theaterTHE TEMPEST
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jon Tracy

Marin Shakespeare Company

RUN: Aug 27 – Sept 25, 2011
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 2, 2011 evening)

The Tempest is a difficult play to create without it being a bit ridiculous—it almost works better as a radio play than on stage, due to the elements of magic and spirit creatures. Marin Shakespeare expertly avoided the usual fake-looking Harry Potter themes by replacing magic with technology. Think about it—not long ago if you told someone that people could video chat across the world for free any time anywhere with small hand-held devices, they would laugh. Our world was that of Star Trek, not reality. Director Jon Tracy chose an innovative and highly successful treatment of Prospero as a sort of Nikola Tesla character.

The sets were simplistic, yet spectacular—featuring Steampunk inspired Victorian technology of gears and electricity within a backdrop of ocean patterns. Throughout the play, at specific moments of drama, lights and mechanical devices lit into action at just the right times, but without being distracting to the action. In the penultimate scene at the end when Prospero destroys his “magic” the light and steam effects were well executed and complemented the character’s own feelings.The Costume Design, by Abra Berman, was definitely Steampunk without being overdone. Several members of the audience came in their own costumes, which added to the fun of the live production.

MSC Tempest15HTracy’s choice of setting created a Tempest that kept a slightly otherworldly quality without being silly, and the setting of 1901 brought it closer to our own time and made it easier to connect with the characters. Robert Parsons (Prospero) spectacularly acted the journey of his character from a cold bitter dictator bent on revenge to a man ready to forgive his enemies and move on with his life. His tall, dramatic presence was felt throughout the play, whether or not he was onstage. I was especially impressed with Michael Torres (Caliban) for bringing the beast-like creature to life as something other than a one-dimensional clown.

The two shipwrecked servants—Stephano (Cassidy Brown), and Trincula (Lynne Soffer) were hilarious as they stumbled about the island half-drunk and incorrectly interpreting everything they saw. Their comedic timing was excellent, as was the physical comedy. The only weak point in the casting was Alex Hersler (Ferdinand) who reminded me of an amateur actor I saw in a production of Pirates of Penzance at college—he overacted a bit and was not fully in his character yet. Sarah Gold (Miranda) did a good job, but she was nothing to write home about. The staging of their first meeting was brilliant—similar to the classic Rosie the Riveter poster.

I would highly recommend this play to Shakespeare enthusiasts for the fresh take on The Tempest, Steampunk fans for a great romp in that genre, and all play-goers for an excellent production.