Saturday, June 25, 2005

Shakespeare in the park – Tempest - Summer 2005

The performance of The Tempest in St. Louis was wonderfully produced to appeal to all ages. Although the set was of a minimalist design, it was perfect for the production. The wrecked ship was placed upon its side and at a diagonal angle with the bow in the air – approximately half of the ship was missing. The deck was facing the audience, and the mast had been broken off at the base. A hinged panel on the ship dropped down to display the inside of Prospero’s dwelling. When the ship was in the scene, the lighting was a golden brown hue. At all other times the ship was cast with white light, making it appear as the gray face of a cliff. Two small water pools were incorporated into the front edge of the stage, and stage right was comprised of an eight to ten foot mass of rock with a trail leading upstage and off. Prospero made his “hidden” entrances from the peak of the ship’s bow, which was approximately twenty feet above the stage. The actors also incorporated the audience area as part of the set.
Prospero was performed commandingly as should be. The performance of Ariel demonstrated the love and loyalty that she had for Prospero. Trinculo was performed in a loony manner that contained hints of the Three Stooges and the Marx brothers.
The only characterization that bothered me was the portrayal of Caliban with a Lenny (Of Mice and Men) voice – or, more closely, the Warner Brothers cartoon dog that spoofed Lenny. Caliban is an intelligent creature, but the Lenny voice created a dumbing down effect. The children at the performance enjoyed the characterization of Caliban, but I felt that it detracted from the drama almost as much as the creepy “Muahh, ha, ha” laugh of the guy sitting in front of me. Caliban was also depicted as a hairy centaur-like creature instead of a fish-man – once again probably to make him more appealing to the children in the audience.
Overall, I left the experience with the tingly feeling that I had hoped to achieve. The language flowed from one character to another when it was necessary, and it sounded conversational in parts that required it. Trinculo and Stephano play off each other perfectly – demonstrating the smoothness of Shakespeare’s language. Trinculo’s wit and banter appealed to me the most – the actor adding in grunts and sighs appropriately. The minimal lighting effects (changes in color only) did not create the magic, but the poetic language and the blocking of the scenes. The slow motion and/or freezing of actors during Ariel’s magic brought reality to the performance.

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