This summer, the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival puts a fantastic twist on William Shakespeare’s most magical play.
Prospero, the all-powerful sorcerer in “The Tempest,” will be played by a woman.
“We have so many strong actors,” director Cindy Totten explained, adding that the county’s only outdoor theater company turns a blind eye to gender in the casting process. “When Janet (Stipicevich) came in and read, we thought she was brilliant. We just thought she was best for the part.”
Stipicevich, a festival regular since 1991, agreed that a female Prospero “lends a whole different element” to “The Tempest.”
“It’s just the whole maternal thing,” the actress said, noting that the 2010 film version of “The Tempest” also featured a female lead. “She’s much more bonded with nature. That instinct, that intuition goes hand-in-hand with playing the character as female.”
According to Totten, the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival originally staged “The Tempest” in 1998. The theater company was planning a revival of the play a decade later when it lost its performing venue, putting that production on hold.
Now “The Tempest” is the centerpiece of the festival’s fourth season at the River Oaks Amphitheatre in Paso Robles, a 600-seat venue that features views of gently rolling hills, golf greens and a placid lake. (Although the festival usually produces two plays per season, scheduling conflicts limited it to one production this year, artistic director Zoe Saba said.)
“Shakespeare packed everything into this final play,” Totten said. “There’s something for everyone: beautiful lovers falling in love, betrayal, revenge, forgiveness, adventure and magic.”
Betrayed by her brother Antonio (David Anthony Hance), Prospero, the rightful Duchess of Milan, and her daughter Miranda (Claire Harlan) have spent 12 years stranded on a remote island with only a magical sprite, Ariel (Katherine Perello), and a misshapen slave, Caliban (Matt Hanson), for company.
When Prospero learns that her brother’s ship is passing nearby, she conjures up the title storm, shipwrecking Antonio, his co-conspirator Queen Alonso of Naples (Jean Miller), Alonso’s brother Sebastian (Charles Hayek) and her son Ferdinand (Garrett Smith).
Also washed ashore are the kindly courtier Gonzalo
(Robert Knowles) and the queen’s drunken servants, jester Trinculo (Cordelia Roberts) and steward Stephano (Robin Wolf).
Prospero splits the castaways into three separate groups, setting the stage for a love affair, a murderous plot and more.
The Central Coast Shakespeare Festival conjures up an atmosphere of magic and mystery with the help of elaborate costumes by Zandi Peters, choreography by Jason Sumabat and set pieces designed and built by technical director Nathan Brown. (He designed the lighting with Jack Links). The production also features a number of songs, including “Full Fathom Five” and “Where the Bee Sucks,” with lyrics by Shakespeare and music by Thomas Morley and Robert Johnson.
According to Totten, the entire production is liberally sprinkled with stage magic.
“We obviously can’t have a tempest on stage, but we can create it” using movement and props, Totten said. “There’s a sort of charming theatricality to it.”
She also praised the play’s way with words, noting that “The Tempest” introduced the phrases “brave new world” and “strange bedfellows” into the English lexicon.
“There’s so much beautiful language that’s somehow seeped into our bones,” Totten said.
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.