Olympia Little Theatre adds twist to ‘Tempest’

Contributing writerJuly 11, 2014 

Olympia Little Theatre has put a twister on “The Tempest,” its second Shakespeare production: The show is set in the Land of Oz.

Make no mistake, though. This isn’t the kind of production where Prospero is the wizard and Miranda carries a little dog in a basket.

“Too often, I think people try to force a concept,” said Robert McConkey, who’s directing the show, which opens Friday night. “Our characters are exactly who they are written to be, and they have all landed in Oz, just as Dorothy does some years later.”

McConkey said the show simply nods to Oz, with a setting that includes a yellow brick road and green-wrapped cylinders that suggest the Emerald City.

“There’s a little bit of music from the movie,” he said. “Some of the minor characters are Oz-like. There’s a lot of homage.

“It’s not ‘The Tempest’ of Oz,” he added. “It’s just ‘The Tempest’ taking place in Oz.”

McConkey has wanted to direct “The Tempest” and set it in Oz since he noticed the similarity between the two stories 10 or 15 years ago.

“You have a magical storm that essentially starts the show,” he said. “That’s exactly how ‘The Wizard of Oz’ starts — with the tornado. The characters are washed up on a strange magical land where there are strange creatures and beings and spirits and a magical wizard lording over the entire land.

“I always thought that maybe L. Frank Baum was reading a little Shakespeare when he first started writing ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ or maybe it’s just a coincidence.”

It’s McConkey’s first time directing for Olympia Little Theatre, though his work with Theater Artists Olympia will be familiar to avid theatergoers: He directed 2009’s “Poona” and 2010’s “Othello.”

The magical elements of “The Tempest” — and particularly the Oz-like setting — might make it seem unreal, but for Rick Pearlstein, who plays Prospero, there is nothing unreal about magic.

Pearlstein has been involved in the occult for more than 20 years, practicing magical rituals. “I come from a ceremonial magical background, so to play a ceremonial magician on stage is amazing,” he said.

That’s one reason Prospero is one of his dream roles, he said. But he also believes it is one of Shakespeare’s greatest parts.

“A lot of people would consider King Lear to be the old man’s Hamlet, and I guess I’d agree with that, but I’d throw this role in there, too,” he said. “I’m too old to play Hamlet, but I can play Prospero.”

He took up acting three years ago and has appeared in several Olympia Little Theatre shows, including “Much Ado About Nothing” in 2012. He also acted in Animal Fire Theater’s “Julius Caesar” last summer and played Polonius in South Puget Sound Community College’s 2013 production of “Hamlet.”

“I got to play my first dream role there,” he said. ‘The Tempest’

What: Olympia Little Theatre puts a twist on the Shakespearean comedy: It’s set in the Land of Oz.

When: 7:55 p.m. Friday (July 11) and Saturday, plus July 17-19 and 24-26; matinees at 1:55 p.m. July 20 and 27

Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia

Tickets: $10-$14 at olympialittletheatre.org, at Yenney Music and at the door

More information: 360-786-9484 or olympialittletheatre.org

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