We went to see the University production of The Tempest last night. Meanwhile, my class is in the middle of reading The Tempest, our final play for the quarter. This is not a coincidence. When one of my students said to me, “We’re putting on The Tempest this quarter and I’m Prospero,” I thought long and hard about it and eventually changed my syllabus to include the play. How a syllabus gets planned: I originally wanted to end the course on comedies with a romance, realized the textbook I was recommended did not include the romances, dropped the idea, and then went back to it when it seemed the right thing to do.
I remain amazed at the things that become so much clearer when watching Shakespeare rather than reading it. There are other things that are clearer on the page, but some of the plot points just seem so natural on the stage.
It was an intimate theatre in the round (seating on 3 sides), with wooden platforms suggesting the ship in the background with a conductor’s platform as the centerpiece as the stage set. This production likened Prospero to Beethoven, and had him “conducting” the action on the Island throughout the play, thus emphasizing the idea of Prospero as stage manager or director, a fairly traditional interpretation, but a unique spin. His conductor’s baton is his sorcerer’s staff, and the music plays–not live, unfortunately–through all but about three moments of the play.
Ariel was a tall, lithe young man who slithered and strectched and danced through his part. Caliban was a sympathetic, simple, pouty characterization. I think in contemporary productions Ariel has sometimes been lost to Caliban as directors have tried to enhance the part of the “Native” in the colonialist reading of the play. This play privileged Ariel to great effect, and Caliban and the troubling nature of his character were left in the background.
All the actors were college students, so Gonzalo was clearly made-up, and he used a quivering hand to show his age, which he held through the play. Ferdinand and his father seemed to be about contemporary. I would rather see all college students than have ringers playing major roles and the students miss out in what is, in fact, a college production. The casting was more or less color blind. They didn’t play with gender roles at all, so some of the Island Spirits/Roman Goddesses were women, but Miranda was the only female with a speaking role.
It was interesting, it was collegiate, it was a fun evening out, and I look forward to talking about it in class next week.