SHAKESPEARE'S drama has become fundamentally an intellectual experience for us. Unless we've read the play before seeing it or are familiar with the action and characters, the poetry is hard to follow, and consequently the plot is only vaguely discernible and character development difficult to see. We're too busy trying to decipher his language to appreciate Shakespeare's philosophic depth or even the beauty of his poetry.
The stage at the Loeb Ex complicates any attempt to "de-intellectualize" The Tempest. The possibilities for elaborate staging or expensive costuming which would identify the scene of the action or the characters themselves are almost nil. Shakespeare, as we're used to him, seems strangely out of place in such barren surroudings.
As if that weren't enough, The Tempest itself is one of Shakepeare's most difficult plays to understand. Attempts at interpretation invariably fail, explaining one-aspect of the story at the expense of some equally important part, Calling The Tempest a comedy, though it is humorous in parts, ignores the gripping with which Prospero works out his revenge against his brother Antonio, who usurped the dukedom of Milan from Prospero.
For all these obstacles, Eric Davin's production of The Tempest at the Loeb Ex is a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience that overcomes the handicaps of language and modest staging with animated performances by each member of the cast. All that suffers is the ambivalence (comedy or not?) engendered by the play itself-an unavoidable loss necessary in order to compensate for the difficulties of language and staging.
The production, under the direction of Laurence Bergreen, exaggerates the comedy and practically explodes with motion and exuberance which create both setting and character in the absence of props and costumes. In the opening scene, the ship caught in the tempest in depicted by the men in the cast standing in a circle with arms linked tossing about as the women create the waves and wind that rock the ship. This ingenuity characterizes the rest of the play.
THIS exaggeration of the action fills the lines of dialogue with meaning-in the second act, as Prospero tells Miranda how and why they were exiled, the rest of the cast mimes the story, thereby illustrating the lines and introducing the audience to the characters. But the superfluous movement (superfluous to Shakespeare) detracts from the subtleties of the verse and characterization. As a result, Robert A. Morse as Prospero, who by his magic has gained control of the island, plays his part a bit superficially, failing to communicate the tension that Prospero must feel at giving up his magic in the final act.
Betty Byrne, as Ariel, the "light and airy spirit" who does Prospero's bidding, is active and agile in the part, and Roxana Proser, as Caliban, creates a growling, beastly slave. Kaarel Kaljot, who plays both Antonio and Stephano, the King of Naples' drunken butler is particularly expressive and imaginative in both roles, prancing and reeling as Stephano and striding somberly as Antonio.
The scenes in which Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo, the King of Naples' drunken jester (slightly overplayed by Dan Hermann), conspire to wrest the island from Prospero's control are especially humorous. Since Bergreen has chosen to direct the play as a comedy, the celebration of Ferdinand and Miranda's marriage in the fourth act, at which Prospero displays his magical powers by creating a host of spirits, is played in a light and frivolous vein, Iris and Ceres reciting their lines like girls in a sixth-grade English class. This parody of the wedding hymn, necessary to maintain the exaggerated acting, is the most obvious violation of Shakespeare's intent, but in the context of this production a more solemn celebration would have been inconsistent.
Ferdinand, portrayed by John Archibald, and Miranda, played innocently by Kent Wilson, are starry-eyed lovers caught under Prospero's magic spell. Rick Carr as Alonzo, the King of Naples, is the least active of the cast, and at times his performance seems uninspired.
Though may of the nuances that Shakespeare gave his characters are lost to the exaggerated action of this production, the motion and emotion generated by the cast compensate for the absence of any Shakespearean accountrements and help to illustrate lines and images that might otherwise have been lost on 20th century ears.