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‘The Tempest’ Finds The Right Balance In A Simple Adaption

The Tempest is about restoring balance, and whether that balance is best restored through vengeance or forgiveness.

We’ve read Shakespeare in tattered paperbacks during high school. You probably watched Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet whenever your class traveled to fair Verona. Hopefully you caught Joss Whedon’s bare but beautiful interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing. We’ve seen the bard in parks. And you’ve either seen the bard somewhere in Robsham in the past three years or you will again.

But The Tempest felt different. It didn’t do anything drastic like place the play in a post-apocalyptic future. All the parts—performance, design, lighting—just seemed to come together in one perfect storm. The show made you feel anxious, then warm. It made you laugh and made some eyes water a bit.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made of,” our guide Prospera says late in the play. It’s a line prematurely written for for a cute Tumblr page. But when Sarah Mass, A&S ‘15, says it under warm lighting, it feels much more than a turn of phrase. It’s a cathartic payoff.

Shakespeare’s play begins on an unnamed island somewhere in the Caribbean Sea with a literal tempest, as Prospera’s daughter Miranda looks on. Then comes a storm of exposition. The rightful and deposed duke of Milan, Prospera has called in a storm to strand her past wrongdoers, those who usurped her rightful seat in Milan—her sister Antonia and co-conspirator Queen Alonsa of Naples. These two women of power are stranded across the isle, along with a retinue of fools, schemers, and the queen’s son Ferdinand who just can’t wait to fall in love.

Prospera, with the unwilling help of the nature spirit Ariel, played by Julianne Quaas, A&S ’15, who races across the stage like a restless tempest herself, and Caliban, the native monster of the island played by Dustin Pazar, A&S ’15, with just the right note of humanity.

Once the play gets going, it’s hard to not get swept up in the production. Director Patricia Riggin trades Shakespeare’s original male Prospero, among other characters, for female alternatives, but the shift worked. It’s a credit to both Shakespeare and Riggin’s direction that that the transfer from a father-daughter relationship could so easily be traded for a mother-daughter one.

The Tempest has most of what the bard is known for: romance, violent political plot bent on usurpation, a handful of barbed tongues, and even a bit of magic. The Tempest isn’t as easily categorized into comedy and drama. It’s a play that’s trying to figure it out as it goes along, led by Prospera’s wavering will. Throughout the play, the audience isn’t sure if the powerful Prospera will chose vengeance or forgiveness. Eventually though, the story rests on forgiveness.

The Tempest is about restoring balance, and whether that balance is best restored through vengeance or forgiveness. And that’s where Riggin’s production does so well—balance. Every shift in lighting, and every string struck added and fit to the performance of the actors.

Mass wears Prospera’s sparkling green robe with an easy air. She deals almost exclusively with the audience, pulling the threads of the story off along with her craft. Mass is equal parts warmth and sternness.

Pazar handles Caliban well. He straddles monstrosity and humanity. Pazar crawls around on stage hissing and growling, but in rare moments Caliban has insightful, empathetic things to say—and in those moments he rises upright, Pazar’s tone begins to match those of his  counterparts, accompanied by sweet strings and warmer light.

The Tempest, as its name suggests, starts with a storm. It’s made out as a full theater event—the ship and its members racing up and down the stairs and across the second level. It was a full sensory experience—crack of thunder and flash of lighting. At points during the show, audience members could have reached out and touched actors scrambling up and down the steps of the theater. At another, Mathew Appleby’s, A&S ’15, Trinculo sat down in the first few rows with some unsuspecting, amused fellows.

Appleby’s Trinculo and Leo Bond’s, LSOE ‘15,  Stephano formed a hearty comedic duo. Bond plays a natural drunk. Eventually, they join Caliban as the play’s comedic trio. It’s funny when Stephano pours wine down Caliban’s throat, but in many ways inhumane .

Kylie Fletcher, A&S ’18, as Miranda and William Krom, A&S ’16, as Ferdinand portray a much sweeter pair. Both Fletcher and Krom are the picture of earnestness, Krom especially.

The Tempest is a play ripe for interpretation. It’s the subject of much critical and literary theory that would be rude to bore you with. It’s a play that could be seen as a meta-vehicle for Shakespeare’s own career—the island as the stage and Prospera the sorceress as the bard himself. It’s been popularized as a tale of post-colonialism—the monster Caliban and spirit Ariel enslaved to the white ruler Prospera and then the drunk Stephano. The play, though, balanced these interpretations into one clear story. In some ways, the production seemed to restore Shakespeare’s original tale from a web of interpretations.

At the end of the play, in a flourishing touch. Prospera gives her final aside to the crowd and asks the crowd to send her off with applause. And as usual Mass delivers the line with a clear sincerity. And when she said the final lines, the audience was frozen. It knew what is was supposed to do—clap. But for a beat it couldn’t. But with a playful tilt of the head, Mass conjured the audience into their part, their applause. You didn’t know you were watching a great play, a great performance until that final moment, when you realize you’d see it all again tomorrow.

What a fitting end to Robsham’s year. 

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

April 27, 2015