself suspect Ariel is real, and has faithfully created these illusions for her Master all these years, and as he sets her free at last, harsh reality closes in.  Prospero is wise, and good.  We long for that happy ending this man deserves so very very much -- and in the end he has nothing but his wandering wits, and a tiny skeleton of the daughter who of course did not survive.  "Now all our revels are ended..."

I had the great good fortune to speak with the director/adaptor of this play, John Famanesh-Bocca, and can only say I will eagerly attend any show of his in the future.  Just as I felt honored to meet the cast and tell them individually this was indeed the best version of The Tempest I have ever seen.

Tempest Redux plays at the Odyssey Theatre at 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard Los Angeles, CA. 90025 until April 10, 2016 Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. NOTE: THIS SHOW HAD BEEN EXTENDED

No comments: