THE TEMPEST by William Shakespeare

 

With the Bridge Project 2010, Sam Mendes has gone beyond trying to find a Shakespeare who can speak to us today—he wants to drag the playwright right into the current culture wars, too.  His recent As You Like It included a Depression-era tableau and torture scenes to point to the recession and our Mideast conflicts, but it was too heavy an overlay for Rosalind’s conjurings.  Now, without resorting to portraying children at witch school, the director elucidates the contemporary pagan revival, offering practice, technique, and personalities, which aren’t mere wavings of a wand. Instead, they seem to have a basis in Wicca or the reconstruction of ancient religions. Whether they are exact replications or not, my feeling is that he’s more on Shakespeare’s wavelength this time.  One point we can infer from The Tempest is that the bard–this is considered his last solo venture–did not want to provoke a religious attack—and probably decided to keep his head. Elizabeth I herself, in discussing the divide among Catholics and Protestants, said, “I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.” What she meant was that she wanted a big tent approach to worship in the Church of England—what you did on your own time was your own business (but use The Book of Common Prayer on Sunday). Shakespeare, given a little wiggle room, offers us spells, trance states, psychic knockouts, and Celtic myth in The Tempest–and you better believe he takes it all back by the end, forswearing his magical tools and garments to get himself to church: “[M]y ending is despair, Unless I be relieved by prayer."

 

Shakespeare’s lip service to the prevailing state religion, however, doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t be a ripe candidate for the coven today.  Scholars notify us to the classical allusions in the plays—so we can pinpoint the mythology and antecedents–but it's the pre-Christian cosmology and ritual that command the stage. Fairies, ghosts, goddesses and omens, witches and potions–they’re what ask us to co-create the theatrical journey, perhaps, drawing on a childhood memory of a fairy tale or attuning us to an intrinsic human archetype.  It’s also part of a larger discussion, at least in the U.S., where alternative religion has superficially entered into the public consciousness—but which can still inflame the religious Right.  Shakespeare knew the dangerous outcome of such provocations, with responses exactly the same as those in the 2000s —Sebastian, for example, the brother of the King of Naples, on hearing of the magician’s powers, accuses Prospero in an aside, “The devil speaks in him.”  It’s also not so unusual to see modern ritual defined as authentic—although Egyptologist Margaret Murray, Ph.D., felt there was an unbroken line of witches from the Stone Age (the theory was discredited); others think performed ritual may have lasted from the Middle Ages. No matter how unlikely this idea is, too—there were the burning times in between–presenting Prospero as a garden-variety Gardnerian, plugging along, casting his magic circles, cursing or chanting to himself, mopping his brow, does put the past in the present for the audience or vice versa, linking us to Shakespeare and his time.  No longer the effortless enchanter, Prospero, the witch, does laborious real rites; it’s a great opening for this production, for example, and, whether the magic circle comes from Wicca or the theatrical theory of Ingmar Bergman, the cone of power is raised.

 

As long as there's no test tomorrow, it's advantageous to understand the background of Shakespeare's works–here, of course, the very idea of setting The Tempest on an island was prompted by discoveries in the New World (and Caliban, played by Ron Cephas Jones, is a supposed example of the kind of inhabitant one might find there). Describing the scene–one of his few original plays–the bard is clearly lost: his Italy seems a lot closer to the Caribbean in the text than it really is geographically, but, of course, the whole nature of data was very different in the 1600s than it is today. Not that he doesn’t have plenty to teach—and Mendes, like the dramatist, draws on the source material to talk about the schism in his own time.  Actors, naturally, could not approach the part of Mary Tyrone or Blanche Dubois, Willy Loman, or Troy Maxon with the same un-Freudian relish that they can with a Shakespeare character–unless they want to.  The uniformly fine actors in this production are supplying unique creations–and Anthony O'Donnell also manages to be hilarious as Trinculo:  Stephen Dillane's Prospero (played as a traditional shamanistic witch) is down to earth; Juliet Rylance's Miranda doesn't understand that she's boy crazy (Rylance has serious chops–someone you'd want to be onstage with when mishaps occur because she can cover and she’s there for the other actors.  You also might think, like I did, that Shakespeare let her down by not making the part bigger–something I've never thought before while watching this role).  Mendes's choice of Christian Camargo continues to be a very daring one.  He's a wild-card actor, very different, very modern.  I couldn't decide whether he was basing his interpretation of Ariel on a monster movie, Tim Burton film, German silent, or, merely playing an alien or Dr. Spock on Star Trek.  Ultimately, I believe, picking from the constellation of neopagan types, he was acting a goth, without either clove cigarettes or absinthe—the requisite elegance showing in a suit with no shirt and a gown.

