Seattle Center, Center House Theatre, 206-325-6500, $12- $24 7:30 p.m. Thurs.- Sat.; 2 p.m. matinee Sun. ends Sun., Nov. 24
THE BEACH ON Prospero's island looks cozily familiar in Seattle Shakespeare Company's The Tempest: It's lined with evocatively gnarly Northwest driftwood, adorned with grass sprouts and flanked by clanky (at some points distractingly clanky) bamboo curtains. The star piece of driftwood has a natural slot perfect for stashing Prospero's book, and it's the right height for Caliban's drunken cronies to sit on and roll off backward to comic effect. Director David Quicksall's staging doesn't sound the play's deepest notes, but he does know how to show us a good time.
The star among the human flotsam washed up on the beach is Stephen Godwin's Prospero, the magician who stage-manages the whole drama of betrayal and forgiveness. Godwin is the only union actor in a mostly young cast and his superior chops stress his fatherliness. He's too benign for my liking, a Norman Rockwell paterfamilias, but his voice is resonant and the performance works.
The other star, inevitably, is David S. Hogan as Caliban. He looks cool: Red-lined eyes blaze beneath a half-face mask crowned by a snakelike ram's horn; he's tattooed and musclebound, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, and speaks with a lisp, flicking his tongue like Gene Simmons. Caliban wants to break his chains, escape his driftwood prison, kill oppressor Prospero, impregnate his daughter Miranda (Rebecca J. Olson), and rule the island. (Understandable to a guilty modern; unconscionable, but not unthinkable, to pro-authoritarian Shakespeare). He's the dark force that must be acknowledged if social order is to prevail, and Hogan's Caliban packs a nice punch.
As the clowns who enlist Caliban in a plot to overthrow Prospero, Ryan Spickard's Stephano and Jason Hedden's jester Trinculo are amusing, though Hedden gets a little too cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs (some Dr. Evil shtick is aptly and ably used). As the more seriously evil usurpers, Scott Plusquellec's Antonio and John Bianchi's Sebastian are adequate; they could use a malevolence upgrade. Benjamin Huber and Olson give the young lovers Ferdinand and Miranda the requisite pure innocence, but her cleanness gets squeaky—at times I felt like growling, in Lou Grant's voice, "Kid, you've got spunk. I hate spunk!" In the crucially otherworldly role of Ariel, Prospero's one-sprite goon squad, Rachel Hynes doesn't quite fulfill the promise she evinces. She does a nice birdlike or robotic movement—a bit like Jude Law in A.I.—but her presence doesn't have the uncanny authority Ariel needs. She's one to watch, though, as is the rest of SSC's production.