Theatre Review: What’s Past is Prologue In this ‘Tempest’


Note: this review was also published on

The Tempest, by William Shakespeare; adapted and directed by Jana Wilmer; produced by Zombie Joe’s Underground: seen November 11, 2016. 

The idea of transforming (or rebooting, to use the more modern term) Shakespeare isn’t new. Everything from West Side Story to Scotland, Pa. to 10 Things I Hate About You shows that the idea of twisting the bard isn’t new. And to anyone’s who is a theatre nerd, keeping the original language but changing the time/place is almost standard for production. I stage managed a production of Much Ado About Nothing that was set in the 1980s. The Richard III with Martin Freeman I caught in 2014 was set during the 1970s. And even setting The Tempest in a science fiction world has been seen with Forbidden Planet.

Elif Savas, Bert Emmett, Jonica Patella. Photo by Jana Wimer.
Elif Savas, Bert Emmett, Jonica Patella. Photo by Jana Wimer.

However, just because something’s been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done again — especially in theatre. So, when I heard that Zombie Joe’s was doing a one-hour version of The Tempest, I was eager to see it. I’ve been on their mailing list for a while now, but there has always been something that has stopped me from seeing any of their productions. In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a production of The Tempest — or if I have, it was before I started tracking what I saw. Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not read, and so I hesitated to read the script of it. As my interest in genre has deepened, my interest in seeing what is his most genre play has grown.

Prospero (Bert Emmett) is the rightful Duke of Milan, and he has been stranded on an island with his daughter, Miranda (Alex Kereszti). Using magic (or science, in this case) and power over the fantastical creature Ariel (Elif Savas), he creates the tempest of the title in order to wreck the ship of his brother Antonio (Emma Pauly), which has King Alonso (Ernest Kearney) and Alonso’s son Ferdinand (Vanessa Cate) on it.

At this point, this production veers from Shakepeare’s text. While the original is considered a tragicomedy (with a happy ending), this version is pretty much a straight out tragedy with it not ending well for any of our characters.

Top: Jason Britt, Mark Dakota; bottom: Emma Pauly, Vanessa Cate, Zack Zoda, Ernest Kearney. Photo by Jana Wimer.
Top: Jason Britt, Mark Dakota; bottom: Emma Pauly, Vanessa Cate, Zack Zoda, Ernest Kearney. Photo by Jana Wimer.

Transferring the story to a science fiction world is an intriguing decision. While I’ve not seen Forbidden Planet as far as I can remember, I do know enough about it to know that it’s more of a ‘loosely based on’ rather than a direct adaptation like this was. Having the servant Gonzalo (Mark Dakota) be an android was a great touch, as well as making Ariel and Caliban (Jonica Patella) look alien. Having Prospero’s spells controlled through what looks to be a Nintendo Power Glove is the epitome of “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable to magic.”

The acting overall was decent enough – Emmett’s Prospero was a bit over the top, but is easily overlooked by the accomplished Savas as Ariel. There was a scene between Prospero and Ariel that gets a little too close to sexual assault for my comfort, however. Meanwhile, Kearney’s Alonso was difficult to understand at times, but Paletta’s Caliban is deliciously wicked.

The costumes (by Ashely Gallup) deserve a shout out: the makeup for Ariel and Caliban were excellent, especially when you put it into a 99 seat theatre budget. The unusual shape of the theatre helped lend itself to the production, with director Jana Wilmer having them use the two entrances (three, if you count the hole in the upper wall that Ariel used several times) in ways that did not seem repetitive.

Vanessa Cate & Alex Kereszti. Photo by Jana Wimer.
Vanessa Cate & Alex Kereszti. Photo by Jana Wimer.

For the ticket price ($15), it’s a decent outing worth your time — just different enough to be interesting. And the running time helps. I love Shakespeare, don’t get me wrong, but cutting it to an hour makes the production fly past. I definitely am interested to see what else this group can do. If you’re in Los Angeles and you like Shakespeare, it’s worth going to.

The Tempest runs until December 18, and more information can be found at their website.

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