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With a play as inarguably spectacular and colorful as The Tempest, the failure of the Loeb Mainstage production is as deplorable as it is inexplicable. Then again, it is not all that inexplicable--under MOLLY bishop's direction the text is as the stage is poorly lit. Shakespeare's fanciful tale of The Temest Directed by Molly Bishop At the Loeb Mainstage Through November 17 a shipwreck on a magical islands undergoes needless and destructive editing that butches the plot. And Matthew Buchman's set is as monochromatic as the performance itself, leaving the considerable the play's theatrical potential untapped.
Te first dramatic scene of the work, which depicts the magical tempest for which the play is named, is strangely ommitted, as is a key song of the sprite, Ariel. But Bishop often ignores the options offered her by the text. In this, the most musical of Shakespeare's plays, she omits many of the scropted songs.
But Bishop favors innovation rather than textual adherence. Her crosscasting of Ariel and Sebastian, the brother of Alonso, King of Naples certainly holds some potential for subversive entertainment. But in this production of The Tempest, that potential is never realized. The fault lies not with the interpretations themselves, but with sheer carelessness and bad acting. What the text clearly demands, the actor fail to supply.
Ginna Carter as Ariel delivers her lines with the expressive energy of a telephone operator. She wears an indeterminate grin on her face throughout the entire play; the grace of the surrounding spirits her outshines her own. There is none of the master-servant rapport between prospero and Ariel that the text blatantly demands, and this failing undermines the power of Ariel's eventual liberation by Prospero.
The portrayal of Sebastian as a woman is also interesting, but the text is not consistently altered to accomodate the modification in sex. In the first scene of Act V, Prospero refers to her as "brother" and "sir," when she has previously been addressed as "madame." This mistake underscores the insensitivity and carelessness with which Shakespeare's text is handled.
Prospero's opening lines in the second scene of Act I, so crucial to the audience's understanding of the plot after the omission of the first scene, are delivered at a manic pace. Those unfamiliar with the text are left bewildered by the rest of the play's development. Bishop pathetically compensates for the plot's mangled exposition by having a spirit hold up a chart listing the "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys" of the play for our convenience.
The treatment of Shakespeare's text is here and elsewhere is ill- counseled: a spoof of Hamlet pointlessly substitutes for the masque of the goddesses in Act IV. Gravity characterizes moments that should be light (Prospero's epilogue); hesitation destroys the repartee (Ariel and Prospero's dialogues). The actors' delivered often indicate that they don't understand the meaning of their lines any more than we do.
A. Woody Hill's interpretation of Prospero, for the example, is indifferent to the proscriptions of the text. Prospero is a man seeking justice through magic. But Hill's rendition of the Epilogue depicts Prospero as a childish and vengeful sorcerer unwilling to yield his powers.
Steve Petersen and Jeff Branion as the drunken cohorts Trinculo and Stephano are the delightful exceptions in The Tempest, their comic rapport is as convincing as it is entertaining. And John Ducey as Caliban frequently conveys the pathos and grotesqueness of his character effectively. But their performances are not enough to redeem a production rendered in a dramatic monochrome.
The Tempest involves a savage storm, visiting goddesses, star-crossed lovers and supernatural powers and begins. But Bishop's production, rather than bewitching the audience, only leaves those unfamiliar with the text confused, and those acquainted, sorely disappointed.
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