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THEATER REVIEW : Play Is Still the Thing in 'Tempest' With a Twist : Basic merits of Shakespeare's standard shine through in Ojai production starring a female Prospero.

August 10, 1995|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Ojai Shakespeare Festival concludes its 13th consecutive season this weekend with two productions. Its version of "The Comedy of Errors" (reviewed last week) will be performed Saturday and Sunday afternoon; "The Tempest," which premiered last weekend, can be seen evenings through Sunday.

As with "The Comedy of Errors," "The Tempest" is performed with a key deviation in a major role: the magician and philosopher Prospero, heir to the throne of Milan and exiled on an island with his daughter Miranda, is now Prospera, a woman. The change is pointless (to these ears at least) though harmless; Shakespeare's plays have survived much worse reinterpretations through the years, and if the best person available to play Prospero is a woman, why not?

And Susan Kelejian is a fine Prospera, convincingly regal and wise as she casts her spells upon the island's fauna and a collection of newly shipwrecked sailors.

Crystal Robbins is an appealing Miranda, all the more so as she falls in love with one of those sailors, Ferdinand (Tony Vernetti). The second man Miranda has seen in her life, he's the son of the King of Naples (Patrick Sullivan), who's also on the ship.

The first man Miranda ever saw would make anybody seem handsome: He--or it--is Caliban, a monster who inhabits the island and who has been enslaved by Prospera. Keith Harrop doesn't look particularly intimidating (you might be reminded of the "smokers" in "Waterworld"), but under Paul Backer's direction he's got the monsters confused and essentially cowardly character down strong.

One of the play's high points is a series of scenes involving Caliban and the show's comic relief, Stephano, the butler (Larry Novikoff), who gets the monster drunk, and jester Trinculo (James Leslie), who gets himself drunk without anybody's help.

The island's other native occupant is the friendly sprite Ariel, also enslaved by Prospera and played rather androgynously by Antoinette Pineau.

To these, and the shipwrecked sailors, director Backer has added numerous island sprites and spirits, portrayed by members of the Ojai Shakespeare Festival's resident Measure for Measure Renaissance Minstrels troupe. All are in the same grotesque makeup as Ariel, and there is much music--all of it quite lovely under Jaye Hersh's supervision--and dancing choreographed by Debra Massarella.

Set designer Jeff G. Rack, notable for several recent Santa Paula Theater Center productions, has outdone himself, with an island landscape replete with cave, sod and working waterfall, as well as a ship right out of "Pirates of the Caribbean." Dana Kilgore's lights are also effective as the sun sets on Libbey Bowl.

Details

"The Tempest"

* WHEN: Tonight through Sunday evenings at 7:30.

* WHERE: Libbey Bowl, Libbey Park. Ojai Avenue at Signal Street, Ojai.

* COST: Thursday, general admission, $10; students and seniors, $8. Friday and Sunday, general admission, $12; students and seniors, $10. Saturday, general admission, $15; students and seniors, $12.

* FYI: Unreserved bench seating. Pillows recommended for optimal comfort. For further information, call 646-WILL.

"The Comedy of Errors"

* WHEN: Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3.

* WHERE: On the green at Libbey Park. Ojai Avenue at Signal Street, Ojai.

* COST: $8 general admission on Saturdays; $7 students and seniors.

* FYI: Unreserved lawn seating; blankets or low folding chairs recommended. For further information, call 646-WILL.

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