nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
October 18, 2008
Although Theater Ten Ten is giving us overall a traditional production of The Tempest, director Judith Jarosz has made a number of non-traditional choices that make it a distinct version of Shakespeare's brilliant swan song.
The theatre is filled with an eclectic array of music and the stage is stacked with black platforms with only a large green plant at the back to signify the play's location. The actors' voices echoing through the space make all of the text exceptionally easy to hear and allow the story to reverberate throughout the entire audience.
As opposed to the recognizable opening line "Boatswain!" and the scene of the shipwreck, the second part of Act 1 Scene 2, with Prospero and Ariel, is put first in this production. The relationship between Ariel and Prospero is made primary, as it is presented first, instead of the normal arrangement where Prospero and Miranda are first presented together. This is reinforced by the program cover, which features a cartoon of Prospero and Ariel. The gleeful, dutiful, spirit Ariel, played by Kendall Rileigh, spins and twirls, dancing across the stage to signify her sprightliness.
Prospero is most often treated as a wizard who is more god than man, creating the illusions of the play and controlling its action. But, in this production, David Fuller presents a Prospero who has powers, but is distinctly human. Instead of introducing him as a knowing father figure, he is introduced standing alone with a look of longing out to the sea. Most people play Prospero like a wise wizard, an all-knowing old man, and a controlling, over-protective father. Here, he is played as a worried wizard, an old man haunted by his past, and a father quickly happy that his daughter has found love.
There are other minor variations that reflect an alternate take on components of The Tempest. Prospero and Miranda are dressed in the clothes they had from when Prospero was still the Duke of Milan, instead of the typical homespun islander robes, drawing awareness to their exile. Caliban, played by Scott Michael Morales, as is typical resembles Gollum from Lord of the Rings in many respects, but here is made more comical and not so much a pitiable slave. Ferdinand, played by Greg Foro, is more boyish than princely, making him a great match for the especially girlish Miranda, played by Ka-Ling Cheung, possibly justifying Prospero's faith in the relationship. Ferdinand would be a partner to Miranda, forcing her to transition into independence, rather than functioning as a caretaker for her such as Prospero has been.
The final speech is merged with Prospero's other famous speech from Act 4 Scene 1, featuring the beautiful line, "we are such stuff as dreams are made on." After Prospero's famous request for applause ("release me from my bands, with the help of your good hands...let your indulgence set me free") Fuller does not wait for the audience to clap, but instead begins to exit the stage, and the applause does not come until the stage has blacked out. This is consistent with the production's general attitude towards Prospero, which is that although he may be the most powerful character, he is flawed, and not wise enough to be able to step outside of his world. He is necessarily a part of the world even though he may wield more power over it.
This production dethrones the man in charge by bringing out his humanity over and against his omniscient control. Instead of breaking his staff, usually a dramatic moment near the close of the play, Prospero hands the staff off to Ariel, who uses it to set herself free. A deep echo rings through, that power is not all-powerful, things do not necessarily happen in the order they have in the past, and the inhabitants of the island, although unavoidably influenced by whoever holds the staff, must remember that the person in charge can only accomplish so much magic. Behind the illusion, "what strength I have's my own."