Cal Shakes' The Tempest Both Creative and Fun

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