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Julian Lòpez-Morillas as Prospero in Free Shakespeare in the Park's 2006 production of
The Tempest





Julia Motyka as Ariel in
Free Shakespeare in the Park's 2006 production of
The Tempest

August 23, 2006

The Tempest
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
Jaime Robles, The Piedmont Post

When the billowing ultramarine silk curtain drops, transforming itself into a tempestuous sea, what we see is a stage painted entirely in blue. It’s a strange cobalt blue hovering between the color of sky and distant exotic waters, like the Mediterranean settling into the summer white shore around Thessaloniki or a waterfall frozen in its downward tumult in a Norwegian fjord.

What is painted on the surfaces of this blue box, though, are pages from a journal, the head of da Vinci’s old man marked with a grid, figures somersaulting across a dark rectangle, a globe, and ominous thoughts such as “A dream of reason produces monsters.”

We are on Prospero’s Island, in the magician-scholar Prospero’s mind, and in Shakespeare’s thoughts as he pens what may be his last play.

The metaphor is fitting and carried throughout The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s staging of The Tempest, Shakespeare’s mysterious and haunting drama, which plays this weekend at Oakland’s Lakeside Park at Lake Merritt.

Insightfully, director Kenneth Kelleher has the actors doubling their parts in his interpretation of this most uncanny of Shakespeare’s work. Julia Motyka plays both the airy spirit Ariel and Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, and Daveed Diggs plays both the savage and deformed slave Caliban and Ferdinand, Prince of Naples.

The doubling underlines significant relationships that these four characters play to the magician and rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero; as well as reminding us in the audience that often our own relationships may be patterns we have enacted with others many times before. Motyka plays an alert and startled Ariel, countering the part with an eager, girlish Miranda. Diggs is especially brilliant in his transformations between the starry-eyed young prince and the snorting and cursing Caliban.

Likewise, the usurpers and betrayers—Prospero’s brother Antonio (Michael Ray Wisely) and the King of Naples brother Sebastian (Brian Herndon)—find their doubles in the low comedy figures of the drunken butler Stephano and his goofy jester pal Trinculo. In both manifestations, they are connivers and betrayers. Ultimately, both sets will be undone by their own vanity, although the root of the aristocrats’ vanity is hid more deeply.

Both Wisely and Herndon put their all into portraying the foolish conspirators Stephano and Trinculo, and the scenes in which they plot the overthrow of Prospero with Caliban are both funny and endearing; their silliness makes possible and acceptable Prospero’s forgiveness of his far more wicked brother Antonio.

The choreography by Mary Beth Cavanaugh aptly places the elemental spirits, swathed from head to toe in cobalt blue, within each scene, so their movements, which combine the ungainly with the measured and graceful, add to the play’s unearthly placement. These are not free spirits but rather manifestations of Prospero’s angers and desire for revenge and recompense. When they are not part of the action, the spirits lean and collapse onto chairs, walls and ladders as if they were broken dolls.

An enchanting production for an afternoon in the park.

The Tempest plays Saturday, August 26 and Sunday, August 27, at 4 p.m. at Oakland’s Lakeside Park at Lake Merritt in Duck Pond Meadow. Information available at

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