By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Given that everybody knows the power of magic isn't real, it is astounding how for the past several hundred thousand years everybody has kept the power of magic alive.
Now we have experimental free-form playwright and comic book author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa giving this eternal fascination a cheeky twist in his play “Rough Magic,” being staged by the Winding Road Theater Ensemble.
Aguirre-Sacasa travels back in time just a handful of centuries to Shakespeare's “The Tempest” where a traditionally grumpy Prospero has totally lost it and turned into a raging maniac seeking revenge and the return of his personal handbook of magical potions, incantations and everything evil.
Just how evil, you may ask.
So evil that the book's cover isn't bound in leather, but in human skin!
Fortunately, the playwright is after more of a dark comedy than a re-imagining of history as if Hitler had been a book worm. What we get are myriad references to Shakespeare's cannon of timeless characters and unforgettable imagery.
Plus a vein-popping portrayal of Prospero by a bearded David Alexander Johnston, seething and storming about the Cabaret Space at the downtown Temple of Music and Art.
Standing up for the forces of goodness and light is none other than a Manhattan community theater dramaturg, the very determined Melanie Porter. In this production she gets a solid and soundly based portrayal from Cyndi Lafrese, a new face at Winding Road who can come back any time.
These two provide the axle around which spins an eclectic melange of personalities from both the past and present, representing literary references, pop culture icons and madcap mythology with equal abandon.
Also abandoned is the rigid attitude that men must play male roles and only women can be the females.
We are in the land of loosely structured experimental theater here, with stylized acting and loopy results – as you might expect. Clearly, “Rough Magic” is not a play for everybody.
Some scenes work better than others. It is often difficult to tell what is going on. There is no character development -- except for Caliban (Andrew Gray), sort of, who spends a portion of the second act turning into a green lizard and then...oh, never mind...reverts back to his regular self.
Yet, all 11 cast members are totally committed to their roles. The overall energy and teamwork togetherness is awesome. Even when you feel confused about the play, it is always easy to trust the actors.
After curtain calls, everyone in the audience will be smiling and leaving with the same question: What did you think it meant?
“Rough Magic” runs through May 3, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, in the Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $18-$22, with discounts available. For details and reservations, 520-401-3626, or visitwww.windingroadtheater.org