Staging Shakespeare starts with scissors.
We cut and trim and snip, maybe fold a little, until we have a form that fits the time. Or the company’s resources, or the audience’s patience.
In Tempest Redux, John Farmanesh-Bocca fearlessly takes the shears to Shakespeare’s final masterwork. The result is — well, sheer magic.
His reduced and re-ordered version amps up the play’s sense of wonder, and focuses its emotional intensity like a crystal focusing a laser.
While reducing the text, Farmanesh-Bocca also amplifies it with movement, using dance as a major mode of telling the tale. Thanks to his 10 years as founding artistic director of Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble, even the wordless interludes advance the story.
The performers rise to Farmanesh-Bocca’s demands with energy and grace. As Prospero, master actor Jack Stehlin lets the fierce magus now and then stumble — a moment’s hesitation, a slight uncertainty. This apparent flaw unsettles us, but with it Stehlin lights our way to a most startling interpretive choice at the play’s end.
In another bold choice, the island’s two non-human inhabitants are multi-person entities. Caliban is played by two men (Dash Pepin and Willem Long) constantly twining and tumbling over one another as if they were one body, creating the monster’s not-quite human form. Ariel is three women (Emily Yetter, Briana Price and Shea Donovan); perfectly synchronized yet never touching, they create an airy sprite who indeed can be several places at once.
At the same time, four actors (Pepin, Long, Dennis Gersten and Gildart Jackson) inhabit nine characters. Their creations are clear and often delightful, so we never lose track of who’s who.
But the result of all this — several actors playing one character, while single actors become several characters — is a sense of instability. We feel there’s shape-shifting going on all around us, all the time.
Our anchors are Prospero, his daughter Miranda (Mimi Davila), and her beloved Ferdinand (Charles Hunter Paul). And Prospero’s main project is not revenge — as in most Tempests — but drawing the two lovers together. We hold onto this through line like a rope in a storm.
Christopher Murillo gives us a stripped, dark stage with confusions — tree stumps (some with colored cords that rise to the ceiling), head-size rocks, a tiny model ship, a rift in the platform with something suggesting water in it. Bosco Flanagan’s lighting gives us storms, daylight, half-light, some poetic projection sequences and disorienting blackouts. Denise Blasor’s costumes mix eras and styles wonderfully. And the sound design (Farmanesh-Bocca and Adam Phalen) gives us everything from waves lapping and thunder crashing to Dinah Washington crooning love songs.
The whole company together creates a storm-tossed, uncertain yet magical world in which we, the audience, are shipwrecked and amazed. And at the end, when even what we hold to is stripped away, our hearts are broken.
This is an elegant, eloquent distillation of The Tempest — lyrical and lovely, fierce and terrible, and deeply, deeply human. A masterpiece in its own right. I have no doubt Shakespeare would weep with joy to see the heart of his most personal work so radiantly revealed.
Tempest Redux, by William Shakespeare; adapted, directed and choreographed by John Farmanesh-Bocca.
Presented by The New American Theatre and The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, at the the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., LA 90025.
Wednesdays (March 9 and 30) at 8:00;
Thursdays (March 3, 17 and 24, April7) at 8:00;
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00, through April 10.
Extended through April 23.
Tickets: <newamericantheatre.com> or <odysseytheatre.com>
or 310) 477-2055.