Cal Shakes' The Tempest Both Creative and Fun God of Carnage--A Savage Farce at MTC

Erika Chong Shuch (Ariel) and Michael Winters (Prospero) in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, directed by Jonathan Moscone and choreographed by Chong Shuch; photo by Kevin Berns.

In complete contrast to Jon Tracy's adaptation of the Tempest at Marin Shakespeare last September, which was dark and gloomy, the Tempest at Cal Shakes is both lighthearted and lots of fun.  Director Jonathan Moscone's adaptation trims the text, cuts the subsidiary characters and rearranges the text for six actors to play eleven roles.  

When we walk into Bruns Amphitheatre, we see a rough-hewn wooden boat run painfully aground.  Emily Greene effectively designed this ship wreck of a set with sea chests opening to reveal a wealth of props, nets and most of all, books all over the place.  

Scene One opens with a violent storm that befalls Alonso, King of Naples (James Carpenter); Antonio, Duke of Milan (Catherine Castellanos); Alonso's brother Sebastian (Emily Kitchens); and Alonso's son Ferdinand (Nicholas Pelczar) on their journey through the Mediterranean.  They all wear yellow slicker raincoats designed by Anna Oliver.  Unbeknownst to them, this storm has been conjured by the magic of Prospero (Michael Winters), the exiled Duke of Milan, unjustly ousted by his brother and washed up on a remote island with his daughter, Miranda (Emily Kitchens), where he has made himself both a master magician and a king.  

Next, Erica Chong Shuch, who choreographed the production emerges from a trunk as Ariel to do Prospero's bidding. She is charming in the role as she flits and flies through the action, assisted by three other dancers. Soon, Ferdinand meets Prospero's daughter Miranda and the two fall immediately in love.  

The high comedy scenes between Caliban (Catherine Castellanos), Trinculo (Nicholas Pelczar), and Stephano (Michael Winters) are a delight with much audience involvement.  Moscone's production is strongest in these scenes of broad humor.  

The play ends with a wedding and a renunciation.  Ferdinand and Miranda happily marry to Nat King Cole singing "Stardust," and Prospero reveals to Antonio the results of his "rough magic" that has furthered his enterprise, exposed his enemies, regained his kingdom and insured his daughter's future happiness.  To this end, Michael Winters gave a solid performance as Prospero.  

The Tempest, Shakespeare's last play, is Shakespeare's swan song, his farewell to the theater, especially in the speech "our revels now are ended..." and subsequent references to breaking his staff and drowning his book.

Come and enjoy the magic in the new California Shakespeare Theatre's production of The Tempest.  The Tempest runs May 30-June 24, 2012 at Bruns Amphitheatre, 100 California Shakespeare Theatre Way, Orinda, CA.  Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Saturday June 25 at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. For tickets, call 510-548-9666 or go online at

Coming up next at Cal Shakes will be Spunk from July 4-29. Spunk is made up of three tales by Zora Neale Hurston, and adapted by George C. Wolfe.  Spunk will be directed by Patricia McGregor.  

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Remi Sandri (Michael Novak), Stacy Ross (Veronica Novak), Rachel Harker (Annette Raleigh) and Warren David Keith (Alan Raleigh) in God of Carnage, now playing at Marin Theatre Company through June 17.

God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza which closes out Marin Theatre Company's 45th Anniversary Season is directed by Ryan Rilette, MTC's Producing Director.

Before the play begins, two 11 year old children, Benjamin and Henry, get involved in an argument because Henry refuses to let Benjamin join his gang.  Benjamin knocks out two of Henry's teeth with a stick.  That night, the parents of both children meet to discuss the matter.  Benjamin's father, Alan (Warren David Keith) is a lawyer who is never off his cell phone. Benjamin's mother, Annette (Rachel Harker), is in "wealth management"--her husband's wealth to be precise and consistently wears good shoes.  Henry's father Michael (Remi Sandri) is a self-made wholesaler with an unwell mother.  Michael's wife Veronica (Stacy Ross) is writing a book about Darfur.  As the evening goes on, the meeting degenerates into the four parents getting into irrational arguments, and their discussion falls into the loaded topics of misogyny, racial prejudice and homophobia.  One of the central dramatic moments of the play occurs when Annette vomits onstage all over the coffee table and Veronica's expensive art books.  

God of Carnage is a study in the tension between civilized surface and savage instinct.  The play begins with the characters regarding their spouses as guaranteed confederates and ends with all of them realizing they are on their own.  There were beautiful performances from Stacy Ross, Warren David Keith, Remi Sandri and Rachel Harker. They are all so genuine and their emotions are so real!  With Christopher Hampton as Reza's translator, the dialog is exact and very funny.  Ryan Rillette's astute direction positions his cast so that the spotlight moves seamlessly from one to the other. Each actor is a star whether in a solo turn or as an active silent member of the ensemble.  Nina Ball's set is an elegant modern living room kept immaculately tidy, it's towering brick wall covered with African masks.  

God of Carnage is a light and amusing social comedy which will draw an audience because of its fine cast and its buoyant direction by Ryan Rilette.

God of Carnage runs through June 24 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. Performances are held Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. There are also Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and also Saturday June 16 at 2 p.m. as well as Thursday, June 7 at 1 p.m. For tickets, call the box office at 415-388-5208 or go online at

Coming up next at Marin Theatre Company will be the regional premiere of Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker and directed by Kip Fagan from August 2-26, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson