Orange County Theatre Reviews

(Photo by Jordan Kubat)

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

In order for a story about magic to have an impact on its audience, we obviously need Hollywood level special effects and an eight million dollar budget involved, right?  False.  I know this because I just saw Shakespeare/Summerfest’s production of The Tempest, and while I will not presume to make statements about their budget, I can say that while I initially considered magic and special effects necessary to make this story enjoyable, I have now been otherwise educated through this more spiritual take on the material.

The dethroned Duke Prospero and his virtuous daughter Miranda have lived on an island for the duration of her life.  While there he mastered the art of sorcery and became a powerful magician.  Prospero’s success with magic is such that he is able to effectively command every living creature on the island, including the son of its former mistress named Caliban and a powerful spirit named Ariel.  With Ariel’s abilities at his service Prospero endeavors to shipwreck his usurping brother and company in order to regain his rightful place as Duke of Milan.

Instead of dark and dramatic (as so many of Shakespeare’s shows are portrayed) the backdrop has grassy looking green hills and/or delicately painted trees to enhance the “island” feel.  The grassy green hills are nice, but what actually turns out to be a pretty fun part of the show are the sloping wooden pieces on the floor that go all the way across the back of the stage.  The beautiful wooden slopes are effective and simple enough to make me wonder why no one has ever done this before.  They aren’t used constantly in the show, but when they are they serve a purpose.  Small and smooth, the hills are danced lightly upon by spirits every once in a while, and whenever the resident young-and-in-love couple use them to slide up and down, it’s adorable.  It perfectly demonstrates how whimsical and excitable they are in their passionate youth.  Long story short, the hills make it more romantic and funny, especially when the pair lie down and gaze into each other’s eyes.

It’s true that the cast is good.  It’s true the scenery is nice to look at, especially when certain performers are sliding up and down on it.  But what truly sets this production apart from any other is Prospero’s (played by Harry Groener) devoted servant Ariel (played in part by Jay Lee and Daniel Kim).  Ariel is a powerful spirit on the island and seemingly has the ability to be everywhere and anywhere at any point in time.  His power is demonstrated by having him played by (according to the program) eighteen different performers –capable of either appearing as one speaker or as many different dancers carrying out Prospero’s will across the island.  Whether they are causing a tumultuous storm, putting stranded sailors to sleep, or simply sitting and listening in rapt attention to Prospero’s words, the troupe of Ariels is a delight to look at.

Because of Prospero’s use of sorcery, one might expect an emphasis on magic.  Instead, there seems to be an emphasis on the spiritual, with the nigh-on all-powerful spirit Ariel portrayed by numerous dancers.  There is also a lot of Asian influence over the infrequent musical performances in the show.  When OCR reached out for details regarding the exact culture these sequences were using, we got this as a response, “The director (Peter Uribe) and producer (John Walcutt) wanted a blend of East Asian and Southeast Asian influences to give the island an otherworldly feel without being too specific. While the drumming and dance troupe is Korean, the costumes/makeup/hair of the actors were a blend of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc., influences.”  One might think that additions like the Korean drumming show during intermission is unnecessary and a nuisance –after all it is more sitting time in a Shakespeare show –but in reality it draws you in more.  The bright colors, vibrant movement, and energetic drumming brings you back to the seats and eager for more island action.

This is not my favorite of Shakespeare’s plots because I think what passes as the moral of the story is a little strange, but the creative use of the set, dancers, and music really does make this version original. 

July 8th – 29th 2017 

 

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