Cal Shakes gets terrifically Tempest tossed

Tempest 1
Catherine Castellanos (left) is Prospero and Amy Lizardo is Ariel in California Shakespeare Theater’s All the Bay’s a Stage tour of The Tempest. Below: Patrick Kelly Jones (lower left) is Stephano and John R. Lewis is Caliban. Photos by Jay Yamada

On a day when terrible things were happening in the world, being immersed in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest was sweet balm, especially as performed by the fine actors of California Shakespeare Theater’s “All the World’s a Stage” tour of the show, which, in classic traveling players mode, is being performed in senior centers, homeless shelters, federal prison, rehab centers and the like. It’s hard not to agree with Caliban when he says, “Hell is empty. All the devils are here.” But dark notions of revenge, which so inform the play itself, are soothed by virtue, and Prospero’s exquisite speech, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep,” is practically heartbreaking in its beauty.

Director Rebecca Novick’s fine-tuned production has a handful of public performances at the Oakland Museum of California in a space generally used as the museum’s cafe. There’s not lighting, save what’s already in the ceiling. The audience is cozily set up in four sections around a central performance space, and the two-hour production unfurls at a spritely pace, outfitted in lovely designs by Naomi Arnst that assist in differentiating the double-, sometimes triple-cast actors.

What set there is by Nina Ball is clever. A ship-shaped crescent is instrumental in conveying the play-opening storm that leads to a violent shipwreck. Then, as the action shifts to the island home of the wizardly Prospero, that crescent is turned upright, set in a cradle and serves as a throne of sorts, a point of power for the island’s master, or, in this case, mistress as Propsero is played by the commanding Catherine Castellanos. The pole that had served as the ship’s mast, is relocated to a tuft of grass and is climbed upon by the fairy Ariel (Amy Lizardo), or serves as a doorway through which we glimpse the newly smitten lovers Miranda (Tristan Cunningham) and Ferdinand (Rafael Jordan) staring googly-eyed at each other and arm wrestling.

Tempest 2

This is stripped-down theater at its best: words and performance, story and emotion. What I will take away from this enlivened production, aside from yet another reminder of how profound Shakespeare can be at acknowledging the darkness in the world while holding on to hope and faith in love and our better nature, are the magic of Castellanos in performance, the thrill of watching Cunningham and and Jordan convincingly fall in love in an instant and the genuine comic inspiration of the show’s clowns.

Cunningham doffs her maiden’s weeds to become Trinculo, a buffoonish steward from the wrecked ship, Patrick Kelly Jones is Stephano and John R. Lewis is Caliban, and the three of them, as they pass the tippling gourd, are outright hilarious. Sometimes the shift from the revenge plot (Prospero lands all her enemies on the island to wreak revenge) to the clowning makes me cringe. But in this production I actively looked forward to it. At one point, Cunningham came into the audience, plopped into the chair next to me and put her arm around me for much of one scene. Now that’s audience interaction I can get behind.

The revenge plot is also quite satisfying thanks to Liam Vincent as Antonio, Prospero’s dastardly, throne-stealing brother, Jones as the ruthlessly ambitious Sebastian and Lewis as the grieving king (he believes his son was drowned in the storm). Also in their company but not part of any murderous plots is Gonzalo, here played as pregnant woman by Carla Pantoja. There’s lots of strong female power on this island, and Pantoja’s Gonzalo is a powerful part of it.

Lizardo’s Ariel sings like an angel (accompanied by composer/musical director Olive Mitra on upright bass and a variety of percussion), and Kelly’s Stephano sings scurvy tunes like a natural-born sailor.

Castellanos ends the show with a powerful, emotional reading of Prospero’s famous speech, but the way she delivers it to the audience, all seemingly delighted by the two hours they’ve just spent together, feels intimate and personal, like she’s talking just to us and not over hundreds of years and thousands of productions of The Tempest. Again, on this day when more terror was causing more mayhem and pain in the world, it was impossible not to be moved by the words.
     “Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
     As I foretold you, were all spirits and
     Are melted into air, into thin air:
     And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
     The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
     The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
     Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
     And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
     Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
     As dreams are made on, and our little life
     Is rounded with a sleep.”

