A case can certainly be made that William Shakespeare saved his best play for one of his last plays when writing “The Tempest.” The play is chock-full of passionate language, a reverence for the theatre, and indelible humor that can certainly serve as a wonderful challenge for any true actor.
What Mountain View’s Pear Avenue Theatre gets so right in its production is its supreme focus on the language, and how beautiful a Shakespeare play can sound, whilst maintaining the opportunity to tell a compelling story.
Director Jeanie Smith has assembled a wonderful cast on a picturesque Ron Gasparinetti set that does much to create the mystery of this experimental world that Shakespeare sets his play in.
It has been twelve years since the magician Prospera (Diane Tasca) and her now 15-year-old daughter Miranda (Sarah Benjamin) were deposed on an island by her jealous brother Antonio (James Kopp). While mother and daughter have everything they need for survival thanks to the King’s counselor Gonzalo (John Baldwin), Prospera learns that Antonio is on a ship passing closeby. The proximity of the ship is an opportunity for Prospera to conjure a tempest that separates the ship’s inhabitants into different groups.
Other characters inhabit the stage – the feisty spirit Ariel (Caitlyn Tella) and her quest to break free from Prospera’s mastery, the deformed and deranged monster Caliban (Doll Piccotto), and the buffoonish clowns Stephano (Ronald Feichtmeir) and Trinculo (Jim Johnson).
It is certainly a lot to keep track of. Among the many components that create Shakespeare’s genius, multiple plots are certainly at the top of the list. And with multiple plotting comes multiple styles, with the various characters dealing with different realities. While Prospera must deal with the fallout from the shipwreck she created, she also has to deal with the maturity of her daughter, who has had her loving curiosity piqued with Ferdinand (Laurence Varda).
These portrayals certainly kept the beauty of the language and fleshes out civil disobedience in which Miranda partakes. While I would have liked to see an even stronger connection between Benjamin and Varda, the poetry and romanticism of the language came through splendidly.
Prospera is a role that boasts a wickedly large range, and Tasca’s task was to preside over a character many believe speaks for the author himself. This was the most interesting part of the production. What Tasca does so well is blanket the audience with her command of Shakespeare’s meter. So many of the most ubiquitous speeches in the canon sit within the pages of this play, and Tasca handled each with the necessities of the moment.
Other character interpretations were just as joyous. Piccotto’s Caliban focused on the physical and tortured nature of this enigmatic animal to great effect. Baldwin’s Gonzalo is an empathetic everyman, a gentle soul who finds the goodness and serenity in the island. The two clowns, led by popular Pear performer Jim Johnson with his sweet, even-tempered and charming humor, created a wonderful harmony throughout the piece. Add in the soundscape created by Smith and her husband Gordon, and the entire piece was balanced nicely with plenty of rich texture underscoring the proceedings.
What is the most fascinating aspect of “The Tempest” is how closely it seems to correlate to Shakespeare’s own life. Was this play a fantasy as to how he would raise his daughters if he did it alone? While his eldest daughter Susanna brought about a wonderful son-in-law, his other daughter Judith had no such luck, marrying a vintner and adulterer who was publicly prosecuted for “carnal copulation” with another woman a few months after the marriage.
What is widely believed is that “The Tempest” was Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre. Shakespeare was not a perfect human being. Far from it. But at the end of the day, when mistakes are made and life isn’t perfect, the healing powers of an audience was Shakespeare’s greatest medicine, and those indulgences must have always set him free.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The Pear Avenue Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”
Directed by Jeanie Smith
The Word: A faithful interpretation of one of the Bard’s final works, with plenty of details being paid to the language.
Stars: 3 out of 4
Through Oct. 6th
Tickets range from $10 – $35
1220 Pear Avenue, Suite
Mountain View, CA 94043
For tickets, call (650) 254-1148 or visit www.thepear.org