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A magic that's simply human

A Noise Within's production of `The Tempest' is an artful storm.

April 13, 2006|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

"SHELTERED" doesn't begin to describe Miranda's life. She's grown up on an island with her magician father, a flittering sprite and a creepy beast-man as her only companions. So she's understandably excited when she finally encounters a boatload of humans. "How beauteous mankind is!" she exults. "O brave new world that has such people in't!"

In truth, she's gone giddy over a decidedly spotty assortment of humanity. Yet in this magical moment, Shakespeare's "The Tempest" enables theatergoers to see humankind as Miranda sees it: prone to faults, yet capable of magnificence.

The classical repertory company A Noise Within pulls off this bit of prestidigitation in a tastefully simple yet artfully detailed presentation directed by company co-artistic director Geoff Elliott.

First presented in about 1611, "The Tempest" was one of Shakespeare's last -- and greatest -- plays. Suffused with mature, gentle wisdom, it's almost a benediction.

It tells the story of Prospero, duke of Milan, who became so obsessed with the study of magic that his governance was usurped. Cast off with his toddler daughter, Miranda, he found refuge on a deserted island, where his magic has made him omnipotent.

The story begins a dozen years into this sojourn, as a shipload of those who've done him wrong passes conveniently nearby. Prospero shipwrecks them, to teach them a lesson. Yet even as he launches this bold plan, he is already beginning to abjure magic and re-embrace the simple wonders of everyday life.

Prospero can come across as imperious and trigger-tempered, but Robertson Dean finds in him a touching balance between barely suppressed anger at the world and devoted tenderness toward his daughter. He continues to soften as Miranda (Dorothea Harahan) falls in love with a shipwrecked prince (Jason Chanos) and begins to experience life's full measure of joy.

Chanos delivers Shakespeare's love poetry with masculine ardor that trails off, now and again, in dreamy sighs. When, wonder-struck, he says to Miranda, "I do beseech you -- chiefly that I might set it in my prayers -- what is your name?" the entire audience goes weak in the knees.

"The Tempest" is a fantasy, a romance, a drama and a comedy, all in one. For their backdrop, set designer Darcy Scanlin provides rocky outcroppings that stand at the edge of a cloud-shrouded precipice.

Much of the fantasy is contributed by Michelle Duffy as the sprite, Ariel, as she climbs, leaps, sings, plays the flute and generally multitasks. Island spirits are portrayed by actors wearing masks that make them look like primitive statues. They appear when needed to make banquets magically appear, then vanish, or to hold mirrors to the shipwrecked passengers' stunned faces.

Jennifer Brawn Gittings' costumes put the island's inhabitants in earthy greens and browns, while the stranded nobles, dressed in richly decorated velvets, look as though they've stepped out of Renaissance paintings.

One can read political messages into the play, about wise governance and fair dealing. But this is mostly a meditation on human behavior, good and bad.

In this production, one of the most striking exemplars of that behavior is, surprisingly, the beast-man Caliban. Though clambering about animal-like on all fours, Stephen Weingartner infuses the character with romantic ache and wounded nobility. And in the final moment of this delicate and ever insightful presentation, he transforms into a symbol of renewal and hope.


'The Tempest'

Where: A Noise Within, 234 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: 8 p.m. April 21, 26-27, and May 12, 17-18; 2 and 8 p.m. April 22, May 13; 2 and 7 p.m. April 23, May 14, 21.

Ends: May 21

Price: $32 and $36

Info: (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1, or

Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes

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