Temptation island 

Olympia Dukakis delivers a bold new Bard

I’d bet the full cost of my $35 ticket and a dinner at Tupelo Grille that nearly every member of the near-capacity crowd at last Saturday’s Alpine Theatre Project performance attended for one reason: Olympia Dukakis. They came to see the Hollywood luminary—star of Steel Magnolias, Oscar winner from Moonstruck—hold court in an intimate high school auditorium and unveil the world premiere of her own adaptation of The Tempest, titled Another Side of the Island. They turned out, in short, to see an elegant celebrity in action.

They got that, and more. Surprisingly, though, the “more” part deserved the bulk of the buzz. Dukakis? She was fine. Great, even: equal parts regal and matter-of-fact, just as she appears on film. But as patrons exited the Whitefish Central School following a much-deserved standing ovation, they uttered hardly a word about the show’s star. Instead, they spoke of the scene-stealing hermaphrodite, marveled at the disco number starring plus-sized divas, and remarked on all the perfectly ridiculous costumes, from the cheesy South Beach get-ups to the dorky Ed Grimley-like attire. The masses may have turned out for a glimpse of the debonair Dukakis, but what they saw was a sexy Shakespearian spectacle.

The play’s creators tout this as an unprecedented adaptation of the Bard’s last play. Dukakis wrote Another Side of the Island with collaborators Gregory Hoffman and Margo Whitcomb—the trio also shares directing credits—and the focus here shifts to female empowerment. Prospero becomes Prospera (Dukakis), the protagonist magician living on an island for 12 years with her daughter, Miranda (Joanne Howard). Ariel (Lynn Cohen), the magician’s loyal spirit referred to as “he” in Shakespeare’s text, is definitely a “she” here, looking like a Boca retiree in the midst of a cleaning binge. And Caliban (Amanda Hastings-Phillips), originally the disfigured son of the late witch Sycorax (who used to rule the island), has been recast as perhaps the hottest and funkiest two-sexed blonde this side of The Stranger’s back pages. All of them play a part in Prospera’s elaborate plan to shipwreck old enemies on the island and find closure before hanging up her magic wand.

The play doesn’t just flip genders. Pop culture costumes help tweak the weird factor. The four dignitaries from Naples whom Prospera crashes on the island look like they were transported from Tommy Hilfiger’s yacht club. Ferdinand (Alfredo Narciso), the son of the king of Naples and the lucky dude pegged to wed Miranda, dresses like Tony Montana despite acting about as manly as Hannah Montana; he whips out hand sanitizer after struggling through basic chores. Trinculo (Timothy Williams) and Stephano (Louis Butelli), the jester and drunken butler who get separated from the rest of their shipmates, wear matching plaid shorts and short-sleeve tuxedo shirts. The spirits, who help cast a spell on the Naples crew with some mysterious aerosol cans and a full-on boogie down, look like the cast of Hairspray. Credit costume designer Court Watson with some inspired choices that add punch to an already punched-up adaptation. 

At the center of this tomfoolery resides the calculating Prospera, appropriately dressed in a simple black gown. But even she gets in on the fun. When Prospera tries to wake Miranda from a spell, she impatiently drops a Brooklyn-tinged, “Come on, shake it off.” Unlike some versions of The Tempest that focus heavily on the romance between Miranda and Ferdinand, Another Side of the Island strives for Shakespeare’s original intent: being a comedy.

Nowhere is that more evident than in how the play highlights Trinculo and Stephano, and the pair’s interactions with Caliban. Together, they drink rum, joke, flirt and, at one point, find themselves in a position suggestive of a hardcore threesome—and then drink some more. Before long, the audience isn’t sure whether Caliban’s going to take the jester and butler to bed—in the original play, by the way, Caliban’s animal interest lies with raping Miranda, and not with the men—or carry on with a half-baked plot to overthrow Prospera. Either way, as Shakespeare’s standard comic foils, Trinculo and Stephano deliver. And with Caliban injecting some serious sexual tension—not to mention the ambiguity of the two foils’ own sexual preference—there’s a whole new dimension to this storyline.

What Dukakis and company have ultimately created with Another Side of the Island is a fast-paced, quick-witted, estrogen-soaked take on a typically male-oriented classic. All of the power and presence rests in the women. They are strong, loyal, redemptive and pure, opposite a cast of greedy, dim and deceitful men. That fundamental flip on the traditional play would be enough in some cases to deliver a thoughtful evening of Shakespeare. But with Another Side of the Island, the audience is allowed to enjoy itself, too. The name at the top of the marquee may have attracted the crowd, and the scintillating tidbits carried the buzz, but the Island’s biggest score is that its new take on an old play still resonates.

Another Side of the Island continues at the Whitefish Central School through Saturday, Sept. 6, at 8 PM, and concludes with a 3 PM matinee Sunday, Sept. 7. $30–$35.
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