Review: Oakland Theater Project bottles ‘Tempest’

Carla Gallardo (left) appears as Ariel No. 3, played by three actors, and Adrian Roberts is Prospero in Oakland Theater Project’s “The Tempest.” Photo: David Flores II/Oakland Theater Project

No Oakland Theater Project show is filled – a sleek, ready-to-wear new piece of New York that countless other outfits could produce just as well. This 10-year-old company seems to reinvent itself with each project it sets up. Often the result resembles a religious service or a ritual – theater on sacred ground.

This quality makes the company always worthy of attention, even when individual shows don’t quite hit the mark.

Adrian Roberts (left) as Prospero and Benoît Monin as Alonso in Oakland Theater Project’s “The Tempest.” Photo: David Flores II/Oakland Theater Project

Stepping into his production of “The Tempest,” which opened Friday, Feb. 25 in a converted garage attached to Oakland’s Flax Store, might inspire unintended silence. Karla Hargrave’s set design for Shakespeare’s Island Play makes the entire room feel like an aquarium or a ship in a bottle, with a mirrored floor reflecting the aquamarine walls.

Throughout the show, Stephanie Anne Johnson’s lighting design frequently seems to take proceedings underwater, highlighting the dark and deep origins of the characters’ revengeful fantasies.

Before the play itself begins, the ensemble members drift, twitch and wobble across the stage, sleepwalking under the spell of Prospero (Adrian Roberts), the former Duke of Milan toppled a while ago. 12 years old by his scheming brother Antonio (Abril Centurión) and thrown with daughter Miranda (also Centurión) into the sea. They land on a desert island populated by magical spirits that Prospero, with his sorcerer’s abilities, can make his servants, even slaves. But now, with Antonio and other Milanese sailing nearby, Prospero is poised to reclaim what is rightfully his, thanks to a sinking storm he has summoned.

Adrian Roberts portrays Prospero with a toughness of armor in Oakland Theater Project’s “The Tempest.” Photo: David Flores II/Oakland Theater Project

Director Michael Socrates Moran makes a host of illuminating choices. A spirit, the shape-shifter Ariel, is played by three performers at once (Sharon Shao, Romeo Channer and Carla Gallardo), as if a form and a point on stage could not contain the being. To show how the Milanese have just washed ashore from their shipwreck, the trio of Ariels just pour them a splash of water from small bottles. To show how ridiculously loyal elderly servant Gonzalo (Kevin Rebultan) is to Milanese king Alonso (Benôit Monin), the former begins to massage the latter, giving him both a chopping motion and a caress of the buttocks.

But while the individual choices are intriguing and inspiring, together they’re more of a motley assortment than pieces of a whole, often seeming to stem from little more motivation than “because the director said so” or “because it looked cool.”

Equally stifling is the stiff hardness of Roberts’ armor as Prospero. He plays the aggrieved Duke with invariable loftiness, as if Prospero’s omniscience as a sorcerer forces the actor playing him to decide all his choices in advance, rather than as the story unfolds. unfolds.

Abril Centurión as Miranda and Kevin Rebultan as Ferdinand in Oakland Theater Project’s “The Tempest.” Photo: David Flores II/Oakland Theater Project

Many other members of the ensemble fare much better, especially the open-hearted but perfectly focused Miranda of Centurión, who seems to translate antiquated language about love at first sight or father-daughter setbacks into contemporary discourse. .

Nathaniel Andalis seems to be channeling the Clown Trinculo straight out of “The Big Lebowski” or “Dude, Where’s My Car?” The costumes of the clowns, signed Regina Evans, wittily underline this characterization: they wear their blazers backwards.

And as Miranda’s lover, Ferdinand, Kevin Rebultan has a wild love-making scene on a stick, perfectly capturing a quality that drives Shakespeare’s comedy so much: how much we humans are stupid and selfish when we think no one is watching.

Then, when Rebultan transforms into geezer Gonzalo, the physical transformation is no less surprising for the few Rebultan showboats with. It’s as if his cheeks had sunk into the jowls and his teeth melted into the gums.

“The Tempest” is a series of overlapping power struggles. Who governs the island? The sea? Milano? Clowns ? Miranda’s affection? This means it’s also about surrender, both forced and voluntary, most notably when Prospero gives up his magical powers at the end of the play. But here, those power clashes barely land with a bang. They are the rote recitation of a book report, not the desperate dispatches of the human heart.

I“Storm”: Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Socrates Moran. Although on March 13. One hour, 40 minutes. $10 to $52. Lin Art & Design, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland. 510-646-1126.

  • Lily Janiak

    Lily Janiak is the theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @LilyJaniak

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