By Andrea Johnson
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s more well-known works, and as such, has been interpreted a variety of different ways. As the setting of The Tempest is exclusively out-of-doors on an enchanted island, watching it performed in the creek-side amphitheater of Creekside Theatre Fest was a delightful nuance I enjoyed very much.
As I arrived at the venue, Google unfortunately led me into an LDS church parking lot, which was actually the back of the seating area of the theater, but a chain link fence barred entrance that way. I proceeded a little further west on the main road and found the location. Heritage Park is located between that church and an elementary school, with plenty of parking on the street, near the school, and north of the road. The actual parking lot of Heritage Park was occupied with food trucks on the night I attended, which meant I had to walk a little further, but bonus: food trucks (unsure if they will be there on other nights).
If you go, you will be crossing grassy areas to get to the amphitheater, so I would recommend against the cute little wedge heel sandal shoe that I opted for. The amphitheater is a grassy hillside flanked by mature trees, with a babbling brook that serves as the edge of the stage. You will want to bring something to sit on as the seating is on a grassy slope, and something warm to wear when the sun sets, although I was quite comfortable in the second act after I returned to my car and retrieved the stadium cushion and sweatshirt that my brain told me to get in the first place.
The venue holds several enticements for small children, including the aforementioned grassy hillside and babbling brook, and considering the verbiage of Shakespeare, this is not a show I would recommend for small children, again not for any explicit content, but rather so the show can be enjoyed and patrons will not be chasing children off the hill and out of the water. The producers welcome small children, especially for their other festival show, Oz, but as a mother, I would opt to bring only my obedient children (they know who they are), who would enjoy Shakespeare.
The creek and the hill become an extension of the stage, and the actress portraying Miranda (Faith Johnson) took advantage of the water during the pre-show to establish the use of the environment as part of the show. I worried about how cold she must have been, but as actors went in the water, down the creek, and through the flowing stream, they were either unaffected by it, or just holding character well and fooled me into thinking it may have been warmer than I assumed. Well played all. It was actually pretty cold, marking the final poor decision of my evening.
The show begins as the sun is setting, and we see Prospero (played as a female in this interpretation by Heidi Mendez) stirring up the tempest in the sea that will strand the occupants of a particular ship on this island for the duration of her plan. Prospero and her then 5-year-old daughter, Miranda, were likewise stranded 12 years ago following the loss of her Dukedom to her brother, via the King. Prospero and Miranda have been living on the island with a sprite named Ariel (Jeanelle Long) and a “creature” named Caliban (Alden Sturgeon), who are now slaves of Prospero, and do her bidding. Her various assignments include an intricate plot to regain her Dukedom from her brother, Antonio, who happens to be one of the passengers of the fated ship, as well as a desire to match her daughter with the King’s son, Ferdinand.
The setting sun did illuminate some backstage activity, which was a little distracting, but this may just be an opening night glitch, as it was fixed before the scene ended. Also, the director chose to have Ariel’s voice be disembodied as a recording played over the sound system, which was also a little distracting, as the only speaker was in front of the stage. There were some miscues later in the show, which I attribute to opening night glitches, but at that point I had accepted the suspension of belief of the disembodied voice and was less aware of it, until the technical glitches brought it right back. I really love the choice, I’m just not completely satisfied with the execution. I think if the sound came from behind the stage, it would be less disconcerting. Ariel’s recorded lines were also a great deal louder than the rest of the actors, who did an AMAZING job projecting in that space, which did them a disservice, since they were really holding their own. Maybe even taking the volume down a little on the speaker would help.
At the heart of Tempest is a love story between Miranda and the King’s son, Ferdinand (Andrew Pingry). Prospero manipulates almost every aspect of this story, and the love story is no exception. Her manipulation creates a deeper love from Ferdinand by separating him from his party, so he believes he is alone in the world. She commits Ferdinand into servitude so that Miranda will fall in love with him more. Johnson and Pingry created a beautiful relationship as the young lovers, and you believe that they would have fallen in love anyway, regardless of Miranda’s mother’s meddling.
Another standout relationship was the one between the King’s butler, Stephano, played as female (and fabulous) by Jasmine Fuller, and the King’s jester, Trinculo, played exquisitely by Jordan Kramer. Fuller and Kramer were delightful to watch. The characters were so fun! If you go for no other reason, go for the monster with four legs scene. Truly a standout performance.
Overall, I left the theater content and deep in thought. The director, Gabe Spencer, asked in his director’s note to consider the variety of love, and I must admit, this play made me think. Is it love if it comes from a manipulation? Can you love after you have been betrayed? Is all love a manipulation? Is all love a betrayal? Can you love out of captivity? Is love an intentional captivity? No real answers as of yet, but I am still in the hours following the show. Honestly, I have never loved Tempest in general, mostly because I see Prospero as a vengeful bitter old man, who only loves his daughter, and that not well. I had that notion challenged. So, thank you, Ms. Mendez. Well played.
is part of a festival, with the alternate nights being a performance of Oz, a play that explores how L. Frank Baum might have conceived his work in his study. Information and tickets can be accessed through the festival website: http://www.creeksidetheatrefest.org/
— make sure you use “re” for Theatre and add the “fest” or you will find yourself at another theater website entirely.
Tempest by William Shakespeare runs June 17, 19, 21, 23, and 24th.
Oz by Patrick Shanahan opens June 15th, and runs June 16, 20, 22, and 26th.
Curtain is 8 PM for both shows.
Creekside Theatre Fest is a semi-professional group supported by the Cedar Hills Arts Council.
Tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for children and seniors.