Theater review: 'The Island' at T.U. Studios dumbs down Shakespeare

Fitting "The Tempest" in a teapot-sized theater is a daunting enough prospect, but the bigger challenges facing SkyPilot Theatre Company's "The Island," a self-described "musical re-imagining" of Shakespeare's play, are the handicaps arising from its own unmet ambitions.

In this new present-day adaptation by composer-book writer Jonathan Price and lyricist Chana Wise, and directed by Jeanette Farr, air travel, smartphones, Internet and hip-hop dance clubs coexist uneasily with "The Tempest's" familiar narrative elements (power-grabbing betrayal, magical spells, parental tribulations and raging teen hormones).

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From the claustrophobic confines of her island exile, gender-switched sorceress Prospera (Lindsey Mixon) engineers a crash landing to bring her usurping brother (JR Esposito) and his ally, the cougar Queen of Naples (Catherine Cox), within her vengeful grasp. Prospera's rebellious daughter Miranda (feisty Ali Perkins) sympathetically vents frustration that may have less to do with captivity than with the inane dialogue she's forced to engage in with callow Prince Ferdinand (Jason Kobielus).

Among the show's least imaginative reimaginings are depicting resentful monster Caliban (Jude Evans) as an amiably clueless hayseed and once-voluble clown Trinculo (Mark Ostrander, alternating with Brett A. Newton) as a mute.

Price's synthesized score spans a pastiche of musical styles (pop, rap, ballad) but the occasional clever wordplay in Wise's lyrics is poorly served by singing that only approximates the intended pitch.

If you're thinking of messing with a classic, a helpful rule is to either build on it or leave it alone. Unfortunately, almost all the changes here are subtractive — starting with language dumbed down into tastelessly crude vernacular and characters reduced to their broadest traits, with diminished IQs and common sense to match.

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 "The Island," T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 18. $20. (800) 838-3006 or www.skypilottheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.