‘Tempest Redux’ is an exercise in verbal gymnastics

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The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and The New American Theatre celebrate El Niño with a perfect storm of comedy, romance, mystery and magic thanks to an incredibly athletic production, adapted, directed and choreographed by John Farmanesh-Bocca. Starring New American Theatre artistic director Jack Stehlin as Prospero, and derived from Shakespeare’s fantasy, this freshly conceived reconstruction of The Tempest is a potent combination of physical theater and verbal gymnastics centered on a father-daughter story for the ages that explores the power of love and forgiveness.

Farmanesh-Bocca is the founding artistic director of both Not Man Apart—Physical Theatre Ensemble and Shakespeare Santa Monica, and his talent for combining these two seemingly disparate art forms creates wonders on the Odyssey stage. According to him, “It’s a meditation on Shakespeare’s work, contemporized for a modern audience, but without losing any of the language or traditions of the original. As radical as the adaptation is, I’m actually a purist.”

From the moment he takes the stage, Jack Stehlin is a force to be reckoned with, his soul-revealing stare able to pierce right through you.  His is a Prospero who knows what he wants and uses every power within his reach to make it happen.  His trust in Farmanesh-Bocca and his own ability to accomplish the physical demands of the role are a joy to behold as they unfold with every gust of wind that blows his magical powers to their full potential.  Whenever he casts a spell on any of the other characters, you will feel the vibrations emanating from his powerful hands.

The supporting cast has been stripped to seven actors and three dancers who not only play multiple roles, but also share some of the same parts. In addition to Stehlin, “Tempest Redux” features Mimi Davila as Miranda and Charles Hunter Paul as Ferdinand, the young lovers Prospero brings together.  The re-imagined two-headed Caliban is played by both Willem Long (who also takes on the role of Sebastian) and Dash Pepin (who also plays Francisco), As Caliban, their ability to wrap themselves around each other while bounding across the stage will amaze you, given how easy their physical bond appears to be.

Dennis Gersten doubles as Antonio and Trinculo, while Gildart Jackson does triple duty as Alonso, Gonzolo and Stephano. But the most brilliant addition occurs in the role of the sprite Ariel which is shared by three remarkable dancers: Shea Donovan, Briana Price and Emily Yetter who flit and float in unison, their voices reverberating off the walls as they mutually deliver Ariel’s lines. Their total devotion to their master Prospero is especially evident as they circle him demanding to know what he needs from them to bring true happiness to his daughter.

“The actors have been doubled in such a way as to illuminate the duality of each character, the yin and yang of the full person,” explains Stehlin. “The concept is that this is Prospero’s dream, and we turn The Tempest upside down in a way that makes it really come alive.”  So leave your beliefs about Shakespeare at the door as you walk into Prospero’s magical world on the Odyssey stage through April 10.  Be prepared to be dazzled.

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‘Father, Son & Holy Coach’ takes football to a higher level

 

Just as “Tempest Redux” centers on a father attempting to control his daughter’s life, in “Father, Son & Holy Coach,” writer/performer John Posey returns to L.A. with an all-new revival of his critically acclaimed comedy about a former small-town football star who attempts to live vicariously through his son.  A multimedia projection about sports designed by Yee Eun Nam welcomes you as you walk into the theater, ending with George Carlin’s famous routine about the differences between baseball and football, preparing the audience to be ready to laugh.

The story take place in Tupelo County, Georgia, where even the local Easter egg hunt takes on legendary, Super Bowl proportions since the young person who finds the golden egg will assuredly become the next hometown football hero, and there is no greater glory to be achieved in this small town – other than going on to become an NFL star. 

In “Father, Son & Holy Coach,” Friday night football in a small Southern town is a religion, not just a way of life; the motif that illuminates a father/son journey gone hilariously off the rails when the son is incapable of living up to his father’s unachieved dream. Over the course of 85 minutes, Posey, who confesses he was shaped by a complex and conflicted relationship with his own father, seamlessly portrays over two dozen different characters – the entire town of Tupelo – enabling us to meet each individual in a matter of minutes and fully understand how each plays a part in the football camaraderie in the town.
“It’s a very funny, but also poignant, study of the fragile psyche of an aggressively overprotective father,” explains Posey. “This man’s main reason for living is to prevent his child from experiencing what he perceives to be life’s failures. Finally, after years of trying to live up to his father’s expectations, the son must go his own way.”  Keeping it all in his own family, the play is being presented by Rainy Night Films in association with his sons Tyler and Jesse Posey and directed by Terri Hanauer as a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre. “This is a father/son story, and this production is a father/son endeavor,” John says.

And don’t be concerned if you are not a football fan as this story is a timeless one about a father who only wants what is best for his son.  But those who do understand the game will certainly catch all the humor and angst being shared by John Posey – and wait until you see the specialty chair that holds a very prominent space on the set designed by Pete Hickok, whose small space multi-level and location modules allow the action to move from field to locker room, living room to radio station.  Sound designer Dino Hermann appropriately includes “A Rainy Night in George” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” into the heartbeat of the production, no doubt taking you back to your own Friday night lights.

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