In 1970, Peter Brook and the Royal Shakespeare Company shook the dust off a perennial favorite and liberated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, infusing it with a modernity that fit the times. It was heralded as the “Circus Midsummer,” a muscular version featuring actors on trapezes. It was a ground breaking, heralded production that toured the world.
As adapted, directed and choreographed by John Farmanesh-Bocca, Tempest Redux is every bit as bold and muscular as Brook’s Dream. Re-thought and re-imagined, pared down to a lean ninety minutes, it is the most inventive production of The Tempest that I have ever seen and the most accessible. Ten actors take on all the roles doubling, even tripling, as needed in the most astonishing ways. Jack Stehlin’s Prospero is a mage on the edge of sanity, holding his world together by the sheer force of his will and magical art. His bound servant Ariel, a magical sprite constrained to do his bidding, is played by three female dancing actors – Shea Donovan, Briana Price and Emily Yetter – who have no small amount of magical power themselves. They can even reverse time when bloody violence is unleashed, running the action backward like rewinding a tape.
The monstrous being, Caliban, a fierce entity enslaved by Prospero as a menial, comes in the form of a split personality united by anger and resentment. Played by Dash Pepin (who also doubles as the sympathetic Adrian) and Willem Long (also doubling as the would-be regicide, Sebastian), they enter the stage crab-like, scrambling across the floor with arms and legs entwined and writhing about each other in an astonishing display of agility, all while exuding a continuous mien of ferocity.
As the oafish Trinculo, Dennis Gersten (also doubling as the regicide Antonio) gets hilariously tangled up with Caliban. Gildart Jackson completely sheds the royal persona of Alonso, King of Naples, to become the drunken jester Stephano. Together the two sots introduce Caliban to the slavery of liquor. And the young lovers, the bright, innocent Miranda (Mimi Davila) and the yearning Ferdinand (Charles Hunter Paul), are ideal in their roles.
The production boasts excellence in all categories. Christopher Murillo’s spare scenic design (with video by Thomas Marchese) allows for the expansiveness of the action and Bosco Flanagan’s lighting plot with its extensive use of sidelights sculpts the sequences of dance and action. Costumes by Denise Blasor fit action and character. And the sound design by John Farmanesh-Bocca and Andrew Phalen is smart and savvy.
There are audience members out there who like to go to, say, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and sit following along with the text of a play in their laps. This production is not for those people. If you love originality, if you love theatricality, if you love words and action that make the sometimes-difficult language of Shakespeare accessible, then do not miss this production of Tempest Redux. You will be thrilled.
Tempest Redux, produced by Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and The New American Theatre, runs through April 10 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Avenue, Los Angeles.