Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Tempest

My review of the Tempest appears in this week's WE. Pick up a copy today!

The Tempest

By Andrea Warner

Like the very word from which it derives its name, The Tempest, has proved to be an uncontrollable force in Shakespeare’s canon. Originally labeled a comedy, it has gone on to defy scholarly expectations because of a deceptively simple narrative that masks grander themes of vengeance, the occult, and colonialist tendencies. That Shakespeare was a tricky guy, and he’s met his match in Meg Roe’s wonderfully magical reinvention of The Tempest.

Prospero —a Duke usurped by his brother, Antonio—washed up on a magical island with his daughter Miranda fifteen years ago. Prospero seized control of the island from the witch, Sycorax, and has enslaved her deformed son, Caliban. Ariel, a sprite, is eager to be freed from Prospero’s service, but is held to one more day of service as Prospero enacts revenge upon his brother, and washes the King’s boat ashore, stranding Antonio, the King, and several members of the King’s court. Prospero separates the Prince from his father, in the hopes that the Prince and Miranda will fall in love.

The Tempest’s opening minutes are electrifying, indicative of what’s to follow. With the use of a simple heavy rope, the cast and crew physically form the hull of the ill-fated ship, and struggle against the commanding storm Prospero has raised. It’s no easy feat to simulate a believable storm, and there were more than a few audience members steadying themselves in their seats throughout the sequence.

The ongoing physicality of the supporting actors is impressive, particularly Hamza Adam, Omari Newton, and Charles Christien Gallant, as Spirits and various mariners. Their movements are lithe and graceful, but strong, and bring remarkable energy to the stage.

Jennifer Lines’ great performance is also due in part to her physical embodiment of Ariel: eager to please (her knees turn in and one foot juts out in nervousness); desperate to know if Prospero really loves her (her face a mixture of hope and yearning); and anxious that her bidding buys her freedom (her eager flight for each task). Lines’ is incredibly light on her feet, and her energy never lags. She also possesses a lovely voice.

Allan Morgan delights in his character’s sadistic elements, but keeps Prospero playful as well. It’s hard to keep a steadying hand on Prospero’s multifaceted personality (perhaps also a commentary on mental illness?) but Morgan makes it effortless. And, his closing speech as Prospero asks the audience’s forgiveness is appropriately rueful—after all, to err is human.

Though the rest of the cast is also very talented, it’s Colleen Wheeler and Naomi Wright who steal the final accolades here as Stephana and Trincula, two ladies from the court who wash up on the island with a fondness for the drink. Their initial scene post shipwreck (mistaken identity, an eyebrow raising mounting) is possibly the funniest thing on stage this year. Wheeler (a modern-day Lucille Ball) plays up Stephana’s cougar-like shine to the slave Caliban (Bob Frazer), who proves game for anything, including foot licking.

Roe’s Tempest offers an onion worth of layered subtext: her clever changes—including gender swapping (as written originally, Miranda is the play’s only female role)—amp up the comedic and provocative nature of Shakespeare’s masterful use of language. This Tempest also plays up its kinkier side: master/slave relationships, interspecies romance, and sexual politics are featured prominently, all but obscuring the 400 year gap between its writing and this staging. The music is unobtrusive and effective, enriching scenes such as the beautiful wedding between Miranda and the Prince. Even the costuming and lighting are inventive. Fresh and frisky, this Tempest blows strong from start to finish.

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