HRVHS stirs up timely themes in "The Tempest"

The Hood River Valley High School Performing Arts Department is on a roll. Last fall, a cast of more than 70 students put on a stupendous production of “Les Misérables” to sold out crowds and local critical acclaim.

Now, the department is taking on William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” under the direction of Rachel Krummel. The cast of 29 is considerably smaller than “Les Mis,” but the show promises to be just as entertaining.

“The Tempest,” one of Shakespeare’s last plays, is set in the 1600s on an island where Prospero (played by Hans Severinsen), the former Duke of Milan, and his fetching young daughter, Miranda (played by Amanda Rickenbach), have been castaways. They have survived for 12 years by relying on the natives to provide for them — primarily a lithe magical spirit named Ariel (played by Laila Winner) and a surly half man-half beast called Caliban (played by Jordan Emerson).

When Miranda is 15, Prospero learns that his nemesis, brother Antonio (played by Russ Dodge), and his former partner in crime, King Alonso (played by Luke Webb), are sailing past the island on their way home from Alonso’s daughter’s wedding. Prospero enlists Ariel and her water spirits to create a huge storm that causes the wedding party to shipwreck. Ariel gets the castaways safely to the island, where various adventures ensue.

Krummel’s production moves quickly, due to some revising of the play. She also expanded the role of the water spirits, and hired professional choreographer Jana Hannigan to create what she calls “the movement and soundscape.” The result is a fast-paced comedy with “lots of eye candy,” Krummel says.

But along with much laughter, the play also has a darker, serious side.

“As the director, I have chosen to focus on the theme of ‘power corrupts,’” Krummel says. “I treasure directing Shakespeare because of the myriad opportunities there are in interpretation of his stories.” As the play progresses, several story lines — and different characters’ battles with one another — eventually intertwine and come together.

“Throughout the play, Shakespeare makes cynical comments about his society and the lack of real humanity,” Krummel says. “He disparages the tendency of his culture to treat foreign countries and the native population as inferior simply because of the differences.” Krummel says that during the course of rehearsals over the past couple of months, the students have had a “growing awareness” of Shakespeare’s voice within the play.

“It’s inspired many a spirited discussion about our inhumanity to others simply because of differences, of how throughout history, a dominant country will enslave the native population to gain power and make money,” Krummel says.

The cast has studied Elizabethan style and Shakespearean scansion techniques — rhythm and meter — to learn how to deliver their lines intelligently. And though Bowe Theatre is far from Shakespeare’s Globe playhouse, the student actors do an impressive job with often difficult and potentially tongue-tying Shakespearean banter.

Likewise, Krummel has taken a potentially challenging set design and made it simple. A beach slanting into the unseen ocean is the setting for most scenes. The rest — including surreal dances by Ariel and her spirits — take place in the theatre aisles among the audience. Don’t plan on dozing during this play.

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