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Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Streamlined Version of Shakespeare's The Tempest

Also see Richard's reviews of The Full Monty and Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men

Michael Winters and
Emily Kitchens

On a chilly night, a play that begins with a storm and ends with a sea voyage is performed by a restructured group of six actors. That is Jonathan Moscone's The Tempest, the California Shakespeare Company production playing at the Bruns Memorial Amphitheater in Orinda through June 24th.

This modern version is strong on music and dancing, reflecting the company's taste for mixing traditional forms of performance with more modern ideas. The Bard's concerns are universal ones in his final play before retiring from the theatre. Power, love, betrayal, revenge and forgiveness are presented with broad brushstrokes by Jonathan Moscone.

I have seen this play many times over the years with such actors as John Gielgud, James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow playing Prospero. Oregon Shakespeare Festival veteran Michael Winters plays the role more like a CEO of a company rather than the over the top dramatic character I have seen in the past. He is very good as a 21st century Prospero. This veteran actor also shines in the role of Stephano the drunken butler. Outstanding is Nicholas Pelczar playing court jester buddy Trinculo. It's a comedy tour de force old-time vaudeville style. He also nicely takes the role of Ferdinand.

Catherine Castellanos' portrayal of this Caliban is more human than the male actors I have seen in the role. She is less frightening and more emotional. She also plays Antonio. Emily Kitchens makes a charming Miranda and her scenes with Nicholas Pelczar as Ferdinand are enjoyable.

Choreographer Erika Chong Shuch is entrancing as the airy spirit Ariel. She fills the stage with flying, flickering, plummeting and spinning through the air. James Carpenter does a fine portrayal of Alonso. Some of Alonso's courtiers are missing, including Prospero's treasured old Gonzalo. Lines have been cut to make this a two hour and twenty minute production.

Director Moscone has put in some excellent additions to The Tempest, including the use of a trio of black-clad dancer sprites (Melanie Elms, Aaron Moreland and Travis Santell Rowland) to transport the young lovers joyfully about the stage. Also, instead of the long nuptial masque there is now a Nat King Cole lookalike singing "Stardust."

Anna Oliver has designed some wonderful, inventive costumes for the cast, while Cliff Caruthers' charming music and sweet songs increase the frisky effect. Emily Greene's set of weather-beaten trucks, books and seaweed cabinets is wonderful. The rear of the stage is open to the real forest in the back, and at the end of the production the trees light up for a beautiful ending.

The Tempest runs through June 24th at the Bruins Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda (just off Highway 24, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel). Coming next is Three Tales by Zora Neale Hurston Spunk opening on July 4 and running through July 29th. For tickets please call 510-548-9666 or online at

Photo: Kevin Berne

- Richard Connema

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