a kate west review
By William Shakespeare
directed by Steven Shields
The Ark Theatre Company, 1647 S. la Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles 90035
April - June, 2004 Call (323) 969-1707
Watching the Ark Theatre Company's current production of "The Tempest" is like accidentally stumbling into an early rehearsal. There are no props, no set and minimal lights and costumes. In fact, there is barely any production at all. Actors warm up on stage before the show, the stage manager calls places, the fluorescent lights snap on and the play begins. Director Steven Shields seems to think this pseudo-minimalist approach is stylistically artistic; however it only succeeds in looking amateurish. Actors wear street clothes, a liquor bottle is really a bottle of Aquafina and a cord of wood is really a set of cardboard paper towel rolls. Even Prospero is without his symbolic staff.
The actual story by Mr. Shakespeare is that of Prospero, former Duke of Milan, who reigns over a faraway island with his daughter Miranda, having been usurped by his brother Antonio. Fortune shipwrecks a royal party on the island, which includes Alonso, King of Naples and Prospero's brother, the false Duke. Prospero's dominion over all the fantastical creatures of the island (including his personal helper Ariel and the monster Caliban) easily enables him to render his enemies helpless and subject to his will. Unexpectedly, Prince Ferdinand, among the shipwrecked crew, falls for Miranda and so partly because of her innocent love and partly because grudges do not help anyone, Prospero ultimately forgives everyone and gives up his powers, breaking his staff in two. Thus people often remark that this is Shakespeare's most mature play.
Now back to the current production. David Grammer is an uninspiring Prospero, which is unfortunate as his is the prominent voice of the pieces. Kourtney Kaas is an inexplicably acrobatic Ariel and actress Aomawa Baker plays the monster Caliban as a male, sans makeup. Even more confusing is that two traditionally male characters are turned into women: ingénue Jules Wilcox plays "Antonia," Prospero's sister, rather than brother Antonio and Dee Amerio Sudik plays "Gonzala," rather than Prospero's long-lost trusted friend, Councellor Gonzalo. The character changes seem as unmotivated as is the decision to forgo traditional lighting, sets, costumes and props and there are no real standout performances.
The cast alternates between actual characters and roving mischievous spirits. This is distracting, especially when the actors try to speak their lines over makeshift sound effects created by the actors using plastic bags and other random everyday items. The three main female sprites (Kourtney Kass, Mary Elizabeth Barrett and Anna Quirino) occasionally burst into song which comes across rather weak in the midst of bad acoustics. Ryan Johnston and Ross Gottstein as comic relief, Trinculo and Stephano respectively, do little to break up the relentlessly unprofessional atmosphere.
In order to justify the concept of listening to the Bard's words alone, without special dressing, the actors need to be outstanding and this cast simply does not fit the bill. With random scraps of costuming, one real light cue and a plain black platform serving as a bare set, this production lends nothing to the work and can easily be missed. You are better off staying at home with a good book rather than witnessing this sad translation of an a normally brilliant play.