nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 12, 2005
As accompaniment and counterpoint to Larry Loebell's excellent and incisive La Tempestad, Resonance Ensemble is presenting an interesting, streamlined production of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, adapted and directed by Victor Maog. About an hour in length, Maog's version focuses on the ideas of imprisonment that are explored in Shakespeare's play—not just the different kinds of incarceration experienced by many of the story's characters (i.e., Prospero's willful exile and Miranda's wholly unwitting isolation, the captivities of Ariel and Caliban, the faux prison sentence given Ferdinand), but also the more metaphorical walls that are built in the name of love, requited and un-. It's certainly a workable notion, but it's an exceedingly academic one: this Tempest, especially given its short running time, feels more like an intellectual exercise than a fleshed-out drama, and so while it's provocative to watch, it's never as involving or engaging as this deeply-felt play generally can be.
The conceit seems to be that "Prospero," in prison (wearing the familiar coveralls and unlaced shoes), is reading, or imagining, the story of The Tempest, alone in his cell. Or perhaps he's reading it aloud somehow with two other prisoners: two other men, also in what look like cells (trapezoids of light, discretely etched on the stage), are reading/enacting the play with him. They do not wear the prison uniform however, so I wasn't sure if they were in Prospero's reality or just conjurations of his (the latter feels more appropriate to the play, but it's not entirely supported by the production). All three of the men play multiple roles: "Prospero" also portrays Stephano, while the Prisoner at stage left plays Miranda, Ariel, Trinculo, and others, and the Prisoner at stage right plays Caliban, Ferdinand, and others. (At first, it seemed that the division of roles might be based on who was a stranger to the island versus who was native to it, but that's not how it ultimately played out; that would have been interesting, however.)
The three prisoners/actors perform an abbreviated version of the script, I think moving around the text in non-chronological order, spinning the main stories of Prospero entrapping and then tormenting his longtime enemies; his daughter Miranda's first encounter with a human male other than her father, the handsome young Ferdinand, whom Prospero jails in order to test the young lovers; the fairy Ariel's promised freedom after completing her loyal service to Prospero; and the slave/monster Caliban's attempt to overthrow his master with the aid of the drunken Stephano and Trinculo. Both my companion and I agreed that the events depicted here would probably be pretty hard to follow by someone not familiar with the play; as it was, I was challenged frequently to figure out which characters were in which scenes (particularly because there's no convention used here, save the actors' voices and posture, to introduce or differentiate them). Some of the most famous lines are missing too, which is off-putting (Miranda's lovely speech that begins "Oh brave new world" has been excised, for example).
On its terms, the piece nevertheless works, and even allows some sharp insights into some of the aspects of the play (i.e., the themes Maog is explicitly examining). This is not, however, the same thing as a full-blown presentation or even deconstruction of The Tempest; by focusing narrowly on just the pieces that support the desired thesis, much reduction of a masterly whole necessarily ensues.
Maog's staging, which is on an almost completely bare stage with the space mostly divided (or, in some lovely fantastical moments, unified) by Aaron Copp's excellent lighting, maintains our interest and focus throughout. The ambitious division of the play among just three actors challenges the performers significantly, and only one, Daniel Larlham, really seems to have mastered his roles. (He benefits from having as one of them Ariel, who gets to move around in many more interesting ways than any of the other characters.) Orlando Patoboy is generally convincing as Prospero but we don't really feel the shift in his attitude from vengeance to forgiveness; that's a problem in the adaptation as well. Rasheed Ernesto Green's work here is problematic: his diction just isn't clear enough to make his lines understood, let alone enable him to develop several distinct characters.
This Tempest, then, is an intriguing but not particularly essential take on a great play. I'm not sure that it informs, in any significant way, La Tempestad; but those whose appetites for this timeless story are whet by this minimalist production of The Tempest will do well to see Loebell's wholly original riff on the play during this fall's Resonance season.