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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: August ::
Re: Performing 'The Tempest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1461  Tuesday, 8 August 2000.

[1]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Aug 2000 14:20:36 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

[2]     From:   Graciela Di Rocco <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Aug 2000 17:44:07 -0300
        Subj:   RE: SHK 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

[3]     From:   Arthur D L Lindley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Aug 2000 09:34:02 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1455 En-gendering 'The Tempest'

[4]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Aug 2000 19:01:59 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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Date:           Monday, 07 Aug 2000 14:20:36 -0400
Subject: 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

David Evett <
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 > wrote,

>My son Ben, also muscular, deep-chested, and relatively deep-voiced,
>played a very physical Ariel at the American Repertory Theater 3 or 4
>years ago, using postures and movements adapted from dancers' exercises;
>a natural bass, he sang the songs (music composed for the
>performance--contact the ART for info) in a counter-tenor register which
>he had never explored before, and which his father, at least, found
>thrilling.

I found it thrilling, too. How proud you must be of him!

I dug out my review of that ART production.  I've just installed a
search engine on my website to make it easy for the curious to look up
actors, roles, plays, theatres, in my old reveiws: but I haven't quite
got the kinks out yet, so I'm sending the text.

"The Tempest" At the American Repertory Theatre
Cambridge, Mass. through Dec 31st, 1995
reviewed by G.L. Horton

This seems to be the year for ambitious new directorial interpretations
of "The Tempest". Director Ron Daniels says in his American Repertory
Theatre production notes that he is staging "The Tempest" as an
encounter between Old World "nurture" or "culture" and New World
"nature", from which encounter the European exiles will return to their
homeland "enriched by a greater understanding of themselves". But
self-understanding, here, turns out to be a counsel of despair.  This
"Tempest" is a tale of disillusion, wherein both old and new world are
drained of human warmth.  Friendship, kinship, romance, degree and
courtesy, learning and wit, poetry itself -- all are but phantasims,
brave and diverting while new, but to the eye of the poet's hard-won
wisdom mere masks for lust and domination. Power is so corrupting that
even the power of art must be abjured, and the poet-magician resign
himself to a state where "every third thought shall be my grave".

The production's design elements and acting style cooperate in this
bleak vision. John Conklin's stark set is a sun-baked beach, on which a
segment of some gigantic marble construction arches up into the vivid
blue sky "as if a huge instrument for the study of astronomy has landed
violently." All signs of the Pastoral are banished from this version of
Nature.  There are no sheltering caves, no green and leafy bowers, no
blameless rural joys.

The Italian nobility is costumed by designer Gabriel Berry in stiff dark
damask, with carapace ruffs and cothurnic heels. Cast ashore, they
skitter about looking more like cockroaches caught in a sudden light
than like human beings. The actors say their lines facing out, as if in
soliloquy or aside. They don't listen: these are either the most wooden
actors ever to strut the stage, or they are portraying a set of
characters who find their fellows of no interest unless they are
planning to make use of them.

Stephano, the King of Naples' drunken butler (Charles Levin), and
Trinculo the jester (Thomas Derrah), seem at first to be an exception to
the wooden standard.  Levin and Derrah are masters of physical comedy
working together like a well-oiled machine, their coordination the
closest thing to a realized relationship in the production. But what
looks at first like friendship is only a drunken parody of a
relationship; and the relationship they parody is the central one of the
play, that of master and slave.

Ariel (Benjamin Evett), the ethereal spirit who is Prospero's first
slave, looks like an albino Aborigine:
nearly naked, reddish skin with white markings, long wild locks of pale
blonde hair. Evett somehow manages to look graceful and dignified in
this undress, mostly by employing a physical characterization that is
more fire than air. Composer Bruce Odland has set Ariel's familiar
lyrics to unearthly music, which Evett performs in a pure white-toned
voice that ranges from baritone to countertenor.

