By William Shakespeare
Directed by Anne Hering
Starring Greg Thornton, Gracie Winchester, Lisa Wolpe and John P. Keller
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL</strong>
Orlando Shakes often takes liberties with The Bard’s works; they may move them in time or place and they love cross gender casting. This production of “The Tempest” is one of the less successful transpositions, and if you missed the opening night preshow Q&A you may wonder why the cast looks like its Prince Albert’s retinue. Here’s the clue: we are in 1910 where spiritualism was taking off and brooding Prospero’s (Thornton) books of magick are now replaced with a tarot deck. This backstory isn’t blindingly obvious on stage, but it does take Prospero’s proto- scientific knowledge of a rules based universe and pushes him back in to the “Pray and Hope” school of random divine interventions.
Prospero gave up control of Milan (annoyingly pronounced “MIL-en”) to his brother (now sister) Antonia (Wolpe) who promptly put him on a leaky boat to nowhere. She added his three year old daughter Miranda (Winchester) to the manifest but even the rats have left this ship; perhaps he had to crew it as well. Now 12 years have passed; Prospero’s powers grow, and he brings Antonia and a royal wedding party to wreck on his island. Young Ferdinand (Brad Frost) falls for Miranda; Prospero approves but leaves them a stern warning: No nooky until the paper work is done, or ELSE. Then we have the highlight of the show, the clownish Stephano (John P. Keller) and Trinculo (Brad DePlanche) stumble upon the half man, half fish Caliban (Richard B. Watson), a servant of Prospero. They get him drunk and attempt a coup; but to paraphrase Joe Walsh “It’s hard to capture the castle when you can’t find the door.” Lastly we have the listless set of elders in there braided finery led by Antonia; they wander about under Prosperso’s will and accomplish very little. Even the normally satanic Steven Lima as Sebastian isn’t very evil; when Antonia talks him into murdering their party for political gain I was hoping for more than a weak smile. Ms. Wolpe feels static as well, although she does look offended most of the time she is on stage.
Along with the comic actors the other highlight of the show is the staging. It’s minimal with a set of rolling ladders that keeps Ariel (Dameka Hayes) in flight. When on the floor she walks with a dancers steps and is the most likeable person in the cast. They put the trap door to good use, bringing and removing Prospero, offering elaborate dinners, and helping actors who need to get off the Shakespearean stage when they aren’t conveniently knifed in the arras. Caliban’s clever little hobbit hole was clever, and while he may be credulous and cranky he has a strong sense of right and wrong. A large sun moves over a parabolic arc to keep time, and when Prospero needs to work his magic he stands tall in a star spangled robe and peers down a staff with a large stone that really should have glowed. Lastly I’ll mention the Intern’s Masque presented for Miranda and Ferdinand; it was a fun interjection into a plot that veered from comic to confused. This is one of Shakepsears most accesible shows, but not one of its most successful presentations.
For more information on Orlando Shakespeare Theater, visit http://www.orlandoshakes.org