Entertainment: The Tempest Review – M-A Theater’s Latest Unique Spin On A Classic Play

Photo Credit: Sandy Napel

Janet Pale as Prospero (middle), Hanna Berggren as his daughter (right) in M-A's production of the Tempest

Much like last year’s spring musical Once Upon A Mattress, Debra Jean Zwicker-Sobrepena strives to put her own unique spin on The Tempest.

From the very first scene, it was very apparent that this play was not set in Shakespeare’s time. Instead, the characters appear to be living in the 1940s, with the Italian nobility wearing pinstriped suits and penny loafers.

As they ran out and the noises of rain and thunder took over the stage, the audience was transported to a magnificent storm off the coast of Italy. The nobility soon found themselves on a magic island inhabited by the all-mighty wizard, Prospero. Shakespeare’s writing is, of course, close-to-perfection, with minor revisions in the script that do not affect the plot or the fanatical experience of the show as a whole.

The language is still in Old English, which may make it a bit hard for some high schoolers to understand or enjoy. Potential audience members may want to consider the fact that, although Shakespeare is easy (or easier) for adults to comprehend, when some teenagers see the word “Shakespeare,” they nearly run for their lives. Other teenagers may be just plain tired of Shakespeare, since they are given a Shakespearean play to read almost every year in English class and would rather die than be haunted by the “Ghost of English Assignments Past.”

Still, Ms. Zwicker-Sobrepena does an adequate job of transporting us to Prospero’s magical island of beautiful fairy nymphs, awkward monsters, and The Logman.

Some of this is due in a large part to the script as well as the production value. M-A Theater has a high budget, resulting in wonderfully designed sets, and fantastic makeup. Shakespeare is a wonderful writer, but (with a few exceptions) can be a trial to fully grasp. With a play entirely in Old English, it is very important that the actors understand what they are saying so as to know HOW to say it, a quality that The Tempest at times struggled to provide because of the difficulty of the script.

Of course, with any play there are standout actors. Hanna Berggren is, as always, a very wonderful and lovely actor, portraying Prospero’s beautiful and sexually clueless daughter. Maddie Rostami was downright gorgeous as nymph fairy queen Ariel, with head-to-toe bursting with fabulous colors of blue, brown, and white. Janet Pale provides an intense, powerful and deceptive male lead that counteracts the rest of the many timid and shy actors that seem to have a small case of stage-fright at times.

At the same time, many of the supporting characters steal the show and create a fantastic balance among roles. Thanks to Zwicker’s directing, each actor is given a chance to shine and show their talent while getting  a well deserved laugh from the audience (unless they delivered the punchline incorrectly, which happened more than a couple of times).

Shakespeare is very hard for high schoolers to pull off correctly, and while M-A’s show is definitely not perfect, it is very obvious that the collective heart of both the actors’ and the director was in the right place to put on a presentable production.

Disclaimer: Yes, I was the stage manager for this production. However, instead of having a biased opinion on the subject, I distanced myself from the project as much as possible emotionally in order to make this review a truly unbiased opinion on the subject at hand. It is time to take off my stage-manager hat and put on my reviewer helmet. I tried my best to look at it as an audience member, and I honestly think I accomplished just that. As always, let me know what you think!