One of his last solo-written plays was THE TEMPEST, now on stage at Great Lakes Theater, which some consider the Bard’s farewell to the stage. Ironically, it concerns a great magician ending his career, which may have been Shakespeare’s vision of himself giving up his magical years as a writer.
THE TEMPEST is one of the Bard of Avon’s shortest and most simply constructed plays, which leads to the belief that he was fading out and didn’t have the desire or fortitude to develop a play as complex as MACBETH, HAMLET or his multi-leveled comedies.
A product of the early seventeenth century, the plot is probably entirely original. He doesn’t evoke real historical characters, but may, in some ways, suggest the tempest of storms unleashed on ships sailing from Europe in search of a pathway to what we now know as Asia. Specifically, there was a wreck off Bermuda and another account of a fleet being destroyed on a sailing from what is now known as Plymouth to a port in Virginia. In both cases, survivors were washed up on an island. There, they found Native Americans, who they referred to as “Cannibals.” It is probably not by accident that Prospero, the magician of the story, referred to his man servant as “Caliban,” an anagram of the word “Cannibal.”
Generally performed on a fairly bare stage, the play lends itself to the description of those who returned from some of the voyages to “the Americas” as being barren. This does not mean it is not filled with special effects for which Shakespeare is famous. His plays are filled with fantasies such as humans becoming animals, fairies, and witches and wizards who perform magical tricks. THE TEMPEST is no exception.
The story centers on Prospero, the Duke of Milan, who was stranded for twelve years on an island after Prospero’s brother, Antonio, deposed him and set him adrift with his child, Miranda.
Prospero is maniacal in his desire to restore his daughter to her rightful place in society. Prospero has no magical powers other than the ability to persuade others. He uses those verbal skills to persuade Ariel, a spirit, to conjure a storm (the tempest.) Ariel, acts as requested because he is beholden to Prospero as the former King freed the spirit from captivity in a tree in which he was placed by Sycorax, a cruel witch. The storm wrecks the ship of Prospero’s brother, Antonio, his son Ferdinand, and the complicit King Alonso of Naples, and their company of travelers. The group is washed up on the island, and the tale unfolds.
Prospero is successful in achieving his goals by having Miranda marry Ferdinand, reconciling with his brother, and freeing of Ariel from his spell, thus rendering a happy ending.
As in all Shakespeare plays, there is a philosophical message. As Drew Barr writes in his directorial notes, “That which makes us human, as Shakespeare shows us time and time again, is our struggle to reconcile the enormity of our dreams with the exquisite vulnerability of our beliefs.” He continues, “THE TEMPEST dares us to open our hearts and minds fully enough to drown with all the world in the deluge of our senses.”
The GLT production is well conceived by Barr. The play itself is not as well developed as many of Shakespeare’s works, which causes some segments to fail to be clear in their purpose in developing the plot. For example, a long farcical section seems inserted as an attempt for humor, for the sake of humor, with no great reason or purpose for plot development. As for the production, to accomplish the sought after laughter, an even stronger “Three Stooges” approach was needed. If there is going to be slapstick, it needs to be done with full abandonment.
The cast is excellent. D. A. Smith rants effectively as Prospero. Ryan David O’Byrne develops fully the role of Ariel. Dustin Tucker delights as Trinculo, a drunken cook. J. Todd Adams, looking much like Alan Cummings portraying the M.C. in the latest Broadway staging of CABARET, is eerily effective as the savage Caliban. Dougfred Miller (Alonso) and Jonathan Dyrud (Antonio), do justice to their character development. Patrick Riley is on target as the youthful Ferdinand.
Though he gets laughs, it appears that Tom Ford (Stephano, a butler) has played the role of the fool once too often and falls back on using the same physical and vocal devices to the detriment of originality.
Though her voice sometimes goes into too high an octave range for pleasant listening, Katie Willmorth creates a pleasant Miranda.
Scenic Designer Russell Metheny has conceived a set that is creative, but at times distracting. The light instruments shining and the shimmering effects off the plastic panels, which dominate the grid set, became distracting and the reflections sometimes temporarily blinded members of the audience.
Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes are often intriguing, but the use of plastic and other stiff materials cause crackles as the performers move, and make static-like sounds, drowning out lines.
Capsule judgement: THE TEMPEST, reported to be Shakespeare’s last solo dramatic writing, is not one of the Bard’s great plays, but there is enough fantasy and intrigue to allow for a pleasant evening of theater. The GLT production does justice to the script.
THE TEMPEST runs through April 26, 2015 at the Hanna Theatre. For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org