Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Georgia Shakespeare's Tempest Unclouded

Photos by Bill DeLoach.  Clockwise from top left: Prospera sends Ariel on a mission; Antonio tempts Sebastian; Miranda falls in love with Ferdinand; Caliban remembers the beautiful sounds of the island.
 (reflection on THE TEMPEST, produced by the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, directed by Sharon Ott.)

 Clarity and lightness made this TEMPEST what Shakespeare intended:  a gradual emergence of warm sunshine after a violent storm.  It can make one laugh and cry to see a tangle of recrimination, resentment, loss, envy, revenge, and disappointment melt away to repentance and reconciliation.

Director Sharon Ott and her designers used Native American and South Pacific island motifs – feather headdresses, simple white robes, straw teepees and a vortex of straw to make the mouth of “Prospera’s” cell.
Sorcerer is sorceress in this production, but, as performed by Carolyn Cook,  “Prospera” was easy to accept both as powerful Duchess of Milan and affectionate parent to daughter Miranda – played by Caitlin McWethy as a self-confident teenaged girl.   Cook showed tears through anger as she dealt with the rebellion of her adopted son Caliban.  When Miranda falls in love with exuberant young Ferdinand (Casey Hoekstra), Cook earned laughs alternating quickly between stern chaperone and delighted parent.

Atlanta’s veteran actor Chris Kayser played Ariel – tall, big-voiced, and the oldest actor on stage, he seemed an odd choice to play the original airy fairy.  But then he brought out all the rich extremes in Ariel’s lines.   There’s rapid-fire imagery of, well, rapid fire.  His delight in his own power is suddenly interrupted by moments of resentment and – most tellingly – human sympathy.  Ariel utters the line that I would cite as proof the actor Shakespeare and not some upper-class poet really did write these plays:   Near play’s end, having been told that he will soon be liberated from service to Prospera, Ariel boasts how fast he will be with a list of rhymed lines that end with a plaintive question, “Dost thou love me? No?”  The line doesn't make sense for a reader, but for an actor playing a character who has ADD on a cosmic scale, it makes the moment and defines the relationship between Ariel and Prospera.

As Caliban, Neal A. Ghant seemed to draw on memories of the scents and sounds and feelings that would make up the world for this half-animal character.   Bent down and half-crawling throughout the play, Caliban gets a great moment in Ott’s staging:  when he comes to understand that he is a man, he straightens up.
For the rest of the cast, we have the arrogant younger brothers, the grieving King Alonso, and the well-intentioned chatterer Gonzalo.   Their first big scene together hit all the right notes:  Alonso in mourning, Gonzalo trying to cheer the king up and the younger brothers mocking both Gonzalo and King.  It builds to the King’s saying, “You cram these words into my ear...!”   Accepting that the blame is his for the adventure that has ended in disaster, he adds, “So is the dearest of the loss.”

Caliban's slapstick cohorts Trinculo and Stefano -- think Laurel and Hardy -- rounded out the cast.  I think eighth grader Thom McGlathery was funnier in a production I directed at St. Andrew's School in 1983, especially on the line, "I do smell all horse piss, at which my nose is in great indignation."

A cast of “islanders” sing and dance to pleasant incidental music and clear choral text-settings by “Sound Designer” Stephen LeGrand.   A high point was the musical presentation of a banquet that has to disappear suddenly.   Shakespeare doesn’t tell how that’s to be done, directing that it disappears “by a quaint device.”  In Ott’s version, the table appeared, disappeared and reappeared (tilted towards us – a nice, odd, magical touch) – all in seconds, using nothing more than some candelabras, plates, goblets, and a single table cloth.  Simple, brilliant.

More than entertainment, this play should be included among the texts revered in the Anglican Communion.  Written within decades of the first revised Book of Common Prayer, THE TEMPEST dramatizes theology.  Sin is viewed as more than an act or a crime, but as a sickness that poisons relationships and the sinner’s own thinking.   The bad guys are called to a banquet which is then taken away until they acknowledge their sins and ask forgiveness.  Isn’t that communion?  Beautifully, when reconciliation comes at the end, Gonzalo observes that “we have all come back to ourselves” who were “Lost.”  And of course, there’s the theology of creation that’s at the heart of Anglican theology.  This island is “very good,” and Miranda exclaims that famous line, seeing humans for the first time, “O Brave New World that hath such creatures in it!”  

One last note:  I loved the way Caitlin McWethy delightedly tapped the lens of Gonzalo’s glasses when she examined the “creatures.” 


Susan said...

It was a wonderful production, and the theological interpretation fits well. I was struck seeing it this time with how the course of events in the play are a contrast to the utopian chatter of Gonzolo. It put me in the mood to read again F. Buechner's novella/fairy tale update of THE TEMPEST, THE STORM, which too brings out the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation.

W. Scott Smoot said...

Last night, I saw THE TEMPEST at a local movie theatre. Starring wonderful old actor Christopher Plummer, it was filmed during performances at Ontario's Stratford festival. Most of what I wrote about the GSF production applies, here, too. The daughter Miranda showed more adolescent rebellion at first, but even then shared laughs with her grizzled dad. A tiny woman played Ariel, her skin and moussed mohawk powder blue to match her tights. There was a lot of stage magic: Ferdinand's sword levitated, Prospero sat on air, and rich music and recorded sounds amplified all effects. Plummer's face, always stern (he'll always be "The Captain" for my generation), sometimes seemed to be concealing softer feelings and even delight as he barked commands.

If you get a chance to see this production through "Fathom Events," take it!