Caliban (Jack Willis), the original inhabitant and ruler of the island,
has been reduced to Prospero's second slave. Willis is costumed -- like
Evett's Ariel -- in painted flesh. His shaved head is rust red, with big
yellow spots. Shakespeare's text says that Caliban looks like a fish.
Hulking Jack Willis, his body painted salmon-pink, looks nothing like a
fish. He might pass for a huge desert lizard, in some red-rocked
Australian outback. There is a wonderful bit of foolery where, when
Trinculo has crawled under Caliban's cloak, Thomas Derrah's four foot
high pointed dunce cap becomes the lizard-monster's tail, waggling along
in mutual panic. Willis has played some notable heavies for the ART
company, and Willis's Caliban has a full malignancy. He, "who once was
mine own king" has added a few European lessons to the amoral sensuality
that is his state of nature. But Caliban is the only character here that
is allowed anything like a full range of human response: Willis uses it
to wring every drop of humor out of his lines. Caliban's poetic
imagination, his childlike eagerness, gives a relief that is more than
comic to the grim stereotypes that surround him.  Director Daniels has
cast as Prospero Paul Freeman, an actor whose specialty is larger than
life villainy --
Moriarty, Belloq in "Raiders of the Lost Ark", Claudius in "Hamlet",
Ivan Ooze. Freeman's Prospero is all pride, lust and anger, held in
check by an iron will .  His hair and beard are graying, but the body is
not the fragile shell of an aging scholar, but the firm musculature of a
disciplined warrior. Prospero, too, is stripped to a loincloth, his
"magic garment" a towering feather headdress rather than the traditional
wizard's robe. When this Shaman of a Prospero delivers his long
speeches, ostensibly to Miranda, he does not look at his daughter, but
takes up a ritual one-legged crane posture, bracing himself with his
staff and fixing his gaze upward as if in a prophetic trance.

In the twelve years they have spent on the island, Prospero would have
been Miranda's whole world: father, mother, playmate, teacher, master
and servant. Yet of these roles, only that of master is brought into
play in this interpretation. There is no element of eventual equality in
Freeman's relationship with his daughter, none of the sort of nurture
whose goal is to create a companion and friend. Prospero has hidden
their common past from his daughter to mask the vengeful rage inside
him. Jessalyn Gilsig's Miranda fears him. She addresses him as "sir"
with downcast eyes, kneels to him, scampers to do his bidding, dutifully
tries to stay attentive through speeches which are incomprehensible and
boring to her.

Freeman's Prospero seems to recognize that he has stifled Miranda's
curiosity and crippled her will.  Since the girl is likely to obey her
husband with the same unquestioning subservience she gives her father,
Prospero's best hope for his daughter's happiness is to make certain
that the master he turns her over to is kind and self-controlled. But
time is running out.  Miranda is ripe for a mate. Her foster brother
Caliban has already tried to "force her innocence", and "people the isle
with Calibans" -- it was for this that Prospero reduced him to a slave.
Incest lurks everywhere on this island, and nature, like a man's own
kin, is not to be trusted. Prospero raised the tempest to blow onto the
island the one bridegroom whose marriage to Miranda might satisfy her
father's vengeance: Ferdinand (Scott Ripley), the son and heir of that
King of Naples (Jeremy Geidt) who plotted with Prospero's wicked brother
Antonio (Remo Airaldi) to steal the dukedom of Milan.

The direction and costuming of the young lovers seems to support this
bleak interpretation. Gilsig's Miranda wears a skimpy yellow rag
decorated with doodles like tattoos, girt round with a metallic bodice
wrap that flattens out her curves. She has been blocked into the
attitudes of an insecure adolescent, all awkward knees and elbows. When
Prince Ferdinand hails her as a "goddess", one can only feel that some
potent enchantment of Prospero's has been at work -- or that Ferdinand
has been far too long at sea.. The prince himself is no prize. Pasty
complexion, spindly limbs, a constricted voice -- Ferdinand's mighty
effort to mold himself into something worthy of the object of his
infatuation is endearing, but he is not a hero to inspire confidence.

