LOS ANGELES – Tucked away in a complex of storage units in Glendale was one of the most creative pieces of theater I have seen in a long time. Shakespeare’s The Tempest, performed by The Liminal Space Players is a tiny, 25 seat black box theater production that reminded me of my college experience in the best ways – it felt like a show created from a place of passion, thoughtfulness, and true collaboration. The set was minimal and most of the props used were in the style of ‘found objects,’ my favorite of which was a paint can. (This contributed nicely to the “stranded on an island” plot.) The costumes were simple yet cohesive. And the acting was stellar.
One of the most compelling things about this version of the show was the choice to make the lead role of Prospero a woman, Prospera. While Prospero is often portrayed as a vengeful, angry man fighting to regain his status and concerned with finding someone to care of his daughter, Charissa Adam’s Prospera used the arguably more powerful strengths of forgiveness and harmonization to restore her former life and focuses on, in Charissa’s words, “finding someone who is [her daughter’s]equal so that she can have a loving and fulfilling partner for the rest of her life.”
Prospera’s daughter Miranda, played by actor Harriette Feliz.
Assistant director Jessica Erin Martin shared, “Exploring the piece with a female gaze was so moving to me, as the text really lends itself to a more empathetic and feminist bent… There were so many moments when I got chills because of Prospera’s gentleness and compassion, or to see a woman standing in her power and owning her truth.”
I definitely experienced that while watching the show – feeling truly moved by the cast’s decision that despite Prospera being the wronged party, she took Michelle Obama’s, “When they go low, we go high,” approach to things. It was a refreshing interpretation to go with a path that requires arguably more work – true enlightenment, as opposed to unchecked anger. Charissa explained that, to her, “the whole play is about relationships and restoring what has been broken. Although revenge is tempting, forgiveness is what releases Prospera from the torment of the wrongs she has suffered. At the risk of being cliché, love conquers all.”
Similarly, Antonio was instead Antonia, creating a relationship between sisters as opposed to brothers. Director Riley Shanahan, who chose the piece initially chimed in, “There’s just such a history of men doing Shakespeare and I’m very interested in flipping the script on that by giving women the opportunity to make an interpretation with these roles that are typically reserved for white men.” Hurrah for male allies!
The next thing that really stood out to me about this production was how accessible the cast made the Shakespearean language. This was Shakespeare done well – all of the actors had a very clear understanding of the nuances of speech and communicated the simple meaning of text extremely effectively, focusing beautifully on the relationships between the characters.
“I really wanted people to understand the language. We’ve all seen productions of Shakespeare that just seem like a lot of words being well spoken. This cast has taken this dense language and made it clear and personal. I’m just so excited for the audience to see the characters that the company has created, and to maybe access Shakespeare in a way they may not have before.” – Jessica, who in addition to being the assistant director, was also the text coach.
And while I have been focusing mainly on the fantastic women involved in this production, I have to take a moment to mention actors Benjamin McFadden and Christopher Morson, who shone in their roles as Caliban and Stephano, respectively. While they were in the ranks of actors who played multiple characters in the show, these particular performances were so authentically wild and true that they drew you into the story more completely.
It is not easy to put on your own production of a play, especially something as difficult and poetically worded as Shakespeare. And this production is certainly not a money-maker for the actors involved (the show is free!). Charissa confided, “I’ve learned to not pursue the paycheck in order to validate my self worth as an artist. I have to keep creating projects that I care about to feed my artistic soul, regardless.”
Jessica added, “This show was created by a bunch of trained, professional theatre actors who were tired of waiting around to get cast. Just getting back to the simplicity of the empty space and Shakespeare’s text was so invigorating. I think we all feel so much more fulfilled having put this show together. And it just proves that you never ever have to wait for permission to make your art.”
So, what are you waiting for? Get thee to the storage unit! There are only two more chances to see this delightful piece of theater, Friday and Saturday night (June 29th & 30th) at 8pm – more details here. And did I mention that the show is FREE (suggested donations welcome,) and that they serve wine, beer, and water? Shakespeare would be proud.
*all photos taken by Jessica Erin Martin.