California Shakespeare Theater’s All the Bay’s a Stage tour of The Tempest has a limited number of public performances through Nov. 22 at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland. Tickets are $20. Call 510-548l-9666 or visit

Review: `The K of D’

Maya Lawson plays the inhabitants of a small Ohio town in the ghost story The K of D, the one-woman show that opens the new Magic Theatre season. Photos by


Magic season opens with chilling solo show `K of D’


In the world of new plays, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to come up with that prince of a hit.

That’s something folks at the Magic Theatre, one of the country’s foremost purveyors of new plays, have known for a long time, and it’s something Magic audiences know, too. When you go see a new play, you are taking a risk, diving into the unknown with an expectation of at least being entertained and a hope of being altered, shaken or moved.

With new artistic director Loretta Greco taking over for Chris Smith, the Magic heads into a new season with a very human opening play.

Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D is a one-woman exercise in storytelling in which the dynamic actress Maya Lawson, a San Francisco native, plays the inhabitants of a small Ohio town during what comes to be known as the year of “the death.”

“I got a little story for you.” Those are the inviting opening word as Lawson, dressed in a tank top and jeans and carrying a satchel and a skateboard, invites us to set our brains on listening mode – something akin to sitting around the campfire and sharing ghost stories.

She tells us this is a story from her childhood, though we’re not exactly sure who exactly she is in this story. Offstage calls indicate she’s actually one of the characters she’s pretending to play, but we’re never quite sure (and that’s actually needlessly confusing by the end of the show).

The western Ohio town we’re in is near the Indiana border — “Think Dairy Queen,” our narrator tells us – and our job is to follow a pack of teenage friends from one tragedy to another and see how the events of one year ended up being a sort of urban legend about a girl with the “k of d” or “kiss of death.”

The play’s foray into the murk of urban legends is actually when it’s most interesting. We hear the teenagers tell a couple legends – one about a phone call from a crypt, another about a disgusting event at a diner – and then we’re given to understand that urban myths tell us a lot about ourselves and our fears. “It’s safer to be wary but more fun to believe.”

Keeping the teenage characters straight is challenging at first, but the appealing, energetic Lawson, under the direction of Rebecca Novick, sharpens her characterizations as she goes and the story begins to pick up speed.

On a set (by Melpomene Katakalos) of wooden planks, a metal milk crate and a steel drum), Lawson spins a yarn of twins Charlotte and Jamie McGraw and what happened when one of them was killed in a car accident by the horrible Johnny Whistler.

Schellhardt gives a whole lot away in her title, so the ending isn’t all that surprising, nor has she crafted an especially satisfying urban legend, but the telling is rich, especially when Sara Huddleston’s sound design is hooting and chirping and whooshing with sound effects that blend nature and possible otherworldly activity.
The K of D is actually more gripping as a ghost story than as an urban legend – there’s something thrillingly creepy about one voice in the dim light (lighting design by Kate Boyd) telling us about things that go bump in the theatrical night.


The K of D continues through Oct. 19 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$45. Call 415-441-8822 or visit

Crowded Fire shake-up

Hot on the heels of their latest show (Big Death & Little Death, see below), Crowded Fire Theater Company has announced the departure of founding artistic director Rebecca Novick.

Erin Gilley’s press release stated that Novick has has announced her resignation after “10 years at the helm of one of San Francisco’s most notable small theater companies.”

Apparently Crowded Fire’s board of directors is now in the final stages of a search for Novick’s successor and expects to announce their selection soon.

Says Novick:

It’s been exactly 10 years since I stood in line at the Fringe Festival to sign up for what would turn out to be Crowded Fire’s first show. I’m enormously proud of what we’ve achieved in that time and thrilled that the company has grown into an institution that will continue without me.

In the 10 seasons under Novick’s leadership, Crowded Fire produced 23 shows including 10 world premieres, five of them Crowded Fire commissions.

Novick is reportedly leaving Crowded Fire to pursue freelance directing opportunities, with the eventual goal of serving as the artistic director of a larger institution. Upcoming projects for her include A Blessing on the Moon, a dance/theater piece based on Joseph Skibell’s novel about Holocaust Poland which she will workshop at Theater Emory’s Brave New Works Festival in Atlanta and a return to Crowded Fire to direct Lisa D’Amour’s Anna Bella Eema in June.

For more information about Crowded Fire, visit