A Wonderful Storm
Lights darken. The weather rages in the darkness. We see the actors sail onstage through a turbulent sea, and try to stay the course as they might they find themselves caught in a tremendous show of water, wind, and lighting. A haunting melody accompanies the scene as it unfolds, a requiem for this company lost at sea- or are they? They may have lost their way, but one figure in the eye of the storm knows exactly who they are and where they have landed.
Running at The ARTS at Marks Garage is William Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST directed by Jordan Cho, the first production kicking off the 18th Annual Hawaii Shakespeare Festival.
THE TEMPEST begins with its titular squall, a carefully orchestrated act of nature concocted through magic by Prospera (Lala Buzzell), former Duchess of Milan and the sorceress of this wayward island. She lives on the island with her daugher, Miranda (Sasha Krstić) and her two servants- the spirit, Ariel (Makena Duffy) and the twisted “creature,” Caliban (Sean-Joseph Choo). While both seem to be at her beck and call, Ariel has agreed to work in Prospera’s service since Prospera helped free her from a tree that Sycorax, Caliban’s mother, trapped her in. Ariel longs for her freedom, and Prospera agrees to grant it to her once she helps Prospera execute her plans. Caliban, on the other hand, has been raised and enslaved by Prospera, and he spites her for her bitter treatment during his time with her.
The wheels of Prospera’s machinations to claim back what was hers are moving as she has carefully selected her victims and made sure that while their boat had crashed, they are safe and intact. Most notably on board the ship was Alonso (Kirk A. Lapilio, Jr.), the King of Naples, Antonio (Malia Wessel), who usurped Prospera’s dukedom long ago, Ferdinand (Micah Souza), Alonso’s son, Sebastian (Bryce Johnston), Alonso’s brother, Adrian (Likeke Nakachi-Isaacs), a lord serving under Alonso, and Gonzalo (Matthew Chang), Alonso’s trusted counselor. Somewhere else on the island are Trinculo (Diana Wan) and Stephano (Victoria Brown-Wilson), the jester and the butler (who is often drunk), respectively, as well as the Boatswain of the Ship (Harmony Tesoro).
Thus, Prospera’s endgame to her plan comes to a head. Can she reclaim the dukedom she was woefully robbed of? Prospera captured the island and ensnared its inhabitants to bring her will to fruition, will she make good on her promises? What madness and magic lie in store for the Italians, and will they be able to escape safely?
There are many solid performances in this production. Buzzell’s Prospera is executing her last ten chess moves of a game she has the confidence to win, paired with the inner nuance of knowing that her road to her victory was not secured with entirely good-natured decisions. Duffy’s Ariel is consistent in her characterization of the spirit, which is a challenge due to the choice to have her body move rigidly (like she was still possessed and controlled at times) and her voice be an otherworldly, ghostly yet familiar high register, and we as the audience understand her plight and her longing to be free. Choo’s Caliban feels defeated, robbed, and is trying to fight for his justice, lending his faith to the first two people he sees (though he doesn’t know it’s a jester and a butler); this speaks to Choo’s vulnerability and humanity through Caliban, layering the character. Souza and Krstić as Ferdinand and Miranda work well together, and their love feels well earned as their chemistry balances well on-stage; Souza fumbles awkwardly yet is always earnest and endearing, and Krstić commands both the youth and naivety of someone that has lived on an island almost their entire life but also makes her convictions and her choices her own.
Wan’s Trinculo is a revelation, as Wan effortlessly exercises the jester’s clowning nature on-stage with genuine moments of clowning & physical comedy, never ending charisma, and a flair for bending Shakespeare’s words as if she always talked like that. Running right alongside Wan is the equally as hilarious Brown-Wilson with her Stephano, who is always one to try and get a drink or few before scheming and leading the party (Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban) into inadvertent trouble (and laughter); never going too far with the “drunk” aspect of her character, Brown-Wilson wields her comedy with finesse and fearlessness.
Unfortunately, the first scene that centers on the Italian party (Alonso, Antonio, Sebatian, Adrian, Gonzalo) plods along and loses any momentum driven forward from the previous scenes. Lapilio’s Alonso is overwrought with sadness because he thinks he has lost his son, but it seems to cast a pall on the entire party and scene. Chang’s Gonzalo tries to balance the king’s woes with unique voice and body affectation, but this gets in the way of his delivery and some of his lines are lost in the execution. Johnston’s Sebastian and Wessel’s Antonio are funny as a jeering duo. When the time comes from Antonio to turn heel and reveal that he wants Sebastian to help him kill Alonso and Gonzalo, Wessel shines with cunning and dark charisma to get Johnston to turn as well; it just felt like the scene needlessly took its time to get there. Thankfully, when we see the party again, the scene is shorter and clips at an easier to digest pace, and none of the other scenes in the show drag like this one did, so it’s anomalous in that way.
Choo’s original music throughout the piece is haunting and melodic, effectively setting the tone of the production. It pairs well with Barett Hoover’s sound design and Kahana Ho’s lighting design, which not only bring the island to life in so many ways but also breathes reality into all of the magic that is used onstage. Paul Yau’s scenic design is functional and gorgeous, from the throne of real rocks to the swirling three-dimensional eddy in the center of the playing space to the moon/sun and sky painting against the backdrop (that Ho’s lighting also pairs extremely well with, creating beautiful variations of sky and light). The only thing that sticks out in Yau’s design was the tree on stage right; compared to the rest of the stage, it looked painfully unfinished, though it was a good and realistic looking hole on the tree (achieved by the careful folding and wrinkling of the paper it seems). Tesoro as the production’s choreographer shaped the show’s movement and dance scenes wonderfully, building upon the mysterious magical nature that we have seen with the island. Jessica Jusseaume’s costume design and the hair and makeup design by Mia Yoshimoto were inspired and gorgeous, as their choices were dynamic and striking. The decision to have Caliban be covered in tattoos of runes and symbols as opposed to a more “monstrous” look lets Caliban have an indigenous element that may not immediately be scene if Caliban were more morphed, and this also helps the audience identify with him more as he struggles with his lot on the island. The designs of the sprites (Duffy, Tesoro, Elizabeth Mervin, Taya Everroad) matched the mystic physicality all of them brought to the stage, and when it was time for Tesoro, Mervin and Everroad to be Juno, Ceres, and Iris, their looks and headwear were simply divine.
Overall, Cho has a strong team and cast telling Shakespeare’s final tale. The team spares nearly no expense in bringing you to this island, and immersing you in magic, mystery, and lots of storms. THE TEMPEST runs through July 28 at The Arts at Marks Garage, with performances running Thursdays through Sundays. To purchase tickets online, click here.