Inferno Theatre’s Mayou Roffé, Andre Szarmach, Erica Flor, Tiffani Lisieux, and Michael Needham during a dress rehearsal of The Tempest in John Hinkel Park in North Berkeley. Credit: Terry Sullivan

Inferno Theatre’s wondrous production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest opened last Sunday to a crowd of about 40.

The show marked the return of free, live theater to John Hinkel Park’s historic amphitheater — the first big production since the space was spruced up as part of an eight-year, $1 million park renovation project.

“We’re very proud to bring back theater [to the park], because that space is very important to the community,” said director Giulio Perrone. “People all really love that space.”

The Tempest, John Hinkel Park, Saturday-Sunday, June 3-4 and 10-11, 4 p.m.

There are no microphones or fancy sound systems in this family-friendly production; rather, the 11 actors rely on just their own voices (plus a few drums and a sheet of metal meant to evoke thunder) to deliver the message to the audience. It’s a demanding job for the performers — the sun gets in their eyes and wind can distort sound — but Perrone said it’s worth it as free, outdoor shows make theater accessible to all. 

Besides, there’s something profound about pondering the clash of civilization and untouched nature while sitting in a public park.

“The Tempest is one of those Shakespeare plays that really resonates with me,” Perrone said. Set on a magical island, it’s one that grapples with colonialism and lust for power.

The restoration of the park’s historic amphitheater, built by the Civil Works Administration in 1934, included the removal of overgrown weeds and repairs to the masonry. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/Catchlight

John Hinkel Park in North Berkeley reopened last summer with a new, custom-designed playground meant to preserve the park’s natural feel, a picnic area, and a wheelchair accessible path to the amphitheater.

The outdoor amphitheater, built by the Civil Works Administration in 1934, got a facelift too — the eroding stonework was repointed, the outdoor stone fireplace’s crumbling chimney rebuilt, and weeds pulled from behind the stone seats.

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...