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UCI's 'Tempest' Can't Rise Above Hip

June 05, 1996|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — UC Irvine's Pacific rim-flavored "Tempest" has many neat things to look at--such as the costuming, which veers from postmodern Samurai chic to duds seen only in a beekeeper's nightmare or in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

The sounds are nifty, too, especially those taiko drums. They evoke thunder and lightning and underscoring every sinister moment in Shakespeare's classic.

Nice for the senses. So why isn't Annie Loui's staging more satisfying?

Call it a communications problem. The language of Shakespeare--the cadences, color and clarity of his writing--often are overwhelmed by all this hipness. A more experienced group of actors might have been able to push through Loui's revisionist layers at Friday's opening night performance, but the student cast had trouble revealing the characters, and it frequently rushed through the poetry.

Fittingly, Alan Mingo Jr., as Prospero, came closest to finding the right tone of wisdom and wry weariness, but even he seemed to be giving an impression, much of the time, of what a Shakespearean actor is supposed to sound like. Though he tried to anchor this flighty production with his deliberate, patient delivery, he didn't have enough weight.

To her credit, Loui picked a good vehicle to let her impulses and inspirations play.

"The Tempest" is as atmospheric as any of Shakespeare's work. We find ourselves on a rough island ruled by Prospero. "Ruled" is a loose description, though, as his subjects are few, including the fairy Ariel and Prospero's own Igor, the misshapen Caliban.

Everything gets juicy when Prospero conjures a storm that shipwrecks the bad guys who betrayed him, and goes about exacting his own justice. This occurs with the help of much magic and a throng of strange sprites, turning Prospero's world into a sea-bound fantasyland.

Loui, costume designer John Patton and set designer Ilana Radin dig in. Radin's scenery gives the isle a Japanese aura, with a bamboo and paper facade that does double-duty as a mountainous outcropping and Prospero's oceanfront pad.

The costumes keep you gazing--and guessing. Most are also Asian-inspired, but some are inexplicable, like the those worn by the mysterious attendants who materialize after intermission. Imagine a beekeeper outfit, complete with the wide, veiled head-piece, dyed black, and you get the idea. Another innovation: the dancing hay bales, which also appear near the play's end and gambol about intriguingly.

Relevant? No, not really. But fun to watch.

Though this gizmo-laden version doesn't fully measure the depth of "The Tempest," it does provide some light moments through one of the play's main clowns, the wayward Trinculo. Jessie Marion knows how to grab the circus spotlight with a jester's mix of agility and silliness.

* "The Tempest," UC Irvine's Village Theatre, Irvine. Today through Saturday at 8 p.m. with a matinee Saturday at 2. Ends Saturday. $6 to $15. (714) 824-2787 and (714) 824-5000. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Jared Slater: Alonso

Sean Livingston: Antonio

Peter Keane: Gonzalo

Ryan Neisz: Sebastian

Stephanie Burden: Miranda

Alan Mingo Jr.: Prospero

Anna Fitzwater: Ariel

Jonathan Parlow: Caliban

Arnel Almeda: Ferdinand

Jessie Marion: Trinculo

Katjana Vadeboncoeur: Stephano

A UC Irvine production of a play by William Shakespeare, directed by Annie Loui. Set design: Ilana Radin. Costumes: John Patton. Lighting: David Klevens. Music composed by: Jeff Mayor. Vocal direction: Joan Melton and Dudley Knight. Taiko drummers: Scott Ikegami, Derek Kishida, David Shiwota, Jill Suda, Miki Takushi. Stage manager: Chuck O'Donnell.

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