Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Tempest at Bard on the Beach

On the last weekend before school starts, Richard and I finally got to Bard on the Beach to see Meg Roe's production of The Tempest. First staged to acclaim in 2008, this reworked version is, courtesy of Christine Reimer's costumes, Alessandro Juliani's original music (played live by a quartet upstage right), and Rob Kitsos' choreography, certain a feast for the senses. The one confusing signal, however, came from Pam Johnson's cooly white and vaguely lunar set, which initially put me in the arctic hinterlands rather than the lush island tropics one assumes the play is set.

Tonally, this is certainly a "lighter" version of the play than I am used to, with the darker psychology that underscores Prospero's dark magic only occasionally bubbling to the surface. This might have been a result of the oddly passive and--it seemed to me--fatigued performance of Allan Morgan in the lead role. Interestingly, though like the other actors he was miked, I found it hard to hear Morgan's lines, and I was struck, in retrospect, by how much time Prospero spends offstage and also, when he is onstage, how often he is positioned as an observer. Lili Beaudoin's infectious performance as Miranda is certainly confident and winning, and it is charming to watch the utterly ingenuous flirtation between her and Ferdinand (a suitably besotted Daniel Doheny) unfold--in part because for once the actors match the roles in age. Again, however, it felt that the more complex emotions behind Miranda's temperament were glossed over. After all, we are introduced to her as she is offering paroxysms of shared grief for the victims of the shipwreck her father has just wrought. We seem to move from this fraught state to lively attentiveness (viz. the story Prospero has to tell regarding how they came to find themselves on this island) a bit too quickly and seamlessly.

Then, too, I wasn't all that compelled by the conspiring between Antonio (Ian Butcher) and Sebastian (Andrew McNee). Granted, the plot to kill Alonso (Scott Bellis) is presented in the play as wholly opportunistic and the arch-usurper Antonio does not give Sebastian a lot of time to rationalize--or doubt--his actions; however, I somehow wished I got a sense that the stakes were higher. Ditto my response to the key relationships between Prospero and Ariel (Jennifer Lines) and Prospero and Caliban (Todd Thomson). The former is as gossamer and delicately poised as Lines' constantly arched right foot, ready to take quick flight into the imaginative ether of beneficit master and willing servant rather than pausing to explore from a more grounded perspective the actual matter of what binds these two together. That is, of course, the perspective one associates with the monster Caliban, who has the greater grievance, and for whom the master/slave relationship is no mere dialectical exercise. But, ironically, he who provides the darkest ballast to the play is arguably overtaken (and undercut) by Roe's  most interesting dramaturgical innovation--turning the buffoonish clowns Trinculo and Stephano whom Caliban conscripts as potential assassins of Prospero into the drunken sisters Trincula and Stephana (and played uproariously by Luisa Jojic and Naomi Wright).

This casting innovation elicits all sorts of added gendered insights into the play. But the burlesque that accompanies it also firmly tips the generic hybridity of this, Shakespeare's most complex romance, firmly into the realm of comedy. And it renders Caliban as the voice of postcolonial resistance doubly impotent--by castrating him twice.


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