CEDAR HILLS — Want to know the coolest thing about Creekside Theatre Festival? It’s actually on a creek. In fact, there’s a babbling brook running right through the stage. While the water feature is rather unfortunate (the Pleasant Grove Ditch — yikes). Fortunately, the creek is much more charming than its name.
The noble waterway was put to quick use in the opening scene, as sailors frantically baled water to save their sinking ship. In fact, the creek was used through the night for various purposes. It was one of the most effective uses of environment I’d ever seen, and certainly displayed imagination on the part of director Gabriel Spencer. Maybe more stages need creeks.
The destination of the shipwreck sailors was an island ruled by magician Prospero, played by Heidi Mendez. The enchanter controls more than the wind and waves, though. She also has complete power over her daughter’s love life and makes natives of the island do her bidding. This being a comedy from the 1600’s, the ends justify the means, and in the end, everyone ends up happy and/or married (as opposed to needing counseling). An ode to free will The Tempest is not.
Yes, Prospero is a woman here. And I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it shows that overprotective parenting can come from mothers as well as fathers. On the other, it made certain plot points more confusing than the original: like when she is referred to as a duke (should be a duchess, right?). And that sweet bit about Prospero being the only man Miranda had even known? Lost.
It wouldn’t be a Shakespearean comedy without a couple of young lovers, and in “The Tempest” they are Miranda (Faith Johnson) and Ferdinand (Andrew Pingry). Lest her daughter’s hand be too easily won, Prospero demands Ferdinand show his devotion through hard labor. (Prospero loves to turn people into servants. It’s kind of her thing.)
The drunken antics of Stephano (Jasmine Fulmer), Trinculo (Jordan Kramer) and Caliban (Alden Sturgeon) were given ample stage time in the two-hour adaptation. The jokes and delivery seemed like a staged version of Bridesmaids or The Hangover, and delivered most of the laughs from the audience. That just goes to show that drinking will always be funny.
Also among the yuks were Antonio (Adam Argyle) and Sebastian (Matthew Carlin). Carlin stood out among the cast as a skilled actor with a commanding presence and sharp look. His background studying the craft at BYU shined on stage.
BYU student Jeanelle Long also fared well as the spirit Ariel, although the decision to gag her and broadcast prerecorded lines over the PA system was a questionable choice. On one hand, it did show that she was in servitude to Prospero (although why Caliban is spared a similar gag is an open question). And it’s nice to see her physically freed toward the end. Unfortunately, it also resulted in inevitable sound goofs and a lack of connection between actors. Also, because of the placement of the speakers, Ariel’s voice came from behind the audience instead of from the stage, which diminished the performance. It was a shame because Long was one of the stronger presences on stage. She was game, graceful and confident—a fetching spirit if ever there was one.
Speaking of sound, it was often difficult to hear the younger actors, especially toward the beginning while lawnmowers and children were in the park. The surging creek also helped to drown out voices. Microphones or roping off a larger area on the stage side of the creek may help this.
Ah, yes, back to the creek. Toward the end of the show, I sat spellbound as island nymphs Ceres (Berlyn Johns), Iris (Emily Kirkham), and Juno (Kiersten Ernstrom) stood ankle deep in it, blessing the newly betrothed Miranda and Ferdinand. The placement of the lovers on the audience side allowed the beautiful Shakespearean blessings to flow straight through the audience. It was a truly magical moment.
The numbers in the audience on opening night were on the smaller side, about twelve souls, who seemed mostly high school age. The more broad and pratfall humor earned laughs, and the viewers eagerly applauded their friends after the show.
One stray suggestion: while I greatly appreciated the diction and volume of Mendez, I did feel as the evening wore on that she should inject some more emotion and personality into Prospero. She certainly comes across as authoritative, but I would like to see more variation in her emotion as well as her line delivery, which often seemed to have an identical cadence. Yes, Prospero is a control freak, but as the Bard writes it, he’s also a tender loving guardian of his daughter and steward of the island folk.
This is the second year of Creekside Theatre Festival, which according to a recent interview struggled to sell tickets last season. While I didn’t feel that last night’s show was quite up to the level of other local groups like the Grassroots Shakespeare Company (also doing The Tempest now, by the way), based on the laughs and applause of the audience it’s a production well worth seeing. And let’s face it: the more theater companies around the better. Seeing a play in the open air on a Utah County summer night certainly beats the crud out of watching the upcoming remake-of-the-remake-of-the-movie-based-on-the-comic book coming to a megaplex near you. So let’s go Creekside! Yay!