Reviewed by Terry Morgan
The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and The New American Theatre/Odyssey Theatre
Extended through April 23
The upside to reinterpretations of classic works is a fresh look at how that art still speaks to us and remains vital. The downside produces Coriolanus on Mars.
Tempest Redux, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is a strong example of the upside, with a take that puts the entire play in a powerful new perspective. The co-production by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and the New American Theatre abounds with visual and choreographic poetry, and even if its quality isn’t always consistent, cumulatively it’s a stunner.
The tale is the same as before: the rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero (Jack Stehlin) is ousted by his treacherous brother Antonio (Dennis Gersten), and abandoned on a desert island with his daughter Miranda (Mimi Davila). Prospero, however, uses his knowledge of magic to thrive, and with the help of the spirit Ariel (Shea Donovan, Briana Price and Emily Yetter, splitting the role 3 ways) he causes a storm to wreck the ship carrying Antonio and his enemies. With his foes at his mercy, justice prevails.
Stehlin’s Prospero is a ragged mage, wide-eyed and seemingly blasted by fate, his robe stained and his hair wild. The actor finds plentiful humor in the role, but there’s something hunted in his expression, a disquiet he can never quite shake. It’s a distinctive take on the role, and ultimately it’s quite brilliant and moving. Davila exudes innocence as Miranda, and is well matched by her romantic partner Ferdinand, played charmingly by Charles Hunter Paul.
As the cursed Caliban, the physically brutal duet of Dash Pepin and Willem Long are appropriately ferocious and pitiful. Donovan, Price and Yetter are somewhat less successful as a tripartite Ariel, but this is more the fault of an overambitious concept that doesn’t entirely cohere than the performers themselves. Gersten, who doubles as the ambitious Antonio and the drunken Trinculo, impresses in both roles, and Gildart Jackson is amusing as the butler Stephano, who is suddenly given power and relishes his new status.
Director John Farmanesh-Bocca wears multiple hats for this production, and he wears them all well. His staging of the opening shipwreck is a marvel, one of the best versions of this tricky opening I’ve ever seen. The sound design, credited to him and Adam Phalen, serves up stirring music and clever sonic dives underwater. His choreography, particularly of the protean Caliban, is constantly surprising and fun. But it is the point of his adaptation that will haunt you after the show ends.
Bosco Flanagan’s gorgeous lighting evokes a bright palette of magical visions, although Thomas Marchese’s video design felt a bit lackluster at a moment when luster was definitely required. Quibbles aside, this is a vibrant, funny, heartbreaking show, and aficionados of vital new interpretations should assuredly brave this tempest.
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; Extended through April 23. www.OdysseyTheatre.com. Running time: 90 minutes.