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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Tempest Redux

"Redux signifies that we're re-examining the text from the ground up and visceralizing it with a ton of athletic movement. It's a meditation on Shakespeare's work, contemporized for a modern audience, but without losing any of the language or traditions of the original. As radical as the adaptation is, I'm actually a purist. " —Director/Adaptor John Farmanesh-Bocca
Jack Stehlin, Dash Pepin (bottom)and Willem Long (top) (Photo: Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin)
As if the man's mystical books, staff and storm-raising abilities aren't enough to make him the island's magical badass, Prospero has an army of three &emdash;count 'em, three &emdash; Ariels to do his bidding. Then again, since he's facing off against royal conspirators and a highly acrobatic two-headed Caliban, our exiled Milanese Duke needs all the help he can muster.

Truthfully, island invaders and inhabitants may be the least of his worries. In Tempest Redux, the highly enchanting spin on Shakespeare's The Tempest at the Odyssey Theatre, Jack Stehlin's Prospero is facing his mortality so head-on that even a trio of Ariels can only do so much. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on," Prospero famously says in the play's 4th act, and in John Farmanesh-Bocca's production, Prospero may well be dreaming part or all of what we're witnessing, not all of it comforting.

With adaptor/director Farmanesh-Bocca at the creative helm and a marvelous Stehlin leading a strong cast, The Tempest has been shaken, pureed and creatively messed with to exciting effect. The 90-minute version of the Bard's late romance offers another fresh entry into the director's ever-growing Redux canon that also includes versions of Pericles, Titus Andronicus and Richard III. For Tempest Redux, the director has partnered with Stehlin's The New American Theatre company.

The edits to Shakespeare's text are considerable. The play uses ten actors, many of them double-cast in unconventional ways. From the violence of its storm-tossed opening to a chillingly affecting epilogue that has Prospero clinging to the grizzliest of props, this Tempest is rich and dynamic end-to-end. Let the purists carp over the loss of famous speeches and a few key characters, but Farmanesh-Bocca knows exactly what he is doing and he does it expertly.

The spine of the tale is unaltered. Following a bang-up opening with Prospero and the Ariels (played by Shea Donovan, Briana Price and Emily Yetter) buffeting a toy ship Prospero explains to his daughter, Miranda (Mimi Davila), the circumstances of their exile and that he has raised a tempest without causing any harm. The marooned King Alonso (Gildart Jackson) washes up on the island with the usurping Duke Antonio (Dennis Gersten). Would be kingmaker Sebastian (Willem Long) incites Alonso to commit murder. Prospero's ancient aide and faithful friend Gonzalo is absent has been excised.

The King's son Ferdinand (Charles Hunter Paul), presumed dead, has instead been taken into service by Prospero, and draws the pity and love of Miranda. Drunken servants Stephano (Jackson) and Trinculo (Gersten) band with the enslaved monster Caliban (Long and Dash Pepin) to try to overtake the island. Via scene "rewinds," we witness a couple of scenarios in which plot events briefly take the opposite course from what Shakespeare wrote before the players go back and "correct" the tale.

The production's physicality is marvelous. Imaginative costuming is all well and good (and Denise Blasco's work is plenty serviceable here), but the vaulting and contorting of Long and Pepin as they jump in and out of each other's arms are what bring this Caliban so monstrously to life. They're like an enraged human amoeba. The trio of Ariels works a team rather than a single fused unit, and Yetter, Donovan and Price are sylph-like and lovely. Curiously, the three actresses lip synch while the recorded voice of Brenda Strong booms out Ariel's dialog.

Farmanesh-Bocca’s redux-ing mean the cutting or elimination of island spirit gatherings, scenes between the stranded royals, and the Ferdinand-Miranda romance. The young lovers are still present and plenty hormonal (particularly Davila’s Miranda). The fourth act enchantment created by Prospero for the young lovers’ entertainment is a series of projections, created by Thomas Marchese, that resembles stock footage from a Nature Chanel documentary.

. As versatile and skilled as this ensemble is, aTempest rests on the strength of its magic man. Stehlin brings the character slowly into focus, giving us flashes of Prospero's puzzlement and anger over the scenario he has created. The Ariels' request for freedom incites him to rage and, even as he is working toward resolution and reconciliation, Stehlin's Prospero (by no means an old man) seems to be sliding into confusion. In the production's final moments, as the wizard is silently shuffling through his visions, buffeted by the question "But say, how came you here?" Stehlin turns The Tempest stunningly and heartbreakingly into a tragedy.

Tempest Redux by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by John Farmanesh-Bocca
Cast: Mimi Davila, Shea Donovan, Dennis Gersten, Gildart Jackson, Willem Long, Charles Hunter Paul, Dash Pepin, Briana Price, Jack Stehlin, Emily Yetter.
Scenic Designer: Christopher Murillo
Costume Designer: Denise Blasor
Lighting Designer: Bosco Flanagan
Sound Designer: John Farmanesh-Bocca and Adam Phalen
Prop Designer: Jeanine Wisnosky Stehlin
Video Design: Thomas Marchese
Choreography: John Farmanesh-Bocca
Stage Manager: Gretchen Goode
Plays through April 23, 2016 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, (310) 477-2055,
Running time: One hour and thirty minutes, with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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