Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: The Tempest (Shakespeare in the Park)

The Tempest
playwright  William Shakespeare
company  Shakespeare in the Park
theater  Delacorte Theater

Jordan Barrow, Louis Cancelmi, Francesca Carpanini, Nicholas Christopher, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Chloe Fox, Rosharra Francis, Thomas Gibbons, Frank Harts, Sunny Hitt, Brandon Kalm, Olga Karmansky, Tamika Sonja Lawrence, Rico Lebron, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Tim Nicolai, Matthew Oaks, Charles Parnell, Chris Perfetti, Rodney Richardson, Laura Shoop, Cotter Smith, Sam Waterston, and Bernard White

director  Michael Greif
set  Riccardo Hernandez
costumes  Emily Rebholz
lights  David Lander
sound  Acme Sound Partners/Jason Crystal
soundscapes  Matt Tierney
music  Michael Friedman
Sam Waterston & Francesca Carpanini
in Shakespeare in the Park's Tempest

The Tempest has Shakespeare’s greatest stage direction: Enter Ariel, invisible.” The one in Winter's Tale about the bear is gonzo, but this has a paradoxical beauty that begs the question, "How do you stage that?" In that sense, it stands for the whole play, which demands inventive staging. By this criterion, the summer’s Tempest in Central Park is a let-down.

The opening storm establishes the tone and range of any Tempest. Here it’s an ultra-conventional bit of confused shouting over realistic SFX of thunder and techy flashes of lightning. After that uninspired curtain-raiser, the lighting is often harsh; the music is live percussion, a cliché of the modern Shake-stage. The design feels all wrong for this elemental play, with its steel gantry trimmed with neon to dominate the set. There is a photorealistic backdrop of waves and a couple phony-looking rocks—the stage could serve for Winter’s Tale or any other play involving a shipwreck. Each of the play’s three plots has a highly theatrical moment—a fantastical banquet, a sumptuous clothes closet, and a marital masque—but all three opportunities are squandered. Plot and sense is subsumed under stage business and emotional telegraphy.

The actors’ stylized, almost syncopated versifying is consistent in method but also includes a tendency to over-emote without communicating sense. The characterizations are also generic. Even Jesse Tyler Fergusson, a sitcom star & legit actor who was so delightful in Comedy of Errors a few seasons back and here the play's jester, lacks pizazz. Of the supporting cast, only Louis Cancelmi’s Caliban feels original and new. He’s got a knock-kneed, simian gait, and speaks as if with a speech impediment to suggest his recent acquisition of language. The lovers have a few earnest moments (note how Miranda pities Caliban through their first scene), but otherwise each plot simply passes the time until the next one.

Sam Waterston, at least, has laid the foundations for a solid Prospero. Dressed in light linens and sandals, he looks like a semi-retired Easthamptonite. But in the first scene he establishes Prospero as a cantankerous grump towards his daughter, then goes further by casting the wizard as Ariel’s slavemaster and Caliban’s torturer. He may overdo it in this scene but he’s having actorly fun with Shak (and that’s more than most of the cast do). His performance stays on this note till the finale, when he learns mercy, absolves the guilty courtiers and drunkards, and even hugs Caliban while ceding the island to him. It’s a strong arc for the character and a spine for Greif’s otherwise limp Tempest.

Louis Cancelmi, Jesse Tyler Ferguson & Danny Mastrogiorgio
in Shakespeare in the Park's Tempest


Shakespeare in the Park's Tempest runs May 27 to July 5 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
photos: Joan Marcus