You don’t have to be a Shakespeare lover to fall under the spell of John Farmanesh-Bocca’s magically reimagined ninety-minute take on The Tempest, the Bard’s classic tale of treachery, revenge, and transformative forgiveness, fittingly retitled Tempest Redux and mesmerizing audiences at West L.A.’s Odyssey Theatre.
Sporting perhaps as many hats as anyone since Orson Welles, Farmanesh-Bocca opens his Tempest wearing his choreographic chapeau, with an ocean storm so breathtakingly staged, you can almost imagine the torrents of icy waves propelling its ill-fated sailors deeper and deeper into the ocean’s depths.
And that is merely the start of a Tempest that trims scenes and cuts characters and transposes speeches in a way that could prove disastrous were it not adapter Farmanesh-Bocca of Not Man Apart—Physical Theatre Ensemble fame serving as director (ingenious), choreographer (inspired), and co-sound designer (inventive as can be).
Jack Stehlin (whose The New American Theatre has teamed with The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble for this co-production) is a raging, haunted force of nature as Prospero, driven out of his dukedom by his back-stabbing brother Antonio (Dennis Gersten) and exiled to a desert island with no one but daughter Miranda (understudy Elisa Rosin), a sprite named Ariel (Shea Donovan, Briana Price, and Emily Yetter), and the “demi-devil” better known as Caliban (Dash Pepin and Willem Long) to keep him company.
Using his sorcerer’s powers to unleash the titular storm that opens Tempest Redux, Prospero soon finds his island not nearly so deserted, with Antonio, King Alonso (Gildart Jackson), Alonso’s brother Sebastian (Long), and courtier Adrian (Pepin) washed ashore and Alonso’s son Prince Ferdinand (Charles Hunter Hall) in a similar predicament, albeit on another part of the island.
Before long, Ferdinand has fallen for Miranda, Antonio and Sebastian are plotting to murder Alonso, and the comic-relief-providing drunken duo of ship’s cook Trinculo (Gersten) and King’s butler Stephano (Jackson) are cooking up schemes of their own.
Still, it’s neither Shakespeare’s intricate plot nor his poetic words (adeptly performed here) that make Tempest Redux not “just another Tempest” but rather the multiple ways Prospero’s magic has been unleashed at the Odyssey under Farmanesh-Bocca’s brilliant wand.
The adapter-director makes Ariel especially magical and mystical by having Prospero’s spirit helper played in triplicate by the captivating Donovan, Price, and Yetter, who lip-sync Brenda Strong’s eerily amped prerecorded dialog while floating about the stage in ever more graceful, ever more imaginative moves.
As for Caliban, though Redux is not the first Tempest to have two actors “joined at the hip” the better to bring this spawn of devil and witch to black-magical life, rarely if ever have a pair of thespians gotten the athletic workout Farmanesh-Bocca gives the extraordinarily limber and graceful Pepin and Long. (Olympic wrestlers have it easy by comparison, and these guys ace their human roles as well.)
Gersten and Jackson could not be better, nor more distinct, in dual roles that allow them to be dramatic one moment and comedic the next.
Freshly arrived from Oklahoma, handsome newcomer Paul gives Ferdinand an irresistible Tom Sawyer charm. As for Rosin, not only is she a girl-next-door lovely Miranda, the last-minute cast replacement earns countless bonus points for having learned and stepped into the role with a mere thirty-six hours’ notice.
A crackerjack design team give Tempest Redux an absolutely stunning look, scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo, lighting designer Bosco Flanagan, costume designer Denise Blasor, video designer Thomas Marchese, and properties designer Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin joining creative forces to bring Prospero’s island to gorgeous, otherworldly life, with Farmanesh-Bocca and Adam Phelan mixing sounds of sea and air (and the song stylings of Dinah Washington) to spellbinding effect.
Gretchen Goode is stage manager. Tempest Redux is produced by Wisnosky Stehlin and Ron Sossi.
It’s hard to imagine any professional theater these days not attempting to reinvent Shakespeare in one way or another. (When was the last time you saw Romeo And Juliet in traditional Elizabethan garb?) Still, John Farmanesh-Bocca takes reinvention to such an excitingly new level, it’s no wonder Tempest Redux is the most buzzed-about Shakespeare show in town.
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles.
April 3, 2106
Photos: Enci Box