Review: ‘The Tempest’ by Do It Live Productions (**1/2)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: **1/2)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“The Tempest” plays at The Thick House Theatre January 4th through January 18th, 2013.)

Shakespeare’s last play is a challenge in a myriad of ways. It is musical and poetic, full of contradictions, both light and profound, mixing high tragedy and low comedy, and featuring a complex hero who many have felt to be Shakespeare’s portrait of himself. While it has always been one of the most popular plays, it is also one of the most difficult (along with that Scottish one) to stage successfully.

“Do It Live”, a remarkable and talented young company founded by recent graduates of San Francisco State, takes on this behemoth with mixed results. At nearly three hours of running time, it is too long by half, and would not only benefit from some judicious cutting, but could be performed successfully at double the pace. Co-directors Will Hand and Kenny Toll have perhaps tried too hard to make everything crystal clear at the expense of some much needed rapidity.

Anthony Agresti as Trinculo (with bottle) and Caleb Cabrera as Caliban in Do It Live's production of "The Tempest." Photo Credit: Casey Robbins.
Anthony Agresti as Trinculo (with bottle) and Caleb Cabrera as Caliban in Do It Live’s production of “The Tempest.” Photo Credit: Casey Robbins.

The above is not to say that this production is without merit. In particular, it boasts a gem of a performance by Caleb Cabrera as Caliban. Mercurial, deep, intelligent and stunted, angry and visionary, hurt and inspired, Cabrera catches every note while communicating a thrilling physical and psychic intensity. This performance serves the production well, because in many ways, this is Caliban’s play. This is partly due to Cabrera’s standout performance, but is also a matter of directorial interpretation. Directors Hand and Toll have thought deeply about the play and focussed hard on the often-missed political content and its exploration of European colonialism in the new world. There is no doubt here that Prospero is a dictator and Caliban and Ariel have been enslaved.

The irony here, that Prospero the deposed is also Prospero the usurper, is well delineated, and that is one of the best things about this production.

(l to r) Nick Medina as Stephano, Caleb Cabrera as Caliban, and Anthony Agresti as Trinculo in Do It Live's "The Tempest".  Photo Credit: Casey Robbins.
(l to r) Nick Medina as Stephano, Caleb Cabrera as Caliban, and Anthony Agresti as Trinculo in Do It Live’s “The Tempest”. Photo Credit: Casey Robbins.

For those who need some reminder of the plot: Prospero was once the Duke of Milan, but his brother overthrew him and took his place. Prospero was to be killed, but a friend managed to spirit Prospero,  his infant daughter and his beloved libary away to an uncharted island where father and daughter have lived for many years. During this time, Prospero has studied the magical arts and become a powerful magician, enslaving the island natives (the seemingly less-than-human Caliban and the ethereal spirit, Ariel). Now that his daughter is of age, he uses his powers to create a storm (one of the meanings of “tempest” — there are others) and bring his brother and the entire Court of Milan to his island. It then remains to be seen whether he will take revenge upon them, or find it in his heart to forgive.

Caleb Cabrera’s Caliban is both the greatest strength and weakness of this production, as it disturbs the balance of the piece. Bill Peters, a fine classically trained actor, is not ideally cast as Prospero, and doesn’t seem to wield his power as effectively as he ought. He is best towards the end of the play, as he comes to realize hard truths about himself, and less effective in the earlier moments where his pride and power should be in their ascendancy.

The rest of the cast is fine, including some delightful clowning by Anthony Agresti and Nick Medina as Trinculo and Stephano. Shay Wisniewski as Miranda offers some very touching moments as well.

Yusuke Soi’s evocative set appropriately suggests an undersea diving bell and offers many opportunities for the acrobatic physicality which is one of the strengths of this production.

At a too slow two hours and forty five minutes, this production may be too much to take for many audiences. But for those familiar with the play and willing to make some concessions, it is intelligently made and well worth seeing.

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“The Tempest” by William Shakespeare, produced by Do It Live Productions. Directors: Will Hand & Kenny Toll. Scene Design: Yusuke Soi. Properties: Andy Falkner. Sound: Matt Stines. Costumes: Michelle Mal. Lighting: Joe Postil.

Boatswain/Trinculo: Anthony Agresti. Caliban: Caleb Cabrera. Alonso: Celeste Conowitch. Ferdinand: Adam Magill. Stephano: Nick Medina. Gonzalo: Andrew Nolan. Ariel: Cecilia Paimtag. Prospero: Bill Peters. Sebastian: Sam Richie. Antonio: Nathan Tucker. Miranda: Shay Wisniewski.

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