nytheatre.com review by Brad Lee Thomason
June 26, 2010
If there is one definitive statement you could make about this production from Boomerang Theatre, it's that Mother Nature makes one amazing set designer; and no play in the canon, I think, really lends itself to an outdoor production better than The Tempest. The spot in Central Park Boomerang has chosen suits the play's aesthetic perfectly, and when you match that with some of the greatest poetry the Bard ever penned you have an excellent combination for a lovely afternoon.
Quite honestly, it had better be lovely, because The Tempest is essentially a play where the action is resolved before we even begin. Oh sure, there's a potential marriage hanging in the balance, but never any real doubt of a happy resolution. Also there are two murder plots in the works, but never even a remote possibility of either one being successful. We know immediately that any attempt on King Alonso's life will be thwarted by Prospero's servant-spirit; and on the other side of the island any threat to Prospero's life from the drunken buffoons who are planning his murder is merely laughable. So it takes some beautiful language and a little theatre magic to keep the audience engaged throughout, and the Boomerang Theatre accomplishes this to at least some degree.
After an opening scene full of sound and chaos (accentuated nicely by an offstage foley artist and onstage water) we find Prospero and Miranda in a long expositional scene that quite frankly is hard for any company to pull off successfully, but especially difficult here as it's too much of a strain to hear Jonathan Dewberry's lines as Prospero, a problem that continues throughout. He has quite a bit to contend with in the outdoor setting—honking horns, traffic, dump trucks in the park; but this opening scene especially has so much information and so little action that it's very important to hear Prospero set up the play.
Once we get past this, the play starts to move and the performance of Luis Vega stands out right away as the brutish and deformed yet somehow still lovable Caliban. Pair him with Vinnie Penna playing a hilariously boorish Stefano and Christian Toth as Trinculo and you have some of the most entertaining moments of this production. Spencer Aste gives a wonderful portrayal of the cheerful and noble Gonzalo and I also found a lot of the action involving Ariel, played by Catherine McNelis, quite innovative, including double casting the role with the Boatswain, which gives a tidy explanation as to how the ship landed on this island in the first place.
However, there are some directorial choices I found a little bizarre, starting with the log scene between Jason Loughlin and Amanda Tudor as Ferdinand and Miranda, whose scenes together are otherwise earnest, sweet, and endearing. Instead of "thousands of logs" we find Ferdinand moving tiny sticks from one side of the stage to another... which makes Miranda's line about not working so hard seem a bit absurd, and not in the good way. They don't change the line, mind you; they're still referred to as logs, but both actors seem to acknowledge the ridiculousness of calling them that. In this case, were I Ferdinand, I would have no problem allowing Miranda to help me move them just to get her to stick around; there's no way anybody's going to be cracking any sinews over these.
Another problem is the fairly vague choice made regarding time and place. In the scene where Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill the king they are wearing swords that they later draw from their belts, but the very next scene features Trinculo and Stefano wearing Converse All-Stars. This is all a bit jarring. So am I to believe that even though Italians are fighting their battles with archaic weapons there's a shoe store in Naples where you can pick up a pair of Chuck Taylors?
Finally, the company, for whatever reason, decided to cut Prospero's final speech in the play. It made for a performance that seemed a little unfinished; and an ending that was rather untidy as the actors sort of just wandered out of the space. Not that I generally have a problem with making a few cuts, but that particular speech is so well-known and such a clear finale to the play (and, really, probably Shakespeare's entire career) that I just didn't understand why one would choose to go without it.
Don't get me wrong; there are some excellent performances and some lively moments in Boomerang's production. Is it great Shakespeare? I don't know if I can say that. But it's still a lovely way to spend an afternoon in the park.