Reviewed by Judy Richter
Artistic director Jonathan Moscone opens California Shakespeare Theater's 2012 season with a pared-down version of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" that generally works well. He infuses it with music and dance and uses only six actors to portray 11 characters.
Hence five of the actors, including Michael Winters in the central role of Prospero, play two roles. However, the excellent James Carpenter seems under used in his one assignment as Alonso, king of Naples.
The action takes place on a ship-wreckage strewn island that also features numerous trunks and stacks of books in Emily Greene's set design. Anna Oliver's costumes enable some quick changes as actors like Catherine Castellanos morph from the grotesque Caliban to Antonio, Prospero's usurping brother.
After the opening storm scene, so well recreated with Cliff Caruthers's sound and Gabe Maxson's lighting, Prospero and his daughter, Miranda (Emily Kitchens), take the stage. This scene seemed rather plodding on opening night as Winters, who has excelled in so many roles in the past, muffed some lines. At one point, Kitchens appeared to have helped him out with a word or two. Once that scene was behind him, though, Winters seemed more comfortable. He seemed at his best in the character role of Stephano, the drunken butler who colludes with Caliban and Trinculo (Nicholas Pelczar) to kill Prospero. Pelczar also plays Ferdinand, the young prince who lands upon Prospero's island after a storm and falls in immediate love with Miranda.
In some ways, Erika Chong Shuch carries the heaviest load, first seen as the boatswain and then featured as the spritely Ariel, who sings and dances as well as acts. She also choreographed this production, in which most of the dancing is done by three nonspeaking sprites (Melanie Elms, Aaron Moreland and Travis Santell Rowland), but there are some dance sequences for the others, too.
Although magic figures prominently in the plot, the theme focuses on insight and forgiveness as Prospero forgoes his resentment against Antonio and his cohorts and decides to forgive them. Ariel plays a large role in the change of heart, and Shuch fulfills this responsibility quite well.