Playwright Don Fleming has put a very Washingtonian spin on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Setting his adaptation, Freak Storm, in the Cascade mountains, replacing Caliban with Sesquath (yes, like ‘Sasquatch’), and exploring modern concerns for issues of environmental sustainability and stewardship of nature, the dramatist has taken a number of liberties in regionalizing and reframing the famous story while, for the most part, preserving the dramatic framework of the source material. So one wouldn’t need to know The Tempest to follow Freak Storm. Winner of last year’s Battle of the Bards, Ghost Light Theatricals‘ annual competition for adaptations of classical works, the outlandish, comedic modernization wraps this weekend.
The play concerns an expeditionary team set out to harness sources of geothermal energy–a volcano. What’s at the core of the drama is the question, ‘How will the vast powers of the earth be utilized?’ Will our characters resolve to work in harmony with nature, respecting and protecting her, or will she be exploited, used for profit or toward violent ends? What plays out in this struggle pits family against family, industry against moral conviction, student against teacher, and man against man-creature.
Opening not with a shipwreck, but a crashing helicopter, Freak Storm begins in a very cacophonous manner. With little understanding of the relationships of the characters or what interests they represent, it’s initially difficult to discern the intricacies of what’s happening through the clamor of so much screaming and noise. So the first scene lands strangely, stilted and stutter-stepping, without providing too much information. Once the chopper is down, however, once the volume drops and characters are divided into smaller, more manageable, more focused groups, the work of character development and the establishing of the world of the play commences swiftly.
The tenor of the show is generally very light–it’s loaded with Star Trek references, innuendo, and physical gags, and the lowbrow laugh is seldom resisted by the playwright. The ‘science’ of the play, while consistent with itself, requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief, a unique magic/science hybrid which some effort is undergone to explain, but which must ultimately be accepted as off-the-wall and in good fun.
Freak Storm comes around to a decisive moral stance, which it paves sufficient ground to explain and support. Through all the goofing around something ideological takes shape, and some pressing, current issues are addressed (if with a wink). The silliness of the play, which some will delight in and others will roll their eyes over, is a gloss for an at-times-insightful romp with environmental stances and character archetypes. Far from Shakespeare, and intentionally so.
Saturday, March 10, at 7:30; Sunday, March 11, at 2:00 // The Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market Street, Lower Level // $12 – $15, tickets available through Brown Paper Tickets