What do you get when you combine Shakespeare, MFA actors and a little theater on the edge of campus?
A very entertaining MFA Repertory Theatre production of The Tempest at the Scene Dock Theatre.
The production is a fairly faithful interpretation of the original Shakespearean text, although a few anachronistic lines are thrown in for comedic effect, such as the line “swing and a miss,” uttered by the kooky Stephano (Pete Ploszek), arguably the play’s most entertaining character.
Of course, seeing a faithful adaptation of Shakespeare means that audience members should be familiar with the plot beforehand, as the play could otherwise be difficult to follow.
The Tempest, takes place on an island and revolves around Prospero (David Zurak), the ruler of the island, and his daughter Miranda (Shirley Norman).
Prospero was once in line to be the Duke of Milan, but was usurped and cast away to the island, which he then took over from Caliban (Curtis Scott). With the help of his magical slave Ariel (Lindsay Weisberg), Prospero — trying to avenge his honor — causes a great storm to shipwreck a boat full of the people who usurped him.
The production’s simple set design by Takeshi Kata makes the most of its resources, using only a moving bed and a projector to convey these magical happenings.
The bed is placed in the middle of the stage and a screen on the far side which is utilized to display the storm and other imagery that would have been much more difficult to show live.
Given the simple setting and the supernatural nature of this play, The Tempest can be a bit confusing at first.
The moving bed is somewhat off-putting as it switches hands between characters: sometimes it is unclear what the bed is supposed to be or where the island begins and ends onstage. The theater itself, however, is small and production value was presumably limited, so these issues are understandable.
And in spite of whatever narrative confusion it may cause, the moving bed is clever and provides an interesting mobile element as it continues to change places on the stage.
The cast of The Tempest cause the play to really pop and at times fall flat, creating a binary that both aids and injures the production.
The play begins at a slow pace but hits the gas as soon as Weisberg comes on stage as the fiery fairy Ariel. From that point on, The Tempest gathers momentum and improves as more supporting characters are introduced to the story.
The stronger actors are notable because they energize the story as soon as they step on stage.
The biggest standout of the show is Ploszek, who plays up his comedic abilities and sex appeal in outrageous ways, as the drunken castaway Stephano. In one particular scene, he uses a bottle of wine to simulate oral sex with Caliban.
Even when the Shakespearean text becomes overly complicated and the dialogue harder to comprehend, Ploszek still seems able to make any member of the audience laugh at his will.
Additionally, Katherine Grabau plays a delightfully goofy jester, Trinculo — in drag, on top of it all.
The scenes with Stephano and Trinculo are by far the most entertaining and captivating moments of the production.
The Tempest makes for an entertaining night of theater, even if the complex nature of Shakespeare’s texts means that one might get lost in the dialogue and narrative.
Those passionate about Shakespeare, and theater fans in general, will enjoy this show. Affordable tickets only make it that much more appealing as a cheap night of merriment. Here, USC’s MFA program proves it can really put on a show — one with wildly entertaining supporting cast members.
The Tempest is running at the University Park Campus Scene Dock Theatre through March 3. See the USC Arts and Events calendar for more information.