“John [sic] Tracy is a creative and innovative director who is true to his vision throughout the entire production.
The play opens with blue walls which are turned around into a scientific laboratory amid wonderful special effects of both lighting and sound. This laboratory belongs to the deposed and exiled Duke Prospero (Robert Parsons) who is a brilliant scientist. Caliban (Michael Torres) is an indigenous scientist who works for Prospero. Ariel has become the Ariel coil, Prospero's great invention. The Coil controls the Qualities, six robotic figures who speak Ariel's lines in unison and do amazing backwards somersaults and disappear through trap doors. Miranda, Prospero's daughter (Sarah Gold) is in a rage against her father because of a shipwreck which Prospero caused. After the shipwreck, Ferdinand (Alex Hersler) appears on the scene and meets Miranda and the two are immediately drawn to one another.
Wonderful comic relief is provided before the end of Act I by Trincula (Lynne Soffer) as a simple minded servant who is looking for a place to wait out the coming storm. Stephano (Cassidy Brown), a drunken butler enters and the two friends are overjoyed to have found each other. At the end of Act I the whole audience was cheering.
The real magic of this production lies in Abra Berman's wonderful Victorian costumes, Ellen Brooks' amazing lighting design and Nina Ball's innovative set design. John [sic] Tracy takes many liberties with Shakespeare's script…but the production is recommended for its uniqueness and inventiveness.
– Flora Lynn Isaacson, For All Events
“Director Jon Tracy has done a strange thing for Marin Shakespeare Company's last show of the season. He's staged ‘The Tempest,’ William Shakespeare's fantastical tale of sorcery and spirits, without the magic. Not only is the mastermind Prospero a scientist, not a magician, but so is his slave Caliban, who's more often depicted as a dim-witted subhuman or simple exploited native. The air spirit Ariel is eliminated entirely, replaced by a machine. An inventive writer/director who's done thrilling adaptations of Homer and Orwell in the East Bay, Tracy has reimagined the play with the ‘steampunk’ aesthetic of sci-fi set in the Victorian era.
That requires some radical reinterpretation of the text.
Nina Ball's set doesn't look like much when you enter — just deep blue walls with a large machine barely visible behind low walls. But those walls turn around to reveal compartments filled with control panels, steamer trunks and pale figures standing motionless within them. They're dressed immaculately by costumer Abra Berman in brown and gray suits, long coats, hats and goggles. These are the Qualities that replace the magical spirit Ariel. In Tracy's version the Ariel Coil is a towering machine that dominates the rear of the stage. The Qualities are human-looking robots controlled by the Ariel Coil at Prospero's command. They're also easily the best thing about this ‘Tempest.’
Played by deft physical performers Silvia Girardi, Maro Guevara, Kimberly Miller, Nesbyth Rieman, Erika Salazar and Jeremy Vik, the Qualities are enthralling. They walk and turn in stiff, mechanical movements, but they slip in and out of trapdoors with fluid grace and speed.
Most unnervingly, they speak by opening their mouths wide agape while loudspeaker voices emanate from all around them. They poke their heads out of trapdoors and record conversations all over the island and then play them back in the speakers' own voice. They do this so often, in fact, that when the Ariel Coil speaks for itself through them it's not always immediately clear that it's not just regurgitating overheard dialogue.
Brendan Aanes' sound design is indispensable in bringing the concept to life, from the eerie voices to the omnipresent hum and crackle of the machinery and haunting music. Ellen Brooks' lighting nicely accentuates the creepy atmosphere.
But every now and then there's a moment that's, for lack of a better word, magical.
Particularly enjoyable is the way a highly agitated Prospero nervously rehearses all the things he wants to say to his brother and the king, which has a funny payoff when he finally does address them in person. The scene when Gold's Miranda meets Alex Hersler's boyish Ferdinand is marvelous, the two of them gaping at each other in wordless awe.
It's a visually arresting, well-designed production, but cold, confusing and unusually grim….
It's an interesting, bold experiment, and it's good to see Marin Shakes taking this
kind of artistic risk.”
– Sam Hurwitt, Marin Independent Journal
”Jon Tracy ratchets the excitement even higher with his own adaptation and direction of Shakespeare's final play….
Tracy's technical demands are well met by the Marin Shakespeare Company crew. The set pieces by Nina Ball revolve as the action moves from laboratory to beach; the voice-overs and underscoring sounds are by Brendan Aanes who also composed the music. Lights by Ellen Brooks change in an instant and have strong emotional values—and the early 19th-century costumes by Abra Berman contrast the rough islanders with the smooth shipwreck survivors. Even on opening night you could see, and applaud, the director's vision that is at work in ‘The Tempest.’”
– Lee Brady, Pacific Sun