In The Tempest by William Shakespeare, Prospero is a magician and rightful duke of Milan. He is also a single father living on an island with his teenage daughter, Miranda. He orchestrates the weather and the actions of those around him to create reality as he sees fit in his world. Many of us today can surely appreciate his multiple roles and responsibilities.
John Blondell is founding artistic director of the 21-year-old Lit Moon Theatre Co., director of Lit Moon World Theater Festivals, which bring theater companies from far-flung parts of the world to perform and collaborate with Lit Moon, and professor of theater arts at Westmont College. He has also directed and produced shows in places such as Macedonia and Finland, and is preparing to premiere a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Albania.
In his extensive experience and immersion in various genres of theater, as well as in considerable multicultural influences, it seems Blondell, like Prospero, has developed his own brand of magic to create the reality he envisions. Lit Moon has carved a niche for itself in Santa Barbara over the last two decades as richly visual, movement-oriented and imaginative theater.
It is no coincidence that he is working with an extremely talented group of actors and crew, some of whom have been with the company since its inception and have no doubt contributed much to shaping this wondrous world they inhabit together.
In their current production of The Tempest, playing through Sunday at Center Stage Theater, this world is alive and well. Everything about the show is truly artful — the look of it was guided by drawings by the late Czech designer Milon Kalis for previous Lit Moon versions of the play. Bamboo poles hung vertically represent the island, and the characters move through and around them, as well as using them as props.
The costumes, in a fantasy-historic vein, are by Jaco Connolly. The original score was created and is performed by Jim Connolly. Both have been involved with Lit Moon for years and, yes, it’s all in the family — Jim and Jaco are father and son.
As with many Lit Moon shows, the actors play multiple roles, and do so smoothly and convincingly. The most impressive thing, however, is that they seem not to be acting parts, but to have internalized the characters, to be channeling them through every fiber of their being.
Stan Hoffman, a 20-year member of the company, is Prospero. With a gently commanding presence and an ease with Shakespeare’s language, he provides a solid center to the proceedings. In one delightful bit, he plays both characters in a conversation, with a change of hats signifying the switch.
Victoria Finlayson, another 20-year Lit Moon veteran, shows her comfort with roles outside her gender as Antonio, Prospero’s brother, and even species as Caliban, the savage half-human, half-beast who has become slave to Prospero. In a hood lending her a vaguely reptilian look, she cowers and roars and then stumbles drunkenly when provided with wine.
Matthew Tavianini, a founding member of Lit Moon, returns after a long hiatus from their midst during which he has been managing director/producer/actor of Boxtales Theatre Co. Here he is Alonso, king of Naples, and the jester Trinculo. It is especially in the latter role that he shines, with his fluid physicality and well-honed comic instincts.
Then, there are some fairly new faces who fit right in. Westmont theater graduate Sara Jessica Reynolds, on the heels of her Lit Moon debut earlier this year in Henry VI, Part 3, plays the pivotal part of Ariel, a spirit who has also been enslaved by Prospero. With an androgynous charm, she is in turns petulant, sweet and conniving in response to his demands. Often appearing with her guitar strapped to her back, she plays and sings in rousing folk-rock style to great effect, and her energy contributes much to the production.
Another Lit Moon sophomore is Stephanie “Babz” Farnum, also a recent Westmont grad. As Miranda, she is feisty and curious about the world, and portrays sweetly innocent first love with Ferdinand, well played by Nolan Hamlin, of Westmont as well.
Michael Bernard, a longtime theater director and television writer, appears in his first Lit Moon show as Sebastian, brother of the king, and Stephano, a drunken butler. In his fearless and forthright interpretation of both, he shows that he is a welcome new citizen of this milieu.
With no intermission, the production seamlessly moves from beginning to end, carrying the audience away to another dimension. Take the opportunity to slip into this dreamy, quirky world of Lit Moon and enjoy its magic.
Tickets are $16.50 to $25, and are available by clicking here or calling 805.963.8198.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.