Shakespeare knew the power of conjuring a storm that would turn the world upside down when he wrote The Tempest. He filled it with magic, fantastical elements, and resilient characters in an exotic location to create an unforgettable story of love, loss, redemption, and regret. Now, director John Farmanesh-Bocca reinvents Shakespeare’s masterpiece in the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and The New American Theatre’s highly original production starring Jack Stehlin.
Betrayed by his brother and cast away to live out his days alone on an island with his young daughter, Stehlin’s Prospero orchestrates a monumental series of events that will bring his usurper to him in order to set things right. But this is not your typical revenge play and you would do well to reserve judgement about what you think you see until the play has ended.
For in Farmanesh-Bocca’s vision, everything rests on a single new idea. This ultimate “what if” transcends all expectations and is a haunting reminder that if you give over to the story being told, the journey will not disappoint. In fact, I found this production to be so profoundly moving, so exciting and original, that I cannot urge you enough to go see it. If you only make time for one Shakespeare production this year, let it be this one.
In 90-minutes you’ll experience what is best described as a living work of art. Sensual and beautiful… sexy, not because it is trying to be, but because the Not Man Apart – Physical Theatre Ensemble director’s commitment to the athletic and lyrical possibilities highlight bodies and movement in a very intoxicating way. You may think you know The Tempest but I guarantee you have never seen it imagined like this before. The entire experience is a rare sensory dance full of shifting tempos and breathtaking images. It is theatre magic at its finest.
Two devices effortlessly support the magic. They are the supernatural beings that serve Prospero: Ariel, made up of three dancers (Emily Yetter, Briana Price, and Shea Donovan) choreographed by Farmanesh-Bocca in a combination of ballet-like moves and deliberate staging, and Caliban, conceived as a two-bodied monster played by Willem Long and Dash Pepin. Not only do Long and Pepin create a Caliban with a radically co-dependent physicality and explosive demeanor, but they also bring an unexpected poignancy to the role. The pair bookends their incredible performance by playing two additional characters, the bitter Sebastian (Long) and good-hearted Adrian (Pepin).
Gildart Jackson does triple duty in this abbreviated adaptation of opposing forces as King Alonso, the loyal Gonzalo, and Stephano, a silly man with a new purpose thanks to Caliban. Dennis Gersten doubles as the lying Antonio and later as the drunkard, Trinculo. Both give fine performances in each of their distinct roles.
The scenes of young lovers Miranda (Mimi Davila) and Ferdinand (Charles Hunter Paul) are necessarily truncated yet their innocent love story still resonates as the heart of the play. Stehlin watches the pair through almost bewildered eyes as he weaves his story to bring them together while a beautiful series of projections, designed by Thomas Marchese, plays above them. We see the loving father and his haunted, inescapable longing. It is a heartbreaking performance.
In this kind of rendering, sound and light become like ambient characters adding texture to an interconnected set of elements. Adam Phalen and Farmanesh-Bocca’s sound design offers up waves and seagulls, beautiful classical underscoring, and visceral punctuations wrought with turmoil and distress. Bosco Flanagan’s lighting design is awash in island glow pitched dramatically to contrast with the dramatic darkness of shipwreck, storm, and underwater imaginings.
On Christopher Murillo’s sparsely designed set, the touches are simple and artistic – tree stumps with fibers stretching up to the roof, an impressionistic backdrop of the endless sky, and a set of whitewashed stones that stand out against the blues and purples of the watery color scheme.
When a tempest is at hand, it is wise to expect the unexpected. In this production, the journey may take you down an unfamiliar path but the payoff is rich and its impact will stay with you long after you have left the theater. Life, like a heartbeat, exists in the movement of a thing. It is a language that Shakespeare wrote well and Tempest Redux envisions with astonishing beauty.
Shakespeare in LA
February 20 – April 10, 2016
The New American Theatre and Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90025
Tickets: (310) 477-2055 x 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com
$25–$34 (reserved seating)
Discounted tickets available for students and members of AEA, SAG-AFTRA for select performances
Tix for $10 performances: Wednesday, March 9 and Thursday, March 24