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Theater Reviews : Clear Night Is Ideal for a 'Tempest' in Dana Point : The New World setting harmonizes well with the outdoor staging, and the fine cast contributes to the poetry and magic.

August 25, 1994|NANCY CHURNIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

DANA POINT — Many critics judge Shakespeare productions with the wary eyes of safety-code inspectors, condemning the whole for each theatrical infraction.

Luckily, Shakespeare's music soars above most imperfections, or he would never have survived as the English-speaking world's most popular playwright. Get the spirit of the play right, and, like everyone's favorite guest, he is equally at home in lavish theaters or playing to picnickers under the stars.

The South Orange County Community Theatre's fifth annual Shakespeare by the Sea production, "The Tempest," gets the spirit right. Add to this the show's breathtaking setting of Lantern Bay Park overlooking Dana Point Harbor and you have an exquisite evening.

While much of the county was roasting last Saturday, a cool ocean breeze made 100-plus patrons sigh comfortably as they sipped their champagne or Diet Cokes. Well-behaved children stretched out on blankets next to their parents on lawn chairs, some playing Game Boys until the show began.

The beauty of the summer sky, particularly the wonder of watching the darkening sky unfurl its stars, works well with "The Tempest," which is essentially a story about magic as well as good versus evil, true love, jealousy and forgiveness.

While the plot of "The Lion King" has frequently been compared with that of "Hamlet," its happy conclusion owes more to "The Tempest," a story about a duke, Prospero, whose duplicitous brother, Antonio, masterminds a coup d'etat that gets Prospero exiled to an island with his infant daughter, Miranda.

Prospero, once wiser than he was worldly, determines to regain his rightful place as Miranda grows into a beautiful young woman. The play begins when he uses his magic to create a tempest that tosses boats carrying his brother and others who helped plot his ouster as well as a variety of courtiers. When the boats crash on his shore, he enlists his magical sprite, Ariel, to help him set all relationships right.

Director Tom Scott gets off to a rocky start by staging the tempest-tossed crews off stage as Prospero and Miranda gaze over the railing at the ocean. Not only was the water comically serene as they exclaimed over the fierce storm, but the failure to show the shipwrecked crew blew an important opportunity for establishing critical characters.

After the tempest, however, Scott kicks the play into gear. His choice of making Prospero's island the New World of what was to become California, with the sprites being Native Americans rather than Greek and Roman nymphs, is an inspiration that harmonizes well with the setting.

The performers, too, play the music of Shakespeare's poetry well. Though B. Aaron Cogan is too young and vigorous for Prospero--a man who has supposedly aged into the height of his powers--he gives an intelligent and passionate performance.

Kerene Harlan, who is of Blackfoot heritage, brings a light and Puckish touch to Ariel--radiating a tantalizing whiff of sexual tension between her and her master.

*

Kristin More and Thomas A. Roden play the young lovers, Miranda and Ferdinand, with simple, sweet grace, while Tim Mull proves an oily, snake-like Antonio. Keith David Dillon's intensity brings heft to Caliban, the angry spirit who fights rather than serves Prospero.

The physical and verbal adeptness of Bob Snook and Monte Collins provide some of the funniest moments as Trinculo and Stephano, the drunk servants who lord it over Caliban while their masters are away.

LouAnne Lopez's choreography enhances the Native American theme. Michelle Evans' light design worked well with the moon and the stars, improving as the sky darkened. The unobtrusive set design--a hut, a rock--by Scott, Bruce Mitchell, John Zarbock, Bob Snook, Tim Mull, Chris Butler and George Bolta suited the surroundings well.

It all added up to a "Tempest" that may not be definitive but is definitely pleasing--a gift to the community that succeeds in enhancing the attraction of lovely Lantern Bay Park. And that's no small feat.

* "The Tempest," Lantern Bay Park, overlooking Dana Point Harbor near Dana Point Resort. Friday-Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $10, kids under 12 free. (714) 489-8082. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes. Keith David: Dillon Caliban

B. Aaron Cogan: Prospero

Kristin More: Miranda

Kerene Harlan: Ariel

Thomas A. Roden: Ferdinand

Jay Hare: Gonzolo

Frank Vibrans: Alonzo

Tim Mull: Antonio

Chip Frye: Sebastian

Rod Surrat: Adrian

Bruce Mitchell: Francisco

Bob Snook: Trinculo

Monte Collins; Stephano

Dan Powell: Boatswain

A South Orange County Community Theatre production in cooperation with the Orange County Parks Dept. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Tom Scott. Choreography: LouAnne Lopez. Light: Michelle Evans. Sound: Jim Bras. Set design/construction: Tom Scott, Bruce Mitchell, John Zarbock, Bob Snook, Tim Mull, Chris Butler, George Bolta.

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