It was only poetically fitting for this audience to be witnessing Shakespeare’s farewell play on the last night of its performance by Livermore Shakespeare Festival at the scenic and verdant vineyards of Wente Wineries. In this last offering, Shakespeare presents the story of Prospero, the now deposed Duke of Milan, whose dukedom was usurped by his brother, Antonio, with the help of the Queen of Naples.
Now inhabiting an island with his teenage daughter, Miranda, where sprites (spirits) like Ariel, and a “monster” Calaban are enslaved by Prospero to do his bidding. Consumed with revenge for the wrongs done unto him, Prospero, commandingly played by Lawrence Hecht, using his magical prowess, summons his betrayers, along with the co-conspirator, Sebastienne, the Queen’s sister, and the loyal Lord Gonzalo, to the island by creating a raging storm and causing shipwrecks.
A visually stunning opening scene creates the spell of the tempest, with a raging storm and gusting winds with dramatic effect that holds the mood throughout the play. Ariel’s birdlike stance, with her bobbing head truly depicts the spirit of a magical bird, and proves the acting chops of Wenona Truong, who was an understudy for this role! Calaban, as the orphaned son of a witch, “the son of darkness” is grotesquely but sincerely enacted by Brian Herndon, as he crouches and shuffles around, delivering pithy curses.
With the island inhabitants increasing in number, so does the drama…Lisa Tromovitch, the play’s director takes some directorial privileges in switching gender roles for more than one situation. The Queen’s brother Sebastian is now Sebastienne, acted by Miriam Ani as the sister, who cavorts with Prospero’s brother, Antonio, the booming-voiced Michael Wayne Rice, allowing their relationship to be more clandestine, passionate and conniving!
As they plot to murder Lord Gonzalo and the Queen, their attempts are foiled by Ariel and her sprites. In other developments, Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples, acted winsomely by Patrick Andrew Jones, also finds himself on the island, believing his family to be dead or lost. His encounters with Miranda, the lovely Lindsey Marie Schmelter have him suitably enamored. Ariel’s sweet singing and spells ensure their fates will be sealed so she can be the Queen of Naples!
In a conversation, Lisa Tromovitch enlightened me to the Bard’s take on the tradition of Comedia del arts, common in Italy in those times for comic relief where actors embody certain characteristics. It is said that the Queen liked them so much that she took them with her on her travels. On this stage, they were transformed into Punch and Judy-like characters, brilliantly executed by Narea Kang as Stephano, and Brandon English as Trinculo, the court jester. The drunken cook, Stephano steals the show with her histrionics with the bottle, camaraderie and tom foolery with Trinculo, and the lively conundrum of Calaban as he falls for her after drinking her liquor.
The kinesthetic trio more than cater the comic relief!
In the end, Prospero is provided with a solution to his restatement in the community by realizing that forgiveness is sweeter than revenge. He forgives Antonio, even as the Queen resigns the dukedom and begs Prospero’s pardon while joyfully reuniting with her son, Ferdinand. Prospero is restored as the Duke of Milan, while surrendering his magical powers and recovers his strength to rule his dukedom. All’s well that ends well in typical Shakespearean peace and harmony. Ariel’s sweet singing of her final song clinches her freedom from Prospero and return to the elements. Calaban realizes his folly in mixing up with the jokers, and in a sense is freed as well.
The story is rich with the mellowness of forgiveness despite the wrongs done unto one; the everlasting endurance of love; and the power of compassion. All this is delivered with maturity of great acting, wrapped up in a cornucopia of delights! The chemistry and synergy among the actors and with the audience was visible in several light hearted exchanges hither and thither, and all involved thoroughly enjoyed the performance in a relaxed setting.
Another interesting facet to the LSF story is their community involvement. Several times throughout the year, the company, under Lisa’s leadership, engages with elementary school teachers from the Livermore Unified School District, to create and deliver a common core aligned curriculum of their adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream in a user friendly fashion. Just what the kids need…to be able to access and interpret great literature in a way comprehensible to them.