by Terrance Mc Arthur
There’s a storm a-brewing at the Fresno Soap Co., a veritable “Tempest.”
I love Shakespeare, and I’m super-fond of The Tempest, one of his last plays. As a child, I remember watching Roddy McDowell on the television as an ice-crystaled Ariel, the airy, positive servant of Prospero, the magician and ruler of the island. I remember Forbidden Planet, with Anne Francis as a girl raised by her father far from Earth, never seeing a man until Leslie Neilsen shows up in a spaceship—a story inspired by The Tempest.
Nowadays, directors have to come up with a hook in presenting Shakespeare: Julius Caesar as Italian Mafia, A Comedy of Errors as I Love Lucy, Macbeth in a karate studio. Does it add to the play? Depends.Renee Newlove presents Tempest with a cast of women playing all the genders. Does it work? Yes, because these are not women playing men, these are performers playing men. It isn’t Paige Tucker falling in love with Bridget Paul, it’s Miranda falling for Ferdinand—it’s acting!
Casey Ballard plays Prospero as a woman, the mother of Miranda. She often performs in lighter parts. Here, she shows anger, rage, a desire for revenge tempered by love for her daughter, and a desire for the girl’s happiness. She’s a near-Lear without rejecting her child.
Tucker as Miranda and Ariel is doubly delicious. The daughter has a wide-eyed Carol Kane innocence, while the tiptoe-treading servant, sharing the actor’s body with the help of a magical shawl, doesn’t fly across the pocket-sized stage, but she soars—oh, she soars.
Paul is young, yet direct, as a love-sick prince who would act as a slave to be near the object of his chaste desire. Her bodily femininity softens the masculine spirit of the character.
As the King of Naples, mourning the son he thought died in a shipwreck, Patricia Fretwell seems noble in a polo shirt. Often leaning against walls while looking sullen, Sara Smith is Antonio, the brother of Prospero, who took over as Duke of Milan once he got Prospero banished. The ever-wise Kathie Mollica dispenses sage advice as Gonzalo.As the witch-born Caliban, Kayla Webber is gruff and profane, desiring to overthrow Prospero’s rule. Her monster-man is delightful, discovering the wonders of alcohol, treating its providers, Stephano and Trinculo (both played by Tania Haigounian), as gods for bringing such joy. Newlove manages to make Caliban and Ariel into two sides of the same being, the bestial and ethereal that wage war inside all of humanity, seeking a unification.
Haigounian plays the two clown figures with a trick that allows her to talk to herself, argue with herself, and punch herself in the nose. She is antic and manic, cunning and obtuse, her own version of Dumb and Dumber.
This version of The Tempest, sleeked down to less than ninety minutes, plays at Fresno Soap Co., 1470 N Van Ness Ave., Fresno through October 15. Tickets can be purchased online and at the door.
Ticket prices are:
$10 Students/Teachers with ID
$15 General Admission
There may be storms and hurricanes along the East Coast, but Fresno has a fine Tempest of its own.
Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.