When it comes to Shakespeare for kids, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" has always been the comedy of choice. While it can be much more, the play is always a piece of fairy magic.
Synthaxis Theatre Company, however, made a less predictable choice. For their new family show, they turned to Shakespeare's other play containing airy spirits and magic, "The Tempest."
Mary Mann's one-hour adaptation excises most of the scenes involving Alonso and Antonio. Otherwise, she retains Shakespeare's language--which makes it undoubtedly difficult for young children to follow.
The play opens with a quick and witty introduction to Shakespeare, alerting kids to the use of "thee" and "thy" instead of "you" and "your," for example. But that's probably not enough for the under-10 set.
"The Tempest" is no simple play, after all. Prospero, the ousted Duke of Milan, whips up a storm with his sorcery that beaches his former enemies on the island where he's been stranded. There are goings-on at three different spots on the island, with all the players converging at the end.
Removing Alonso, king of Naples, and Antonio, the brother who stole Prospero's dukedom, makes things more confusing rather than less. These characters appear only briefly, played by actors wearing masks. It's never long enough to properly sort them out.
This cast--one of two--under the direction of Melinda Hall keeps the energy high. As Prospero, Dan Cole has the most difficult role. His longer speeches are the hardest for youngsters to follow, and he can't flit about like the quaint spirit, Ariel (Dionysius Burbano). Ariel may be invisible to the characters, but from a child's point of view, she will be the guide through the story.
Also engaging is L. Flint Esquerra as Caliban. His monster-like creature is a little bit frightening, but also funny. Young lovers Miranda (Stephanie Markham) and Ferdinand (Chad Kukahiko) convey a tender, modern relationship.
With songs, drums and, of course, the occasionally rousing storm, no one is going to doze off. And, well, things could be worse than kids' misunderstanding lines such as:
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade . . .
Disney, after all, has been pawning off versions of classics that have no relation to the actual text for years. At least with this Synthaxis version, kids will, in fact, be seeing "The Tempest."
"The Tempest," Synthaxis Theatre Company, at Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. $8; $6 children. Saturday-Sunday at 2 p.m. through Dec. 14. (818) 752-2253.