The masque that Prospers orders up to celebrate the betrothal is where
the themes come together. Daniels has "deconstructed" the play's Iris,
Juno and Ceres, and substituted his own "insubstantial pageant"
featuring personifications of Europe, The Americas, and Africa---La Raza
Cosmica, Daniels calls it. The pageant combines present-day South
American Carnival with explorers' impressions of the New World.
Abundance and desirability take the shapes of bared dark skin bathed in
magical moonlight and backed by glittering silver parasols, singing and
dancing seductively in Amy Spencer's choreography until Prospero himself
breaks from his rigid self-control and "goes native". The magician takes
up a drum and gyrates madly, obscenely.  ---then cuts the pageant short,
with the excuse that he has forgotten the plot against his life. But
Prospero has seen in these shapes a sudden monster, that he must
"acknowledge mine".

The rest of the play is wound up in a perfunctory fashion. The plotters
appear in penitential white undergarments, but there's no evidence that
any of them regret their crimes, or have learned anything from their
punishment. Milan and Naples will be as full of betrayal and conspiracy
as before, once the voyage is over.

It is strange that this play, in which no grown women appear to demand a
hearing, and in which the "natives" are not a separate culture but
merely the projection of the ruler's own mind, is being used as a mirror
for the crises of legitimacy presently working themselves out in the
societies that grew up out of the voyages of exploration and conquest
that inspired Shakespeare to write it. Possibly the utopian visions of
the sixties (reprised this week in France) bear some relation to
Gonzalo's speeches in praise of Edenic equality --" no use of service,
of riches or of poverty". But this production goes to some length to
discredit Gonzalo, and render his mouthings mere hypocrisy and hot air.
In the opening scene of the storm at sea, the Boatswain orders his
"betters" to go below, on the authority of his superior seamanship, and
he curses the nobility when they don't snap to and obey. The Boatswain
is usually played by the sort of actor who is cast as the old
gravedigger in Hamlet-- a working class cuss who can hold his own with
the noble star, his face a map of hard territory.

Gonzalo (Alvin Epstein) calls the Boatswain's complexion "perfect
gallows", and tells the nobles that the ship and all must survive,
because a man with such a face as the Boatswain's was born to be hanged,
not drowned. But there is nothing out of the ordinary, nothing
suggesting the criminal, about the face of D'metrius Conley-Williams,
the handsome first-year student from the ART Institute who plays the
Boatswain -- except that his face happens to be black. Gonzalo, the
benevolent, wise Gonzalo, is shown up as a racist.  This Tempest blows
us into troubling territory, where where the assumptions of power have
corrupted beyond the reach of forgiveness.

Geralyn Horton, Playwright
Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.tiac.net/users/ghorton>

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graciela Di Rocco <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Aug 2000 17:44:07 -0300
Subject: 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'
Comment:        RE: SHK 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

To Terence Hawkes,

Sorry to disagree. Caliban should have a South American accent.

Graciela di Rocco

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Arthur D L Lindley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Aug 2000 09:34:02 +0800
Subject: 11.1455 En-gendering 'The Tempest'
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1455 En-gendering 'The Tempest'

The costume Ariel wears at the start of the Globe/Redgrave Tempest
struck me not as 'masculine' in intention or effect but as an off-white
version of an English schoolgirl's uniform which turned out to be
Prospero's livery. To the extent that this production has an organizing
idea that seems to be 'childhood's end': the play as a rite of passage
for Ariel and Caliban as well as Miranda and Ferdinand.

I thought, by the way, that Redgrave played Prospero throughout as if
she were the principal boy in a panto and that it was one of the worst
performances in that part I've ever seen.  I would be interested in
hearing others' reactions, however.

Arthur Lindley

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 07 Aug 2000 19:01:59 -0700
Subject: 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1446 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

Terence Hawkes writes:

> Caliban should have an Irish accent.

Ah, but he learned language from Miranda, so he should speak with
exactly the same intonations that she does.

That said, I like the idea of moving the poco theme a little closer to
home.  We could, of course, make him an Ulsterman, unwilling to accept
the rule of the majority of island residents...

Cheers,
Se

 

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