GLENDALE — What does Sabin Epstein really think of "The Tempest"?
"It's a very--I hate to say the word-- odd play," admits the director, whose staging of Shakespeare's fantasy opens Saturday at A Noise Within. "We think it's his last play, his farewell to the theater.
"You can see themes running throughout from other plays, like 'Cymbeline' and 'A Winter's Tale'--themes of forgiveness, completion and moving on," says Epstein, who has set the piece in 1912. The story, he explains, "starts at a point in Prospero's life where he's ready to move on. He needs to move beyond the kingdom of his island and back to mankind. So much of Elizabethan sensibility is about balance and harmony. Prospero is out of balance; by the end, he comes back. But the odd part is that it's not a neat and tidy ending. There are elements left unresolved."
Epstein believes that the work itself is deceptive. "It seems a quick read on the page. Then when you get it on its feet, you see how loaded it is with themes and concepts--like the exploration of power and social status--which are not at all tidy, and very timely."
A Los Angeles native with a bachelor's degree from UC Riverside and a graduate degree from UC Davis, Epstein followed college with experimental theater work in New York and Europe. After a year teaching at CalArts, he spent seven years as an instructor at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, then resettled in New York, where he founded the theater group 29th Street Project. In 1984, he returned to ACT, where he ran the conservatory from 1988 to 1991.
His duties as associate artist at the theater included helping to choose this season's repertory roster. Not coincidentally, one of his San Francisco house-mates and fellow ACT-er, Stephanie Shroyer, will direct the second play in the theater's fall repertory, Federico Garcia Lorca's 1932 "Blood Wedding," opening Oct. 23. (Oscar Wilde's comic exploration of sexual identity, "The Importance of Being Earnest," which Epstein will direct with A Noise Within artistic co-director Art Manke, joins the repertory in November.)
Shroyer, who heads the Culver City-based Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble, was juggling several balls two weeks ago, zigzagging from rehearsals of "Blood Wedding" to her co-starring role in the just-closed "Ondine" at her own company, then returning there the next day to check in on its newest show, "Come Good Rain." At A Noise Within, she is sharing several of her 22 players with the cast of "The Tempest."
"I went to school with many of these people," Shroyer says, "and we've been looking for a way to work together. I suggested 'Blood Wedding' because I thought Julia Rodriguez Elliott would be a wonderful bride. Julia is Cuban, and this is a Spanish play. I'm not trying to do it with all Hispanics--the casting is definitely colorblind--but with Julia, I was able to work from Lorca's text, and she did some translating and updating."
The story is taken from a 1920s Spanish newspaper account of the consequences when a local bride ran off with her former boyfriend on her wedding day. "In 1920s Spain, you just didn't do that," Shroyer says wryly. "Lorca was fascinated with the idea of human beings going against community and religious mores, flying in the face of tradition."
WHERE AND WHEN
What: "The Tempest."
Location: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale.
Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Performances alternate with "Blood Wedding," beginning Oct. 21, and "The Importance of Being Earnest," beginning Nov. 3. (Call theater for schedule.) Closes Dec. 12.
Price: $10 to $20.
Call: (818) 546-1924.