‘The Tempest’ transplanted to 1930s

The biggest complaint one would have about Indy Shakespeare company Eclectic Pond’s production of “The Tempest: Adrift in Time” is that the stage’s location is darn difficult to find. But once you do find the venue, it’s worth the hunt.

The performing space, at 5529 Bonna Ave., No. 10, Indianapolis, is in the Irvington neighborhood, a few streets south of Washington Street. Don’t be drawn into the bustling coffee shop on Bonna; the place you seek is behind it, through a gate (and watch for the signs). Finding it in the recent snowfall made the experience surreal, like venturing into the Bermuda Triangle.

Which, it turns out, is where this interpretation of the bard’s play has been set.

William Shakespeare’s comedy, “The Tempest,” is one of his odder inventions, like a mash-up of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Gilligan’s Island” with elements of magic, powerful spirits and comically exaggerated emotions. Eclectic Pond and director Carey Shea manage to give it a setting that can handle the inherent weirdness.

Like many recent Shakespeare productions, while the dialogue is mostly unchanged, the play’s time and place is updated; in this case, to 1930s America. The play’s hero, Prospero, is now the aviatrix Prosprina (Joanna Winston), heiress to the Milan fortune, who seeks to be the first woman to fly solo around the world, unaware she is carrying a child. Her sabotaged aircraft disappears near Bermuda.

Time has passed, and now a small commercial aircraft with Prosprina’s conniving sister Antonia (Kate Homan) aboard gets sent off-course by a powerful storm. One moment the plane and its dozen passengers are crashing into the Atlantic; the next they find they are scattered unhurt around a mysterious island.

Because this place resides outside normal time and space, imbued with something like magic, Prosprina has had the time to raise her daughter, Miranda (Ann Marie Elliott), to young adulthood while gaining mastery over native goddess-like spirits led by Ariel (Greenfield native Frankie Bolda) as well as the simple-minded deformed man, Caliban (Matt Anderson). With these at her command, she has brought about the storm and her potential revenge.

The aircraft has also brought the Furniture King of Naples, Florida, Alonso (Dan Flahive), along with his son and heir, Ferdinand (Bradford Reilly). Separated after the crash, Alonso wanders with his brother, Sebastian (Noah Winston), whose partnership in the family business had just been abruptly dissolved so he hangs out with Antonia – a person not at all squeamish about fratricide.

Ferdinand, wandering alone, discovers Miranda. Naturally, it’s love at first sight. Meanwhile, the aircraft’s pilot and co-pilot (Brian G. Hartz and Zack Neiditch) find Caliban (in a hilarious scene). This being a Shakespeare comedy, not a tragedy, there will be good-natured comeuppance, happy endings and a wedding of sorts at the end. It’s how that all comes about that is the interesting part. Fortunately, it all makes a sort of sense, and the cast members handle their roles well, keeping the antics going without being too over the top.

The “adrift in time” nature of the island is revealed in a few anachronisms. When subtle, like Miranda’s Walkman, they work; but a scene of Miranda and Ferdinand playing on an Atari was a bit jarring, even for this setting. However, the innovative use of LED collars and a lighted staff to show the force of control that Prosprina holds over her spirits aid the play’s subtle criticism of slavery.

Bolda’s Ariel and her fellow spirits (Lisa K. Anderson and Devan Mathias) are invisible to most of the characters; their being clothed in white with pale makeup helps the audience understand this (while adding to their other-worldliness). Some of the funniest moments are when Bolda, as an unseen spirit, interferes with a mortal’s actions.

The staging with pieces of “wreckage” around gives the production an appropriate castaway feel. It’s not a large room, so all seats are fairly close to the action, drawing the viewers in and removing any need for mics on the actors.

John Belden is former arts editor of the Daily Reporter. He lives in Irvington. You can reach him at indybeldar@gmail.com.