The Tempest is considered William Shakespeare’s final play. Its protagonist, Prospero, is a lot like a playwright, orchestrating events on his island with the help of his sorcerer’s book and staff. The other characters are at the mercy of his powerful whim, including his teenaged daughter Miranda, native inhabitant and slave Caliban, and even a supernatural spirit, Ariel. This splendid Shakespeare Orange County (SOC) production adds to the magic by setting the story in Southeast Asia, which heightens the play’s otherworldliness and infuses an exotic, fresh energy into its story.
SOC produces its plays in an outdoor amphitheater with a very broad stage, which director Peter Uribe uses to great effect by transforming the spirit Ariel from one body into two (Daniel Kim and Jay Lee), who move and speak in complementary ways, along with 12 sprightly young “Arielettes,” who are also part of Ariel. Altogether, they swirl with banners, crouch behind or leap over props, dance in unison, and run across the stage, depending on what Ariel is doing or feeling, all of which enliven the production.
Further adding to the vivacious energy is a very spirited young Miranda (enthusiastically played by Cora Riley), whose animated performance brings humor and delight. Hilarity is also created by drunkards Stephano (a boisterous Tony Torrico) and Trinculo (Michael Calacino), who plot against Prospero along with the slave Caliban. Their scenes are especially memorable for their exaggerated inebriated behavior, mostly because of Torrico’s excellent timing and delivery.
Contrasting the humor and bringing weight to the protagonist’s role is the pensive Prospero, persuasively played by Harry Groener, who delivers his lines in such a comfortable way one forgets it’s Shakespearean language. Morlan Higgins as Caliban also embodies his role, capturing through voice and movement his character’s maimed and vengeful demeanor. This Caliban is never pitiful, despite having been enslaved by Prospero after saving his and Miranda’s lives when they first showed up on the island.
The tempest of the title is magically created by Prospero to wreck a passing ship (beautifully staged, involving the whole crew of the ship and all the Ariels), which carries Alonso, King of Naples (a spry John Walcutt, who is also SOC’s artistic director) and his son Ferdinand (Robert Tendy), forcing them ashore. Ferdinand, with his lack of guile and princely handsomeness, proves a fitting match for the innocent though feisty Miranda. Their romance has the cute, light-hearted quality of a Disney film, and (not really a spoiler alert), they marry in an Asian-inflected ceremony.
Set design by Dipak Gupta imaginatively evokes an Asian landscape, with a painted backdrop of peaked hills, a mysterious fog on stage and, later, magical snow. Costuming (Jojo Sui) combines both Western and Asian influences, with loose tunics and pants for the Ariels and variations of suits and ties for the European men of the ship.
And as if all this weren’t enough, the show offers bonus polyrhythmic, acrobatic performances during intermission by intricately costumed and talented members of the Korean Performing Arts Drum & Dance Academy, led by its director Miock Ji.
While you may go see The Tempest for its interesting story, you’ll be enchanted by the Asian artistry SOC has woven in, including the amazing intermission performances. As Miranda exclaims upon seeing other humans for the first time, “O brave new world, that has such people in it!” Her words might just as well apply to this exhilarating production.
The Tempest continues through July 29 at Shakespeare Orange County, 12762 Main Street, Garden Grove, with shows Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $15 to $40. For tickets and information, call (714) 590-1575 or visit shakespeareoc.org.