The Sacramento Theatre Company is staging Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” a bittersweet tale about castaways in a strange land, involving love, magic, treachery and ultimately forgiveness. It makes for an imaginative voyage.
“The Tempest” is Shakespeare’s “island play,” and it opens with a shipwreck, as howling winds drive a tall-masted ship onto the rocks, and the frantic sailors, fearing they are doomed, shout their farewells and prepare to die.
It’s a visually and emotionally compelling scene, with the actors hurling themselves about the stage as atmospheric live music and flashing lights reinforce the action.
But through supernatural intervention, the sailors wake up on a mysterious island, unharmed. Indeed, several looming disasters are miraculously averted over the course of this exotic, unpredictable play. Keep in mind, several characters aren’t human. There’s a nimble spirit named Ariel, played by a willowy actress in face paint. Ariel casts spells that can lull people to sleep – and later awaken them – with her voice and a guitar.
There’s also a powerful, greying wizard named Prospero, who can control the weather. But Prospero gets pretty rude when he bosses around a moody creature named Caliban – half human, half fish. Prospero, who carries a tall staff, becomes so angry that he loses his cool, calling Caliban a “poisonous slave, got by the devil himself.”
Prospero is played by a white actor, and Caliban by a black performer, investing that reference to Caliban as a “slave” with potent connotations.
Prospero also has an eligible teenage daughter, who – growing up on the isolated island – has never even seen a good-looking guy her age. So when the inquisitive girl glimpses a handsome prince among the castaways, she swoons, gasping “What is it? A spirit? Lord, how it looks about! Believe me, sir, it carries a brave form …”
That intuitive sense of wonder materializes several times, often when you least expect it, during this imaginative tale. And you can drink in the richness of Shakespeare’s language … this 400-year-old play coined phrases like “we are such stuff as dreams are made of” and “brave new world.” It’s also a pleasure watching resourceful actor Matt K. Miller taking on the great role of Prospero. All in all, there are many lovely discoveries to enjoy in this production of “The Tempest.”
The play continues through March 19 at the Sacramento Theatre Company.