BWW Reviews: THE TEMPEST at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Feats of magic are at an end, resolutions have been made and Ferdinand and Miranda are bound for a world far braver and newer than what they've experienced on this magical island. That's when Jeffrey King, as Antonio, turns to face his brother Prospero whose Dukedom Antonio usurped lo those many years ago. Prospero has forgiven him, and what does Antonio do?
Not exactly a revolutionary act, this. In the nearly 400 years that theater companies have been staging Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, it is a safe assumption that Antonios have shrugged before and that some of them will be shrugging 400 years from now should this magical romance maintain its dramatic timelessness. Antonio's a tricky bird anyway. He arrives on the scene as a power-hungry villain, and spends the better part of five acts plotting the death of King Alonso. His punishment? A rebuke or two, a full pardon and no opportunity to apologize, explain, become a monk, offer to buy everyone gelatto. Zilch. Given these variables, you might shrug, too.
What is notable about Tony Taccone's production of THE TEMPEST for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) isn't so much Antonio's indifference, but Prospero's. Maybe it's a royal Milanese family thing, but in this particular play, if Prospero doesn't give a rip, then you've got a real problem.
He's not totally apathetic. We're still talking about a man who takes over the weather to get his daughter a husband and who changes his mind - mid revenge plot - and decides instead to turn the other cheek to the nobles who did him dirt. For all the talk by other characters about the magician's power and fury, Denis Arndt's Prospero wouldn't intimidate a seat turtle - magic book or no magic book.
Hairless and clad in pantaloons and a magic garment that resembles a beaded curtain, Arndt delivers these famous verses in a voice that resembles Bob Newhart's. Rebukes to Ariel and Caliban come across as finger wagging explanations rather than obedience-demanding threats. Ditto his instructions to Ferdinand not to deflower Miranda before their wedding.
Truthfully, Alejandra Escalante's Miranda has a lot more vinegar in her than her father (the girl even hoists giant tree branches). Not surprising that the second her father leaves her alone with Daniel Jose Molina's Ferdinand, the two are in clinch mode.
Taccone's production, part of the National Endowment for the Arts's (NEA's) Shakespeare for a New Generation initiative, is largely traditional and very recognizably Shakespeare's play. Apart from Prospero, the characters all pursuing clear agendas. Ariel (Kate Hurster) wants her freedom; Caliban (Wayne T. Carr, died head to toe in moss green and resembling a kind of human frog) wants Prospero's blood. Stephano (Richard Elmore) and Trinculo (Barzin Akhavan) want more booze. Antonio and Sebastian (Armando Duran) want more power and Ferdinand and Miranda want each other and, presumably, a bit of privacy.
The action takes place on a single-set, desert-like island, which scenic designer Daniel Ostling has crafted as an expanse of burgundy carpeting sweeping upward, pyramid like, backstage in front of a couple of slanting walkways. Ostling and fellow designers Alexander V. Nichols (lights) and Andre J. Pluess (sound) create a splendidly dramatic opening storm that finds Arndt slam dunking a model boat into a square pool of water and buffeting it about as Alonso (Al Espinosa) and his fellow Milanese cling to a series of ropes and ladders.
The most arresting element of Taccone's production proves to be Will Cooper, Tim Rubel, David Silpa and Jordon Waters as the four attendant island creatures (credited as "dancers") who do Propsero's bidding. Like Prospero and Caliban, these creatures are bald (the red shock wig-wearing Ariel clearly didn't get the island no hair memo) and shirtless. They move gracefully and silently, often rolling across the stage in synchronicity, emerging to be a transport for Ariel, a table or a wild creature as needed. The four dancers are on stage holding sentinel before the action starts, stone still and eerie.
Hurster's other-worldly Ariel speaks with careful deliberation, as if she were still learning the language. Also the production's dance captain, Hurster has an ethereal grace. At one point, the production puts her in wings and suspends her from the ceiling, an avenging angel sent to castigate Alonso.
"Do you love me, Master?" Ariel asks Prospero late in the play. The question, even the very concept, seems to floor Arndt who can barely stammer out an reply. We could offer up a guess that Prospero has spent so many hours in study and, yes, plotting revenge that whatever ability he has to love is invested solely in Miranda. But this lonely wizard seems too congenial to be a convincing misanthrope. We could use a little rage, a splash of joy or even a hint that the man's thoughts of his mortality have him terrified.
Whatever his engine, let it be anything but a shrug.
Photo Credit: Jenny Graham