A mag­i­cal place called Cal­i­for­nia

Our richly di­verse state plays a lead­ing role in Corner­stone’s com­mu­nity- built take on ‘ The Tem­pest.’

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - By Mar­garet Gray cal­en­dar@ latimes. com

Af­ter a year on the road, tak­ing its pro­duc­tion of “Cal­i­for­nia: The Tem­pest” from Eureka to Pa­coima, Corner­stone Theater Com­pany re­turned last week­end to down­town Los An­ge­les, where the tour be­gan, to present the f inal per­for­mances in Grand Park.

This pro­ject was the cul­mi­na­tion of 10 years of cre­ative com­mu­nity out­reach, and only a cur­mud­geon could dis­ap­prove of Corner­stone’s mis­sion here: tak­ing Shake­speare to mostly small towns, work­ing with the res­i­dents to shape a pro­duc­tion that unites far- f lung and di­verse com­mu­ni­ties, while cel­e­brat­ing the charms and chal­lenges of each. Am­a­teur ac­tors per­formed along­side Corner­stone mem­bers.

In down­town L. A., where the last of three shows ran Satur­day, res­i­dents took the stage to talk, lyri­cally and hon­estly, about their home­town, its new con­dos and its “urine stench.”

The per­for­mances were free and held out­doors in the balmy June twi­light of the breath­tak­ing am­phithe­ater of Grand Park. The sound was clear; the stag­ing was in­ven­tive and charm­ing. The au­di­ence pic­nicked, chil­dren frol­icked.

Although com­mend­able, heart­warm­ing and con­vivial, com­mu­nity theater projects don’t al­ways re­sult in the most scin­til­lat­ing en­ter­tain­ment. No mat­ter how sup­port­ive you want to be, you can’t help notic­ing that the pow­ers of stage­craft are be­ing em­ployed to teach you some­thing. You may feel sulky about this bait- andswitch even when it’s done well. Your ticket is free, but depend­ing on your dis­po­si­tion, you may f ind sit­ting through fre­quent lec­tures costly.

For “Cal­i­for­nia: The Tem­pest,” play­wright Ali­son Carey re­lo­cates Shake­speare’s plot to mod­ern- day Cal­i­for­nia and shoe­horns in a lot of in­for­ma­tion about our state that is ten­u­ously re­lated to the story. The re­sult is clever, am­bi­tious and un­gainly, with dis­cor­dant el­e­ments stitched to­gether and too many points to make. En­chant­ing scenes fall be­tween long, arid stretches. A bit like Cal­i­for­nia it­self, come to think of it.

Here is the gist: Pros­per ( the lovely Bahni Turpin), once the gover­nor of Cal­i­for­nia, is re­placed by her schem­ing sis­ter, An­to­nia ( Maria Cano). Left for dead, Pros­per and her daugh­ter, Min­erva ( Karen Co­var­ru­bias), are res­cued and de­liv­ered to a re­mote moun­tain­top. There Pros­per learns magic and en­slaves two supernatural be­ings: Ariel, a blue- haired sprite ( the mag­i­cal Page Leong), and Cal­iban, an af­fec­tion- starved malcontent ( the hammy Peter Howard).

Now the vil­lain­ous An­to­nia and her posse are on a plane, which Pros­per causes to crash on the moun­tain. For good mea­sure, she throws in an earth­quake, mak­ing Cal­i­for­nia sink and turn­ing her moun­tain­top into an is­land.

The up­dates cre­ate some in­ter­est­ing new res­o­nances — Cal­iban’s name gets a new mean­ing, “banned from Cal­i­for­nia” — but much of the time they feel poorly in­te­grated and preachy.

Af­ter the plane crash, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on their sur­vival, the pas­sen­gers take turns dis­cussing the agri­cul­ture of the re­gions they rep­re­sent. The am­a­teur per­form­ers are all charm­ing and ro­bustly di­rected by Michael John Gar­cés, but their many missed lines, long pauses, alarmed mu­tual glances and self- re­crim­i­nat­ing ges­tures made me think of the rude me­chan­i­cals’ pro­duc­tion of “Pyra­mus and Thisbe” in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a play that might have been a bet­ter choice for this pro­ject.

But as the evening ul­ti­mately proved, even a rough magic can en­chant. The pas­sion for art and for com­mu­nity that in­fused this pro­duc­tion ex­erted a uni­fy­ing force on the crowd. I joined the free­way traf­fic more philo­soph­i­cally than usual and felt like a real Cal­i­for­nian.

Me­gan Wan­lass

BAHNI TURPIN por­trays Pros­per in Corner­stone Theater Com­pany’s “Cal­i­for­nia: The Tem­pest.”

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