If only Prospero, the island magician in “The Tempest,” could bestow some of his magic on this production by the Huntington Beach Playhouse.
Believed to be one of Shakespeare’s final plays, “The Tempest” suffers no shortage of dramatic sights and events: storms, monsters, spirits, clowns and sorcery. The entire play, in fact, is something of a dream concocted by Prospero, the bookish exile who practices magic as revenge.
Modern interpreters can--and do--have a field day with this rich material (see, for instance, “Prospero’s Books,” Peter Greenaway’s explosive film adaptation). But director Pattric G. Walker has stumbled badly with her version at the Central Park Amphitheater here.
Walker seems to have a genuine respect for Shakespeare, as evidenced by her comments in the program. But her instincts have exerted a kind of reverse alchemy on the show: Gold has become lead, the magical mundane.
Take the monster Caliban, played by David Dillon. Caliban is one of the most famous bogey men in English literature, right up there with Frankenstein’s monster and Mr. Hyde. As Prospero is both his captor and benefactor, their master-slave relationship is complicated. Some directors have variously chosen to emphasize Caliban’s brutal nature, sex appeal or victim status.
In Dillon’s portrayal, though, Caliban is not frightening or sexy or pathetic but rather just plain dull. His head is shaved and covered from forehead to neck with a straight line of knobby warts. When he is happy he dances a jig, and when he is fearful, he throws his hands up and cowers. Clad in a furry vest, he looks for all the world like a character in a film by sci-fi schlockmeister Ed Wood.
Prospero (Brendan Averett) presents another problem. The bearded, lanky Averett offers a sober and certainly serviceable reading of the lines. But his Prospero does not seem all that bothered by the things that should bother him, such as the fact that his deceitful brother Antonio (Jack Millis) usurped his Italian dukedom. Equanimity does not serve Averett or this production well.
Other aspects are less critical but still troubling. In Frankie Cohen’s hands, the spirit Ariel becomes an almost insufferably cute Tinker Bell. The remaining spirits, costumed in sandals and buckskin tunics, are choreographed in ways that summon unpleasant memories of holiday pageants at school.
Walker has chosen to perform virtually the entire text, including some passages that have little meaning to modern audiences, such as a visit by the mythological goddess Ceres. Some judicious pruning would have helped. The costumes, meanwhile, look to be on loan from a Renaissance fair.
The Central Park Amphitheater makes a beautiful setting for any play. In this case, though, one is awfully tempted to skip the show and join the passing joggers.
* “The Tempest,” Central Park Amphitheater, Golden West Street and Talbert Avenue, Huntington Beach. Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 13. $6. (714) 375-0696. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
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Prospero: Brendan Averett
Caliban: David Dillon
Miranda: Cecily Davis
Ariel: Frankie Cohen
Alonso: Tony Grande
Antonio: Jack Millis
Gonzalo: Aaron Charney
Sebastian: Nick Cook
Ferdinand; Robert Hector
Boatswain: Peter Quintana
Adrian/Francisco: Samuel Hu
Trinculo: Jeff Gilbert
Stephano Ed LaBay
Iris: Cassendre de le Fortrie
Ceres: Michelle Brooks
Juno: Robin de Barros
Spirits: Stacy Breedon, Lisa Campos
A Huntington Beach Playhouse production, directed by Pattric G. Walker. Produced by Jean Pinigis and Dollie Wakeham. Choreography by Stacy Breedon. Costumes by Jennie McGee and Pattric Walker. Set by John Witte.