The Tempest

The Tempest
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.

The Tempest (Folger Shakespeare Library)

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a kate west review
by Judy Blume
directed/produced/adapted by Gerald McClanahan
the Sacred Fools Theater Company, 660 N. Heliotrope, Los Angeles 90004
Running June 12, 19, 26 only at 11 p.m., (310) 281-8337,

Most Generation X-ers are very familiar with Judy Blume and her many popular novels depicting teenagers reveling in their overly dramatic angst and pain. The most supposedly controversial novel was “Forever,” which described a young girl losing her virginity in a fairly explicit manner. Many high school students spent part of their study hall secretly reading the forbidden book. Perusing the book as an adult, however, one finds it rather more innocuous than anything in today’s modern sexual world.

Producer/Director Gerald McClanahan must have come to the same conclusion and so created a parody of “Forever,” a book just begging for gentle ridicule. Now playing at The Sacred Fools Theater and part of their “Get Lit!” series, this new production of “Forever” is silly and fun but still fondly reminiscent of the earnestness of the novel.

Beginning at a modern party in the 90’s, the story is a flashback to the 70’s, a time of wanton sexual openness. Katherine Danziger (the winsome Stephanie Dees) struggles with the overwhelming decision of whether or not to lose her virginity to Michael (Chase Sprague). She is egged on by her friends and family, who take turns topping each other with sexual outrageousness. Her promiscuous parents, Roger and Diana (Drew Droege and Lori Funk), grope each other and everyone else in sight and have an unhealthy interest in their children’s sex lives. Classmate Artie (Andy Corren) struggles comically with latent homosexuality, while Jamie Danziger (Tabatha Hall) pines away for her sister’s boyfriend Michael, who keeps calling her Julie in a very Jan Brady pathetic sort of way (watch “The Brady Bunch Movie”).

Each scene is more outlandish than the next, exaggerating Judy Blume’s already melodramatic style in an amusingly satiric manner. Those familiar with the novel will appreciate the play the most, laughing at inside jokes such as the name ‘Ralph’ and the highlighting of various character traits like Katherine constantly storming out in a teen tantrum. Even if you have not read the book, you will enjoy the 70’s flashbacks, with the flamboyant costumes and dewily sentimental music. It would have been nice if the set and props reflected even more of the 70’s kitsch (where were the lava lamps?) although the fondue pots were plentiful. The general set is composed of simple brown stripes on boulder-type blocks which is definitely 70’s, yet perplexing in that it looks like a desert rather than someone’s house.

The acting is a bit uneven in general and it might have been funnier had the director cajoled his actors into being even more over the top; however, the overall impression is entertaining. Still it is obvious that McClanahan is quite fond of the material and the production sincere. Having only three performances in which to perfect their comedic timing (never an easy feat under any circumstances), any actors flubbing lines are to be forgiven. A fun evening out, it is worth attending and those of us from a certain generation will especially delight in the campiness and consequence-free frivolity of an era rife with comedic fodder.

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