Purists beware: "Tempest Redux" at the Odyssey Theatre boldly transposes Shakespeare's play to a darker, more unsettling key, but the inventive staging and solid command of source text make for a memorable re-imagining.
This Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and New American Theatre co-production stars L.A. stage veteran Jack Stehlin, who makes it clear out of the gate he's no by-the-book Prospero. Instead of the wronged magician grown wise in exile, whose spells further noble ends and happy reconciliations, Stehlin's Prospero highlights the heavy toll that island banishment has taken. This Prospero is a twitchy, haunted figure badly in need of Prozac.
It's a choice that shrewdly paves the way for director John Farmanesh-Bocca's radical overarching concept, which takes shape in a pared-down 90 minutes while retaining, with a few sequential liberties, familiar core characters and plot points.
Prospero's magic still thwarts the schemes of his shipwrecked adversaries. (Gildart Jackson stands out as both the double-crossing King Alonso and his comic but equally manipulative butler.) The blossoming romance between Propsero's daughter (Mimi Davila) and Alonso's son (Charles Hunter Paul) literally sends spirits aloft.
Although this production is not unique in portraying sullen half-human Caliban with two conjoined actors (Dash Pepin and Willem Long), the highly physical staging ups the ante with a trio of sprightly Ariels (Shea Donovan, Briana Price and Emily Yetter), whose impeccably timed unison delivery serves as a kind of Greek chorus, albeit at the expense of the character's full emotional range.
Farmanesh-Bocca and Adam Phelan's immersive soundscape samples musical elements from Vivaldi to Dinah Washington, while Bosco Flanagan's surreal lighting and Christopher Murillo's whimsical scenic design foster the impression we're building to a fairy tale ending.
The comforting illusion comes crashing down in an unexpected final reveal — think Shakespeare by way of Neil LaBute — evoked with a shocking moment of visual stagecraft and strategic relocation of a speech that ends our revels on a sobering cautionary note.
Where: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; also 8 p.m. March 3, 9, 17, 24 and 30, and April 7. Ends April 10.
Tickets: $25 to $34 ($10 on March 9 and 24)
Info: (310) 477-2055, Ext. 2 or www.odysseytheatre.com
Running time: 1 hours, 30 minutes