Key members of ‘The Tempest’ cast determinedly negotiate the jagged rocks of Jaffa’s coastline: (From left) Michelle Adam, Talya Bem, Shimi Herman, Robin Stamler, Stephen Lerner, Yedidya Fraiman, Shlomit Kovalsky, Sandy Cash, Aliza Schoffman-Land, Sharon Benjamini..
(photo credit: HANAN SCHOFFMAN)
Shakespeare on wheels? Not exactly. But when actor and theater director Raphael Poch roars up for rehearsals – in preparation for J-Town Playhouse’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, opening June 6 and running for six performances – he is most often astride ambucycle that has become ever-more recognizable, thanks to Poch’s work as the international spokesperson for United Hatzalah of Israel. The director behind United Hatzalah’s successful video series showing emergency medical technicians saving lives, Poch is now applying his derring-do to a different sort of emergency: the cataclysmic storm at sea that, in Shakespeare’s magic-drenched story, sets the scene for betrayal, revenge, and – ultimately – reconciliation.
“I’ve always had a love for Shakespeare, but the underlying messages in The Tempest have captivated me ever since I saw my first production of the play in New York’s Central Park back in 2015,” says Poch, who in addition to directing the play, will be taking the role of Stephano, a perpetually and comically drunken butler. Poch stepped into the role at the last minute due to a work emergency of one of the cast members.
“After seeing the show in New York, I stumbled upon a midtown bar that was named for the play, and – in a wild coincidence – the bartender’s name was Ariel, the mystical spirit who is a major character in the show. I enlightened this bartender about her namesake over a glass of beer, and of course, gave her a generous tip!”
Drinking is only a minor theme in Shakespeare’s masterpiece, which chronicles the story of Prospero, Duke of Milan, treacherously deposed and sent into exile on a remote island. In Shakespeare’s play, Prospero is a powerful wizard – but not powerful enough to escape the island and regain his dukedom. Instead, he uses magic to draw his enemies into a trap he has set.
The role of Prospero was written for a man but portrayed by women in several recent high-profile iterations and Poch chose to go with this trend in the current production, transforming Prospero into the embittered duchess Prospera (played by Sandy Cash). In addition to seeking vengeance, Prospera seeks an advantageous match for her daughter Miranda (Talya Bem), and identifies a potential soulmate in Ferdinand, Prince of Naples (Shimi Herman, star of Starcatcher Theater’s recent production of In the Heights).
The growing true love between Prospera’s pawns in this game of chess provides the engine for the action. Another key character is Michelle Adam, whose portrayal of Ariel (a magical spirit, not the bartender) commands the dizzying boundary in Shakespeare’s text between what is real and what is imaginary. The character of Caliban – often viewed by many who study Shakespeare as being a highly problematic character to portray due to the racial overtones involved – is strongly portrayed by Israeli actress Hadar Yadai, who succeeds at finding the balance between servant and revolutionary.
“The show is full of memorable performances that are portrayed by an extremely talented cast,” said Poch. “The cast is taking the terrific text that makes up Shakespeare’s last full-length play and making it their own in a highly entertaining way and that is much to their credit. Each of them put in hard work to make the show as fun and exciting as it will be on stage. I’m proud of all of the actors.”
Shakespeare’s swan song, The Tempest includes his farewell to his audiences, which we hear from the character of Prospera in Act 4 Scene 1. Shakespeare also wrote in numerous songs and ditties, which the cast will be singing. Making the show his own, Poch has thrown in one or two additional ones as well for the audience’s enjoyment.
Performances of Shakespeare’s The Tempest will take place on June 6, 10, 11, 13, 17, 18 and 20 at the AACI’s J-Town Playhouse. The theater is located at 37 Pierre Koenig St., 4th floor, Jerusalem. All performances begin at 8 p.m.
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