   

© 2010 by Bob Shuman

 

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The Tempest

Part of the 2010 Spring Season and The Bridge Project

Feb 14—Mar 13

World Premiere

Produced by BAM, The Old Vic & Neal Street Productions

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Mendes

"Five Stars"—Time Out New York on The Bridge Project, 2009

“…one of the foremost theatre directors in the world…”
—The Telegraph (UK) on Sam Mendes

“…profound and luminous…”
—The Straits Times (Singapore) on The Bridge Project, 2009

Last spring, The Bridge Project launched its inaugural season at BAM with an outstanding ensemble of American and British actors in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard. Following its successful debut in New York, the critically-acclaimed company, led by Tony and Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (Broadway’s Cabaret}, and the films American Beauty and Revolutionary Road), embarked on a world tour, delighting audiences in cities including Singapore, Madrid, Auckland, Athens, and London.

Year two of The Bridge Project promises another stellar transatlantic lineup and an intriguing pairing of two Shakespeare plays as Mendes and company explore outcasts, power, and magical lands with their world premiering productions of the comedy As You Like It and The Tempest, considered to be Shakespeare’s last play.

Featured actors include:
Michelle Beck (Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Twelfth Night, Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Cyrano de Bergerac
Christian Camargo (Broadway’s All My Sons, the film The Hurt Locker)
Tony Award-winner Stephen Dillane, (Broadway’s The Real Thing, HBO’s John Adams)
Obie Award-winner Alvin Epstein (Broadway's The Three Penny Opera; BAM's Endgame)
Obie Award-winner Ron Cephas Jones (Broadway’s Gem of the Ocean, Donmar’s Jesus Hopped the A-Train)
Juliet Rylance (Theatre for a New Audience’s Othello, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale)
Thomas Sadoski (Broadway’s reasons to be pretty and Reckless)

BAM Harvey Theater
Approx 135min with no intermission

Subscription tickets:
$28, 52, 68, 76
$20, 44, 60, 68 (Feb 16—25, Tue—Thu only)

Full price:
$35, 65, 85, 95
$25, 55, 75, 85 (Feb 16—25, Tue—Thu only)

*Feb 14, 16—21, 23—28 at 7:30pm
Feb 28 at 2pm
Mar 6, 7, 9—13 at 7:30pm

The complete acting company is as follows: Ashlie Atkinson (Juno), Jenni Barber (Iris), Michelle Beck (Ceres), Edward Bennett (Ferdinand)*, Christian Camargo (Ariel), Stephen Dillane (Prospero)*, Alvin Epstein (Gonzalo), Jonathan Lincoln Fried (Alonso), Richard Hansell (Sebastian)*, Ron Cephas Jones (Caliban), Aaron Krohn (Adrian), Anthony O'Donnell (Trinculo)*, Juliet Rylance (Miranda)*, Thomas Sadoski (Stephano), Michael Thomas (Antonio)*, Ross Waiton (Francisco)*

*Indicates British member of company

Edward Bennett, Stephen Dillane, Richard Hansell, Anthony O'Donnell, Juliet Rylance, Michael Thomas, and Ross Waiton are appearing with the permission of Actors' Equity Association. Ashlie Atkinson, Jenni Barber, Michelle Beck, Christian Camargo, Alvin Epstein, Jonathan Fried, Ron Cephas Jones, Aaron Krohn, and Thomas Sadoski are appearing with the permission of UK Equity, in corporating Variety Artistes' Federation, pursuant to an exchange program between American Equity and UK Equity. The Producers gratefully acknowledge Actors' Equity Association for its assistance of this production.

Set Design by Tom Piper
Costumes by Catherine Zuber
Lighting by Paul Pyant
Sound by Simon Baker
Composed by Mark Bennett
Hair & Wigs by Tom Watson
Casting by Nancy Piccione and Maggie Lunn
Choreography by Josh Prince

International Tour Producer: Claire Béjanin

Article: Vogue.com's “People Are Talking About: Ten Cultural Resolutions for 2010”
“… two plays that explore the sometimes thorny bond between fathers and daughters, As You Like It and The Tempest.”

Article: Time Out New York features The Bridge Project’s Stephen Dillane
"Stephen Dillane—consummate British actor and thinking person’s heartthrob…”

Article: The New York Times on Stephen Dillane
“The Week Ahead” highlights the industrious Dillane

Article: The New Yorker on The Bridge Project
As You Like It and The Tempest are featured in the magazine’s Winter Preview

Interview: Time Out New York talks to The Bridge Project’s Ron Cephas Jones
“Jones…earns that hackneyed critical plaudit, ‘riveting.’”

Article: The Village Voice features Sam Mendes in “Voice Choices”
“America and England join hands for Sam Mendes”

Visit Stage Voices blog for video: http://stagevoices.typepad.com/stage_voices/

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