Everyone in Shakespeare's The Tempest is a little off-balance. There's that horrible storm that strands everyone on an unknown island, and there's that sorcerer, former Duke of Milan, who was banished there years before. This aspect of the play was brilliantly rendered by the set (designed by Luke Cantarella), which was made up of little more than platforms unevenly thrown up against each other, making even the simplest walk across the stage potentially perilous. As the ship's passengers got thrown about, it was downright treacherous.
Although there were some intriguing notions in this Tempest, the opening storm at sea was the production's high point. Judith Shakespeare's gender-blind casting always gives food for thought, even if it requires tweaking ol' Bill's language a bit. It's one thing to have Prospero (Jane Titus) played by a woman, but interestingly reinterpretive to have the part played as a woman. A mother's love is different from a father's, so there's a new aspect when Prospero tells Miranda (Hilary Ward) what a comfort she was when they first came to the island. And with the ghost of Freud watching, it is obvious that when mother-Prospero watches Miranda discovering men and her attraction to Ferdinand (Steven Fales), her feelings are distinctly different from those a father-Prospero would have.
The other gender-shifted characters had similar impact - when Antonio (Peter Zazzali) conspires with Sebastian (Ivana Cullinan), there's a completely different element there when Sebastian is a woman. There's also a new understanding of Trinculo's (Suzanne Hayes) actions when she has to put up with a big-mouthed male Stephano (Michael Shattner). But while these types of touches were gratifying, director Joanne Zipay didn't make a cohesive whole. After the ferocious opening, pacing tended to be sluggish (thank heaven for the reliable comic relief of Stephano and Trinculo). The contributions of Zazzali, Cullinan, Shattner, and Hayes were outstanding, and otherwise the acting was generally competent. Dacyl Acevedo was a lightfooted but rather grim Ariel, and while Antonio del Rosario was slim and agile rather than deformed as Caliban, these two didn't register as strongly as the sprites.
For it was Christiana Blain, Angie Moore, Jennifer Jonassen, Michelle Kovacs, and Lea C. Franklin as the sprites that were the most delightful, and their terrific silent appearances were bettered when they blessed the union of Miranda and Ferdinand, bringing a needed magical quality to the proceedings. Kudos to Judith for including among these excellent women one who was a more Rubensesque sprite than is usually featured.
Excellent costumes were designed by One Choi, from Prospero's magical cloak, made up from the bits and pieces of clothing that would have ended up on the island, to the diaphanous gear for the sprites. It also worked to have the stranded courtiers dressed in suits (the plot is about a corporate takeover, after all), with Stephano and Trinculo dressed as waiters from the royal yacht. Joel Moritz's lighting helped change moods, and the live music performed by Dan Patak was well-suited to the poetry.
Titus's Prospero was most effective when she gave up her magic book and staff - even if it was more an abdication in sorrow than a reaching toward forgiveness. But having her there at all pointed out the most striking aspect of the production - the audience had no choice but to look at the play in new and rewarding ways.
Also with Joseph Primavera, Bill Galarno, Larui Bannister-Colon, Kevin Till, Richard Kass.
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Copyright 2001 David Mackler