When Manoa Valley Theatre presented "Avenue Q" in March, the actors voicing the puppets also animated them onstage. The Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s production of "The Tempest" does it differently. The puppets and puppeteers are onstage, but the actors who voice them are in the audience.
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There are reasons for doing it this way, but the result is that the audience watches the puppets perform "over there" while their voices are heard "over here."
The biggest problem with the bunraku-style approach is that when four or more puppet characters are onstage and some of the actors are voicing more than one of them, it can be hard to tell which character is speaking.
On the other hand, director R. Kevin Doyle adds an imaginative twist with flautist Tracy Hanayo Okubo, who performs out of sight behind the backdrop. The romance between Miranda and Ferdinand develops to the melody of "My Heart Will Go On." It’s anachronistic but a nice touch.
Miranda and Ferdinand are brought together by her father, Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, who was betrayed by his brother, Antonio, and set adrift in a leaky boat with Miranda to drown at sea. Prospero and Miranda find refuge on an island where Prospero has supernatural powers and dominion over a magical spirit named Ariel. When Antonio happens to sail near the island, Prospero conjures a tempest that places Antonio and various others ashore and at his mercy, although they are unware of his presence.
Moses Goods does an excellent job creating distinctly different voices for the characters of Prospero and Antonio. The actor Q puts enough of himself into the voice of Ferdinand that he earned applause and laughter several times on opening night. Walter Eccles brings a big, boisterous voice to Stephano, also earning applause during the show. Sharon R. Garcia Doyle gives Trinculo a broad stereotypical Italian accent. Eden-Lee Murray voices Caliban in such a way that despite knowing what we do about him, he still seems due a bit of sympathy.
Good as some of the actors are, puppet designer Sandra Finney’s creations steal the show. Each figure is interesting, and the Stephano and Trinculo figures are appropriately comical. Ariel is a ghostly marionette with shiny eyes and the sharp features of a fruit bat. Caliban, who looks like a cross between a monkey and a space alien’s dog, is the most lifelike of them all.
A team of 12 puppeteers handles the animation. Bronte Amoy and Nilva Panimdim bring Caliban to life down to the slightest shiver. Cheyne Gallarde, Morgan Lane-Tanner, Jordan Matayoshi and Sky Okimoto make the drunken fight between Stephano and Trinculo a comic highlight.
Shadow puppets are used to illustrate Prospero’s narrative account of the circumstances that brought him and Miranda to the island and gave him power over Ariel and Caliban.