Wednesday, July 24, 2024
July 24, 2024

Shakespeare’s Tempest opens July 11

With a cast of actors ranging in age from six to 80, the Salt Spring production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is, according to Christina Penhale, above all else a crowd-pleaser –– even while the play itself seems to have much to say on matters within the current political and social zeitgeist. 

“It talks about nature, and how nature is treated,” said Penhale. “And colonialism, and misogyny, and racism. There are all these pieces tied to the human condition.” 

Set with largely original music, and as a return to the lovely outdoor Bard Owl Manor location and its cedar grove, The Tempest invites audiences to a tale of “power, forgiveness, and the relentless passage of time, seen through the eyes of a man navigating his own extraordinary reality,” according to Penhale.  

And not unlike exitStageLeft’s earlier production of Taming of the Shrew –– deliberately cross-cast, and re-set in the wild west –– the company’s presentation this year of The Tempest proposes another uncommon framing: a residential care home. 

Elaborating further might spoil too many delightful surprises, cast and crew told the Driftwood; but the journey is rewarding, featuring sound and music written by Caitlin Acken, Penhale and Jekka Mack. And the entirely local cast is supported by what Penhale said might be the most ambitious technical production the company had yet devised. 

“There’s a theatrical feast of magic elements that occur throughout the play,” she said. “We have an incredible technical crew. What has been accomplished is quite astounding.” 

The company, according to director Jeffrey Renn, takes its purpose from Shakespeare’s proposition in Hamlet –– to “hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature.” 

“And that makes us ask a bunch of questions,” said Renn. “We’re trying to look at Shakespeare as our contemporary, not as some museum beast. If we’re going to still do these plays, then we have to look at them through the lens of contemporary society.” 

That gaze, he said, has inescapably sharpened since the start of the COVID pandemic –– whether examining racism, sexism, our relationship with First Nations or the rise of right-wing fundamentalism –– and among its many virtues, the theatre is also a place for healing. 

“I have always said that we think of theatre as medicine, so we ask ourselves, ‘What’s the medicine that we need?’” he asked, pausing. “Right now, we need comedy.”  

“Received wisdom” on the framing of Tempest as a comedy or a fairytale notwithstanding, Renn said, there is so much more within. 

“On one level, it is play, and fun, and joy, and entertainment,” he said. “On another, it’s some serious questioning of who and what we are.”  

Clark Saunders –– playing Prospero –– called the play relatable, and his character intriguingly complex. 

“He’s not entirely sympathetic,” laughed Saunders. “Every one of his relationships is complicated; he loves his daughter Miranda in his own way, he’s occasionally annoyed with Ariel but has real feelings of affection for her, too. There’s no unidimensional relationship in Prospero’s life, they’re all in some way complicated.” 

Running for just six performances –– in a partnership with Rebecca Nygard at Graffiti Theatre and through the generosity of the Roome family, Penhale said –– The Tempest’s outdoor setting may require “cozy wraps or jackets,” as even in summer an evening can be cooler. Penhale said guests should arrive with lawn chairs or blankets, and might consider bringing a picnic dinner to enjoy before and during the show. And, with proceeds going to Salt Spring’s BC SPCA, there will be dessert snacks and drinks available for purchase. 

Penhale said these productions are possible only through the hard work and creative spirit of everyone involved –– and all were looking forward to bringing islanders and visitors together for several special evenings.  

“We’re probably looking at between 50 and 60 people that will be making this amazing show happen,” said Penhale. “There’s something about creating and community that’s very necessary and very relevant right now.” 

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. July 11, 12, 18, 19 and 20, with a 4 p.m. closing performance July 21. Gates open 30 minutes earlier. Tickets are available only in advance at exitstageleftproductions.com

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