KPBS AIRDATE: October 18, 1995
A beauty, a beast and a sorcerer. Treachery and revenge. Two disparate classics, with surprising elements in common. Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Both are getting a fresh perspective in Coronado .
At Lamb’s Players Theatre, there’s a 1995 edition of Hugo’s 1830 historical romance, set in fifteenth century France . David McFadzean, formerly a Lamb’s Player and currently executive producer and co-creator of TV’s “Home Improvement,” has revised his 1982 drama and brought it home for his old buddies to try out.
Director Robert Smyth has given it all its due. But both play and production tend toward the overly portentous and melodramatic. The thing of beauty here is Esmeralda, the soulful gypsy girl, sweetly played by Sara Tobin. The beast is, of course, Quasimodo, the deformed and deafened bell-ringer, whose love and loyalty know no bounds. David Heath is wonderful in the role, a great, sad, hulking but agile monstrosity who doesn’t know his own strength — of body or of heart.
The sorcerer here is Dom Frollo, the villain of the piece. Archdeacon of Notre Dame cathedral, he was once an upright priest, but he has become bewitched by the gypsy. In his obsession he turns to the realm of alchemy and the occult. This aspect of his character is hazy in the play. And Frollo’s anguish at not being able to have Esmeralda for his own, is portrayed by Paul Eggington as a series of knuckle-biting poses.
Also reiterative is the portrayal of Maria, played by Kerry Meads as a scowling, bitter, clenched-tooth Madame Defarge of the gypsies. An interesting addition is the music of Deborah Gilmour Smyth, which, though lovely at times, is also cloying at others, pounding home the ten commandments, and the inference that most of them get broken during the course of the evening. Why the gypsies sing in Spanish is a mystery to me.
Some of director Smyth’s stage pictures are outstanding, especially his use of the cast as gargoyles, hanging from Michael Wood’s ladder-like set. Tim and Nathan Peirson have done wonderful work with makeup and lighting, and the costumes are quite colorful. But the first act is slow in pace and exposition. Things pick up in the second act, but the archdeacon gets off a lot easier here than in the original.
True to the original in many ways, is a rather daring production of “The Tempest,” a shipwreck story staged on the beach outside the Hotel Del. What a magnificently apt setting, and director Sean Thomas Murray makes marvelous use of his surroundings.
He creates extraordinary, unforgettable images. Like the fleet-footed Ariel, fairly flying across the sand. And the beastly Caliban, surveying the landscape from atop a huge clump of rocks, silhouetted against the sea. And before the proceedings begin, there is Linda Castro’s Prospero, majestic with billowy sleeves and a knee-length braid, deftly doing T’ai Chi on the beach, graceful, elegant, hypnotic. That is basically how she plays the role, more magical than magisterial. But the competing elements made it difficult to display emotional nuance, and not all the actors were able to rise to the vocal demands of the occasion. But this production is a sight to be seen, a multi-sensory pleasure to experience. Shakespeare al fresco. Simply delicious.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.