The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1021.  Thursday, 9 October 1997.

From:           David Evett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 8 Oct 1997 13:37:22 -0400
Subject:        Great Lakes Tempest

Those of us on the local organizing committee for the Shakespeare
Association meeting (Cleveland, 18-21 March, 1998) tried hard to
persuade the Great Lakes Theater Festival, one of our two large
professional theater groups, to schedule their annual Shakespeare, in
this case *The Tempest*, so that registrants could see it.  They
decided, however, to open the season with it.  (Those of you coming to
the meeting will have a chance to see the Cincinnati Shakespeare
Festival perform *Coriolanus* and rehearse *Much Ado* instead.)

Anyway, having seen the opening of *Tem* I'm both sad and glad we didn't
succeed in getting them to do it in March.  The production has much of
interest to academic viewers.  Dennis Rosa, the director, has taken up
the old notion of the play as the author's farewell to the stage with
great enthusiasm.  He's contrived a kind of prologue, a patchwork of
quotations from the play (mostly pretty obvious) and some bits and
pieces from the sonnets, an aging man's ruminations on the evanescence
of life and art; the actor who will play Prospero, in generic Eliz/Jac
doublet and hose, black, delivers this on a proscenium stage open all
the way to the back wall, whose center is occupied by an equally generic
reconstruction of the Globe stage and tiring house, with the stage
itself raised (but much foreshortened--6' or so?) and the canopy only
suggested.  We discover later that there's a little room up there under
the twin gables where Shakespeare/Prospero sometimes sits and writes.
As the black figure muses, other actors come in and do pre-performance
stuff; the prologue closes with P. scribbling and then reading the last
few lines of the play proper, and then the winds begin to howl.

At this point a second (third?) set of theatrical conventions emerges.
Rosa, having read his introductions, asked his designers to take Inigo
Jones as their inspiration, and not only the betrothal masque but the
whole piece employs the kind of obvious artifice, two dimensions
pretending to be three, of Jacobean masque design as it survives to us
in Jones' drawings.  The storm scene involves fairies, working on the
forestage, waving strips of cloth through which another fairy carries a
little toy ship in great distress, while the Neapolitans, working on the
Globe stage, do their dialogue and Prospero, up in the little room,
observes and occasionally gives directions with his staff.  Prospero
tells his story not only to Miranda but to an attentive audience of
fairies; when she's asleep, Ariel comes dancing in from the wings (Rosa
keeps him in constant motion-a slightly unfortunate choice with an
actor-Jonathan Uffelman- who doesn't move badly but not all that well
either), and Caliban (George Diehl, Jr.), interestingly played with bent
knees and bowed back until his very last few moments in Act 5, comes
rolling out from under the Globe platform.

At the end of that scene, stage-hands wheel on little towers, painted to
look like the rocks in International Style landscapes, the landscape of
the island; from these Prospero, Ariel, and the ever present fairies
watch Ferdinand and Miranda meet, the Neapolitan court party come
ashore, the clowns discover one another, and so on.  Prospero is
sometimes down, sometimes aloft.  There's a good deal of incidental
music, not bad (though Ariel doesn't sing very well), and a great deal
of movement.

All this has a lot of scenic appeal; the Jones stuff is elegant and
charming, the costumes rich and strange, something is going on all the
time.  Too much, to my mind.  All that scenery crowds things, so the
actors are always in each others' faces (this may also arise from the
fact that Rosa has worked mostly in TV the last few years).  The
non-stop busyness means drifting focus-knowing the text as well as I do
I couldn't always hear lines for the rolling of scenery or other
incidental noise, and I know some less experienced spectators found it
hard to keep up.

Still and all, an interesting if not always successful effort.  Michael
Rudko as Shakespeare/Prospero manages to keep his genial and his
vengeful side in touch with each other and us and to communicate clearly
through the visual din.  Mark Elliot Wilson makes a dangerous Antonio
from whom Prospero has clearly not heard the last.  George Diehl Jr.'s
3-foot-high Caliban, whom the others treat as a talking dog with a
propensity to bite, is beguilingly vigorous.  Careena Melia is
persuasively innocent and sexy at the same time.  And John Buck, Jr.,
does a delightful turn as a Stefano who owes more than a little in the
way of inflection, posture, and gesture to the immortal W. C. Fields.
The show runs through Oct. 19.

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