"Dost thou attend me? ... Thou attendst not. ...I pray thee, mark me. ... Dost thou hear," Prospero repeatedly inveighs to his daughter Miranda in retelling his story of usurpation and exile from Milan in Act I, scene ii of The Tempest. Never were these pleadings more necessary than at the Pulse Ensemble Theater's new outdoor production. In Pulse's open-air setting-a 42nd Street courtyard just one block from the exit to the Lincoln Tunnel-actors competed for audibility against car horns, passing sirens, the rumblings of cross-town busses, and even Forbidden Broadway audiences entering and leaving the Douglas Fairbanks Theater just a few feet away. Though the company astoundingly labels this venue "the most intimate outdoor theatre in the world," it felt as if all the goodly creatures of Manhattan had invaded Prospero's island.
The distractions were much more than just a minor annoyance. The Tempest-a work Shakespeare situates just beyond the edge of the known world-ranges dramatically from thunderous storm to complete serenity and isolation, from drunken revelry to the most intimate of familial and romantic tête-à-têtes. But this version flattened the play's contrasts, and captured none of its delicate, tragicomic beauty. Because of the unfortunate necessity to keep the volume turned up high, the production felt brash and unsubtle at virtually every moment.
Design elements failed to provide the sorely needed additional clarity. Roger Hanna's set-an odd assortment of platforms, shrubbery, scaffolding, and a long elevated gangplank-utilized many different levels of the available space, but ultimately conveyed no distinctions between ship and shore, or between Propsero's domain and the more remote corners of the island from which seditious plots are hatched against the sorcerer. Lighting (designed by Zhanna Gurvich) was limited mostly to general washes, with a follow-spot and a disco ball used for occasional effects; the magic and fantasy of The Tempest could have supported much more creative illumination. Terry Leong's costumes tried to combine Elizabethan dress for the Milanese characters; and Joseph Pehrson's original music and Louis Lopardi's sound effects were more modern and bizarre. The total effect of all these technical elements left audiences even more out to sea than the castaways.
From the cast, Damian Buzzerio (Prospero), Nalina Mann (Miranda) and Sandy York (Ariel) gave promising hints of possessing the sensitivity and range needed to make Shakespeare's enchanting language come alive. The rest of the company marched through their lines without nearly as much variety, passion or flair. All in all, in this twelfth year of the Pulse Ensemble Theatre's Outdoor Shakespeare productions, director Alexa Kelly (also the group's Managing Artistic Director) and her company seemed still to be struggling with the challenges of their venue, and to be losing the struggle. Sure, watching Shakespeare under the open skies can be pleasant; but not when it comes at the expense of the play itself.
Also featuring Erik Baker, Megan Bienstock, Mark J. Cirnigliaro, Amy Dickenson, Frank Episale, James J. Glenn, Ron Nahass, Linda Past, Roland Sands, Sarah Scott, Glenn Stoops, Kurt Uy, Joe Verciglio, and Elaina Wahl.
Lighting 1/Sound: 0
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Copyright 2001 Jonathan Shandell