The Butterfield 8 Theater is seductively and magicically mesmerizing local audiences with a new adaptation of William Shakespeare's,"The Tempest"

Once again, the Butterfield 8 Theater Company, which show-cases its minor works of art at Cue Productions Live in downtown Concord, has given audiences reason to exclaim as I did several years ago, " of the most understated gems in Contra Costa County". This past week, the amazing little company that seems to operate on a very thin shoestring with lots of collaborative initiative and collective prayers from its stalwart supporters, has pulled off a very powerful, exciting and memorable low budget production of what many think was William Shakespeare’s last written play, The Tempest.

The story takes place on an isolated island where the former Duke of Milan, Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda, have found safety after being deposed and set adrift to die by cunning family members who have usurped Prospero’s powers. In the original play, the principal bad guy is Antonio, Prospero’s brother, aided by the King of Naple’s brother, Sebastian. In this production, the very able and talented co-founder of the Butterfield 8 Theater Company, Maureen-Theresa Williams, has sought to provide an opportunity for some powerful female actors (regular contributing company members) to play characters normally portrayed by men, through the process of re-writing the gender of certain male characters. Consequently, The King of Naples, Alonso, becomes Alonza, the Queen of Naples. Prospero’s jealous brother, Antonio, becomes Antonia (Maureen-Theresa Williams), the usurping Duchess of Milan, and Alonso’s conniving brother, Sebastian (Beth Chastain), is thus transformed into the mean-spirited Sebastiane, sister to the Queen, Alonza (Daniela Quinones).

Purists may scorn the transformation but I applaud the company for taking such a bold step and allowing us to encounter the Bard’s story on a slightly different plain, a plain that actually worked quite well. Remember, in William Shakespeare’s time, all female roles were played by men dressed as women, spouting falsettos and various other feminine accouterments. Here we have women playing strong power-hungry females, who have deposed the male power structure and are in command of their city-states.

Now, back to the production, and what an excellent one it is. Prospero (Donald Hardy) was most fortunate to have a friend in his court at the time he was deposed, the Queen’s counselor, Gonzala (Nathalie Archangel). Upon learning of the treachery planned by Prospero’s brother and the greedy queen, Gonzala secreted supplies (plenty of water, food, clothing and many of Prospero’s most valuable books) aboard the boat that Prospero and his daughter were eventually set adrift in. After being abandoned to the sea, the hapless couple drifted for many days until, quite fortunately, they managed to land upon an island most favorable to the sustenance of life.

Prospero is a very learned man, a man well read in the ancient arts of magic and illusion. Possessing great powers attributed to his great knowledge of these dark and mystic arts, Prospero uses his powers of illusion and magic to turn adversarial elements to his favor. For example, he discovers a spirit whom he calls Ariel (Alexander Murphy), and frees him from his imprisonment in a tree on the island. Ariel is grateful for his immediate release and greater vestiges of freedom, so much so that he volunteers to serve Prospero as a magical servant. An evil witch, Sycorax, had also been banished to the Island where she died many years before Prospero landed there. Her son, Caliban (played superbly by Edwin Peabody) is a deformed monster, seemingly half man and half fish, who is the only non-spiritual inhabitant of the island besides Prospero and Miranda. Over time, Prospero and his daughter taught Caliban their language and some aspects of religion before he turned on them. After Caliban attempted to rape Miranda, Prospero compelled Caliban to serve him as a slave. Anger and resentment followed and Caliban now plots to overthrow his “master” to regain control to “his island”.

Prospero’s intuition and mystic powers have allowed him to discern that his sister Antonia, her son prince Ferdinand, and her court’s retinue, are on a ship that will be passing close to the island where Prospero and his daughter are imprisoned. The powerful magician congers up a great storm, a tempest if you will, an ill wind that reeks great havoc on the ship and its occupants, eventually tossing and blowing the ship aground. The seafarers are thrown into the sea and quickly separated into three disparate groups, each group believing that all of their other companions have been lost at sea and that they are the only survivors.

Without revealing the full nature of Prospero’s revenge and purpose in bringing his former enemies to his sanctuary, I will only say that part of his plan it to unite his daughter, Miranda, in marriage to the young prince, Ferdinand, and to regain his former place of power as the Duke of Milan.

The acting is quite delightful with some sprightful and colorful artistic touches by director/actor John Butterfield. In addition to the lead character roles, some very important supporting characters take stage; Molly Kate Taylor is wonderful as the often inebriate, jesting clown and David Hardie is a kick as the Queen’s inebriate butler, Stephano. There are other actors, but none more central to the colorful excitement and holding power of this production than Alexander Murphy who delivers a knockout role as Ariel and John Butterfield as Ariel’s supporting minion. None have greater command of their character than the brilliant Donald Hardy, who swallowed up and became this character, in superb fashion!

I cannot begin to complement a costumer more than the costumer of this production, as Liz Martin has worked miracles with material and imagination. She was assisted by Jean Butterfield (John’s sister) and Eliza Washington. The simple set was an effective joint project that worked very well. I had the delightful and good fortune to meet two new-comers to this theater, Steve and Gracie, who were suitably impressed and told me that if this production was any indication of the quality they will find on Colfax Street in Concord, then they plan to see a lot more of this little company’s productions in the future.

This very unique adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest”, is well worth the trip to the minimalist Cue Productions Live theater located at 1835 Colfax Street in Concord, just a block from Todos Santos Park. Performances are every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m., now through April 7th. Call 1 (800) 838-3006 to purchase tickets by phone or you may purchase them on line at and you can find more information by going to . Tickets are a very reasonable $12 for seniors and students and $18 for adults. Be sure to take a tush cushion as well, as the minimalist seating is indeed minimalist!