Friday, August 26, 2016

The Tempest (Independent Shakespeare Company's 2016 Production) Theatre Review

It is always such a treat to see The Independent Shakespeare Company perform in Griffith Park. This season they’re doing Richard III and The Tempest, and last night I was able to catch a performance of The Tempest. The set for this production is fairly simple, with two entryways upstage, for the focus here is on the actors – their performances, and of course Shakespeare’s dialogue.

Approximately thirty minutes before the start of the show, oceans sounds begin playing through the speakers at the sides of the stage. This was actually quite soothing, and it helped me focus on something other than the two silly girls next to me who used the word “like” more than all other words combined. (I’m considering purchasing a little hotel desk bell and hitting it every time someone like that says “like,” just for a bit of fun.) Then at 7:10 p.m., a member of the company came out in a yellow raincoat, yellow rain hat and rubber boots to make some brief announcements. And then the play was off and running.

There is some modern dress used in this production, particularly in the opening scene on the boat, in which the boat crew is wearing that yellow rain gear. The boat’s captain (or Master, as identified in the text) enters in a somewhat modern captain’s outfit, while deliberately cheesy music plays on the speaker, making us think of The Love Boat. There is also the use of a megaphone (later, Ariel will use it when saying “Thou liest” to Caliban). Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo and the rest, however, are in period costumes, all of bright red fabrics. The cast does an excellent job with this scene, their movements really making me feel I was on a tossing vessel.

In the second scene, Prospero (Thom Rivera) enters first from upstage, with Miranda (Erika Soto) entering behind him once he has moved downstage. Both are barefoot. Prospero’s magic garment is a sleeveless robe whose pattern and colors bring to mind the ocean. This production does some interesting things with this scene. First, several spirits dressed in black are introduced, and they bring out a chair for Miranda to sit upon, even lifting her at one point, as if she were floating upon the sea. Also, when Prospero says, “thy false uncle,” he sees his brother, who steps onto the stage from within the audience. So it is Prospero that becomes distracted, not Miranda, and so though his next line “Dost thou attend me” is still directed at Miranda, it is a way of shaking off his own distraction. This is such a great touch. And then when he mentions Gonzalo, Gonzalo appears upstage. Gonzalo then hands him a book on Prospero’s line about his books. Miranda’s “Would I might/But ever see that man” then has another significance, as she can’t see him there onstage. By the way, Erika Soto is absolutely adorable as Miranda, possessing the right youthful energy and outlook.

As is usually done, Ariel is here played by a woman (Kalean Ung), though dressed in trousers, a vest and old flight goggles and hat, giving the character a somewhat gender-free vibe. In the text, Ariel is clearly male, but here the more fluid gender makes the relationship between Prospero and Ariel more interesting. Ariel also has wings. I love the excitement and pride Ariel has when the describing the work she has done for Prospero. Then Ariel is able to change tones greatly and give a strong reading of “Is there more toil?

Caliban (Sean Pritchett) enters from within the caves far off to the side of the audience. (The Independent Shakespeare Company has its stage by the site of the old zoo in Griffith Park, and this is the first time I can recall the cast making use of those caves. It is a really wonderful touch.) Caliban’s eyes are of two different colors; he wears a sort of neck brace (showing that Prospero has perhaps taken some care of him) and one shoe (which you might imagine was once Prospero’s). Miranda’s words to him do quiet and still Caliban, at least for a moment, which is nice, showing that Caliban in some way does like her, has perhaps allowed himself to be tamed by her (though has mixed feelings about this).

When Ariel sings for Ferdinand (Evan Lewis Smith), she is backed by a band of spirits playing accordion and percussion. During this, Prospero and Miranda stand upstage left, with Miranda facing away from the action and the audience, clearly under Prospero’s spell, while Prospero watches all. When Prospero wakes Miranda to look onto Ferdinand, Ferdinand walks slowly out into the audience before turning to see Miranda. After Prospero disarms Ferdinand, he hands the sword to Ariel, which shows just how much he trusts that spirit.

The second act begins with Alonso (Joseph Culliton) calling out Ferdinand’s name before Gonzalo (Lester Purry) begins his speech. William Elsman is funny as Sebastian when poking fun at Gonzalo. And Faqir Hassan is excellent as Antonio, when working to convince Sebastian to murder Alonso. Sebastian and Antonio put their swords away, so Gonzalo’s “Let’s draw our weapons” prompts them to take them out again, rather than the line being directed at himself and Alonso, another nice touch.

Trinculo (Lorenzo Gonzalez) enters from the audience. He is very much the clown in this production, even sporting a red nose. The majority of modern references in this production come from him and from Stephano. For example, Trinculo delivers “sing i’ th’ wind” to the tune of “Singing In The Rain.” On “Legg’d like a man,” Trinculo touches Caliban’s leg. His hand then drifts toward Caliban’s crotch on “and,” but Caliban’s slaps his hand away, leading Trinculo to finish the line, “his fins like arms.” So there are strong and humorous sexual suggestions aimed at Caliban from Trinculo. Stephano (David Melville) wears a red bowler and carries a walking stick. His nose is red too, but from drink. It’s interesting because of the costume choice to clothe that entire party in red, for it makes Trinculo and Stephano even more red, thus even more a part of the group, though they are separated from the rest for most of the play. When Caliban sings his farewell to his old master, he is backed by the spirits in black on percussion.

Some of the silliness with Trinculo falls a little flat, such as the play on him holding up three fingers and then four when saying “there’s but five upon this isle.” But most of what Trinculo and Stephano do is quite funny and effective. I love that at the end of Act III Scene ii, Stephano follows Ariel upstage right, while Caliban tries to lead him downstage left; this of course being when he says he’ll follow the monster, another wonderful touch. There are more modern references and jokes during the wardrobe rack bit.

This production includes the pageant scene, with Iris, Ceres and Juno singing, each in a bright dress. Ariel also joins in their song. Juno hands Miranda her flowers, a sweet touch. Another fantastic moment is when Ariel delivers the “were I human” line to Prospero. It’s a great moment between the two characters, and we see the change in Prospero’s demeanor. I also really like the ceremony with which Ariel removes Prospero’s magic garment and replaces it with his red robe (to match the others, signifying his return to the normal state of relations). Ferdinand and Miranda are wheeled in on a chest while playing chess, rather than being revealed upstage. Ariel is given a proper exit in this production, and after being set free, runs happily straight out into the audience. The epilogue is included.

There is one intermission, coming at the end of the first scene of Act III. Leading into that intermission, Stephano enters from the audience, asking for wine, and joking with an audience member who had brought wine. Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban then go on stage to mention the concessions and so on. The intermission lasts approximately fifteen minutes. The show ends just before 10 p.m. This production of The Tempest was directed by Matthew Earnest, and runs this weekend and next weekend (actually, Wednesday through Sunday), with the last performance being on September 4th. The show is free, but donations are accepted and encouraged.

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