Arts & Leisure

“Tempest” is a perfect fantasy storm

CORA RILEY, John Walcott and Robert Tendy take a bow. “The Tempest” is at the Festival Amphitheater in Garden Grove through July 29 (SOC photo).

By Thom deMartino

Intrigue. Betrayal. Love. Loyalty. And, above all, magic.

No, it’s not the new season of “Game of Thrones,” it’s the original classic fantasy tale … Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” directed by Peter Uribe and now playing at Shakespeare Orange County (the Festival Amphitheater in Garden Grove) for a limited time.

A freak storm above a tumultuous sea has battered the wave-tossed ship of the King of Naples, Alonso (John Walcutt) and thrown overboard his beloved son Ferdinand (Robert Tendy.) The King and his closest companions awaken upon a mysterious island that, unbeknownst to them, is populated only by a trio of humans — and a few spirits. The exiled former ruler of Milan, now sorcerer Prospero (Harry Groener), his daughter Miranda (Cora Riley) along with his slave, the malformed, treacherous yet pitiable Caliban (Morlan Higgins) are the island’s only inhabitants, other than Prospero’s servant, the precocious spirit Ariel (who is cleverly made legion in this production — more on that in a moment.)

The wizard has an intricate plan for retribution against the architects of his fall, beginning with the subtle matchmaking of his daughter and the young prince Ferdinand, as well as exposing the treachery of his brother Antonio (Gene Godwin) against the King (the former partner-in-crime in Prospero’s ousting, who now himself faces betrayal by his own brother Sebastian, played by Colin Martin.)

Meanwhile, wandering the island in a drunken haze and thinking themselves the only survivors are Trinculo (Michael Calacino) and his friend Stephano (Tony Torrico). The duo stumble upon what they think is a monster, which proves to be Caliban: who, having never seen anyone but his master and mistress on the island, takes one of the pair to be a god, and implores them to help him overthrow Prospero.

The players are in place: his master plan is set in motion; his betrayers unknowingly within his closing grasp, while still other forces work against him — will the sorcerer ultimately choose vengeance towards his foes, or mercy?

This new interpretation of “The Tempest” is a remarkable — no, a truly magical feat of cultural influences, from the backdrop to the costuming: and audiences shouldn’t stray too far from their seats during intermission, as the mesmerizing skills of the Korean Performing Arts Drum and Dance Academy during both the break and production itself are breathtaking.

In a bold directorial choice, the mischievous Ariel is portrayed by a myriad of actors, primarily by actors Jay Lee and Daniel Kim (as well as a number of others, adding to the shifting, mercurial aspect of the character.) It’s a brilliant balance of witty dialogue and acrobatic motion in the performance of the two actors, who absolutely shine in their shared role.

The romance between Miranda and Ferdinand blossoms with an organic and genuine charm, the bumbling of the traitorous and slapstick trio of Calaban, Trinculo and Stephano tickles, and the despair of King Alonso (as well as the machinations of his court, other than the virtuous Gonzalo, played by Hal Landon) move and intrigue.

Ultimately, though, it is the weight of the multi-layered performance of Groener as Prospero that transmutes all these ingredients of the play into a truly spellbinding brew. A man of learning and wisdom, contending with his own mortality, the inevitability of change and the value of justice versus compassion, the sorcerer portrays a spectrum of human experience: Groener’s nuanced portrayal has an undeniable gravitas, and yet humor, as well as a powerful humanity.

A production of one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, that hypnotizes with its beauty and originality all it’s own, “The Tempest” at Shakespeare Orange County is a breathtaking cross-cultural must-see for aficionados of the bard and theater enthusiasts alike.

The Tempest”, Harry Groener, Morlan Higgins and John Walcutt star in a spellbinding production of one of Shakespeare’s greatest works. Now playing through July 29 at at the Festival Amphitheatre, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove, CA 92840. Call (714) 590-1575 or visit for ticketing information. Appropriate for all ages.


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