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STAGE REVIEW

'Virgin Snow' Offers a Curious Spin on Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'

September 25, 1997|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The White Cold Virgin Snow" at Glaxa is subtitled "William Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' Reconsidered." Empire Red Lip, the producing company, has staged other revisionistic Shakespeare pieces. However, if this evening is any indication, the company should think again before they "reconsider" another.

Not that the program--a series of loosely related original pieces interspersed with snippets from "The Tempest"--isn't for the most part tightly staged and diverting. Yet despite contributions from such established playwrights as John Steppling and Murray Mednick, what results is a curious, cobbled-together amalgam that plays more like a classroom exercise than a unified whole.

The uncredited scenic design is starkly simplistic: An earthen playing area, where most of the scenes from "The Tempest" transpire, is shaped like a "magic" circle--a perfect arena for the mystical sweep of Shakespeare's feverish romance. When not performing, the cast sits upstage in a row of elevated theater seats, boosting the atmosphere of heightened theatricality. Also upstage is a porcelain pool that serves for events ranging from the cataclysmic to the comedic--or, more frequently, the merely cryptic.

Guy Zimmerman wrote and directs the most straightforward offering, in which two men (Mickey Swenson and Chris Kelley), chatting at a public pool, discuss an attack upon one of them by an obese stranger. What prompted the attack is left to the imagination--but we assume it was unimaginably dire. In another less-disciplined but entertainingly rambunctious piece, written and helmed by Wes Walker, a perverse tyrant (Swenson) holds his slavish cohorts (Kelley and Jay Arlen Jones) in weirdly submissive thrall. Unfortunately, director Walker later throws away Mednick's satiric paradigm of the inequities of sexual relationships through his static and inaudible staging.

Other contributions include a noir-ish duet by Kevin O'Sullivan and an elliptical interchange by Sissy Boyd, who co-directs her piece with Steppling. Stephen Davies is a workmanlike Prospero, while Shannon Holt effectively essays Miranda, Ariel and Caliban.

Steppling directs all of the Shakespearean segments, as well as many of the original, with a streamlined, unostentatious intensity that underscores a prevalent dread. Even when the exchanges are tongue-in-cheek, as in Rachel M. Resnick's playlet about a shipwrecked couple, we sense impending disaster behind the amusingly ambiguous barbs--and indeed, Resnick raises the stakes with a poetically apocalyptic final image.

This sense of finality, the sole common thematic thread in this evening, is especially appropriate to "The Tempest"--Shakespeare's last work and what many consider his farewell to the theater. The play's final monologue casts Prospero's fate--much as Shakespeare's own--to the whim of an unseen audience. But too many whims spoil the conceit, as evidenced by this occasionally fascinating but ultimately unsatisfying stylistic experiment.

BE THERE

"The White Cold Virgin Snow," Glaxa Studios, 3707 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 26. $12. (213) 228-9599. Running time: 2 hours.

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