“The Tempest” is one of Shakespeare’s sweetest plays, full of gentle poetry that tells a story of forgiveness and reconciliation. It has some of Shakespeare’s most lyrical poetry and funniest comic bits. And, set on a mysterious island haunted by spirit and isolated from the entire world, it offers with every production the opportunity to create a time and place unlimited except by imagination. It is other worldly.
Nowadays, it is receiving a lot of attention from theatre companies who are alert to a subtext that deals with colonialism and the expansion of England’s power into the “New World” — Prospero has, in effect, colonized an island and enslaved its inhabitants who are described as witches, spirits, and monsters. The most famous line in the play actually references a “brave new world.” This strata of meaning in is not a matter of a “woke” fashion but is clearly supported by a careful reading of the text.
And there are more complexities. The character of Prospero is at once loving father, spiritual master, and cruel slave owner. The monstrous Caliban is an evil plotter, yet not without reason, and although he appears in some ways to be less than human, he is capable of a depth and range of feeling that fully embraces poetry, resentment, spirituality, and worldly ambition.
The basics of the story are simple: Prospero was a Duke whose authority was usurped by his brother. The brother sent Prospero and his young daughter away, presumably to be lost at sea, but Prospero survived and has lived for years on an uncharted Island, raising his daugher and studying his books of magic, forcing the spirits of the island to serve him. Now that his daughter MIranda has come of age, he uses his magical powers to bring his brother and his court to the island where he intends to forgive all, end estrangements, and marry off Miranda.
Well — all that plot and subtext is a handful to manage for any director, and many have found themselves at sea when it comes to bringing it all together into a coherent whole.
For the present production, director Michael Socrates Moran has some successes and some failures. Perhaps the greatest success of this production is its visual and aural coception. Moran and his design team of Karla Hargrave (set), Regina Evans (costumes), Stephanie Anne Johnson (lighting) and Elton Bradman (sound) have created a sense that the entire proceedings take place in an underwater fantasy world. The light seems to have passed thorugh green and blue water before bathing the stage. Costumes seem to float. Actors half walk, half swim and glide throug the small space. Everything is a bit slow and off pace. It is quite enchanting.
The downside of all this enchantment, however, is that it tends to flatten the rhythms of the play so that everything is, perhaps, a bit too lanquid. The mood seems to take over from the content, and that is insufficient to fully sustain our interest for the entire evening.
There are moments, however, that pop, as when Propero uses his power to hypnotize his daughter to sleep, or when she first ecounters the shipwrecked court who seem to her to be visitors from another world altogether.
There are hints also of the colonialist subtext mentioned above, and of the spiritual growth of Prospero. That last point is esepcially evident in the final moments of the play, when Adrian Roberts’ Prospero comes into his own as a man of great spirit, achieving the willingness to sacrifice his magical powers and forgive his wrongdoers. This awakening of Prospero to the truth of who he is and the meaning of his life is one of Shakespeare’s finest moments and Roberts delivers it well.
But this is a Tempest that is like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are there, but it doesn’t all quite fit, like a sort of Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from the corpses of past productions.
The result is an evening of theatre that moves too slowly from high point to high point. The high points are marvelous, but the paths between can be a bit too lulling. As audience, one must forgive the bitter for the better.
‘The Tempest” plays at Oakland Theater Project (at FLAX art & design) through March 13th. For further information and tickets (including a live-streamed performance on March 12th), click here.
Rating: *** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“The Tempest” by William Shakespeare, presented by Oakland Theater Project. Director: Michael Socrates Moran. Scenic Designer: Karla Hargrave. Costume Designer: Regina Evans. Lighting Designer: Stephanie Anne Johnson. Sound Designer: Elton Bradman. Production Designer: Kevin Myrick. Fight Choreographer: David Maier.
Caliban/Propero: Adrian Roberts. Mirana/Antonio: Abril Centurion. Alonso/Stephano: Benôit Monin. Sebastian/Trinculo: Nathaniel Andalis. Ferdinand/Gonzalo: Kevin Rebultan. Ariel #1: Sharon Shao. Ariel #2: Romeo Channer. Ariel #3: Carla Gallardo.