Panicked orange-vested ferry workers struggle to keep the boat afloat through an angry storm.
That was the opening scene of Island Stage Left’s first production of “The Tempest” in 1998. Twenty years later, Stage Left members revisit the tale with a new version to celebrate their birthday.
“It’s the perfect play to do here,” said Helen Machin-Smith, co-founder of Island Stage Left. “It is set on a magical island. Where do we live? On a magical island.”
Shows took place on Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and Waldron earlier last week. On San Juan Island, “The Tempest” runs July 19, through Aug. 12 Thursdays-Sundays, at 1062 Wold Road, at 8 p.m. The event is outdoors, therefore coats and blankets are recommended. Stage Left offers performances for free. Donations are helpful, however, to keep the company operating.
“The Tempest” centers around a duke, Prospero, who is betrayed by his brother, and left stranded on an island with his daughter Miranda, a servant-spirit Arial, and Caliban, a monster-slave. Prospero studies magic and becomes an increasingly powerful sorcerer. He creates a mammoth storm that shipwrecks his enemies on his island. As the story unfolds, the audience watches to see if Prospero is able to make peace with the men who left him for dead.
“Here is a character that has every reason to never forgive, which makes it a powerful play,” Machin-Smith said, explaining that the tale addresses love and forgiveness. There is more depth in “The Tempest” than some of Shakespeare’s comedies, according to Machin-Smith, although it does have several funny moments.
Many critics believe Prospero was meant to portray the playwright himself, given that it was his last major work. Machin-Smith does not quite go that far, noting that Shakespeare is rarely that easy to interpret.
However, she says it’s clear he knew it was his last big hurrah.
“Lines like Prospero saying he would drown his books, lead me to think he was telling audiences this is the end,” she said.
Either way the play is a culmination of what Shakespeare learned during his life and on the stage, Machin-Smith added, and it contains some of Shakespeare’s most resonant lines. A few examples are: “We are such stuff as dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleep,”; “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows!” and “O brave new world, that has such people in it.”
The performance is packed with original music by Trevor Wheetman, singer-songwriter of Nashville, Tennessee. Cast members include Daniel Mayes, Stage Left co-founder, as Prospero. Mayes has played leading roles at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, the Initman and Seattle Rep theaters. He has also starred in more than 43 roles at Island Stage Left.
Ariel is played by Sylvie Davidson, whose appearances include ACT Theater’s “The Crucible” and Alliance Theatre’s “Troubadour.”
Caliban is performed by David Natale, familiar to Northwest audiences at Seattle Rep, Seattle Public, Annex, Mirror Stage, Eclectic and Key City Public Theatre.
Finding housing for off-island actors has been an ongoing issue. With over a dozen roles in each production, the company has to fill some of those roles with traveling actors. While some locals have generously opened their homes over the years, the required two-month stay is a lot to ask. To make it more palatable, Stage Left has paid for housing, which is expensive. To compound the problem, Stage Left had to apply for a temporary permit in order to perform an additional weekend. Next year the company is required to have a permanent one in order to show the five weeks necessary for the show to be financially viable.
Despite obstacles, Machin-Smith said she will continue Stage Left as long as she can since theater is her passion.
“It has always been food for my soul. I can’t imagine my life without it,” she said.
For more information on Stage Left visit www.islandstageleft.org.