Monday, July 14, 2014

The Tempest—Portland Shakespeare Project at Artists Rep—SW Portland



“…brave new world…”
This fantasy by the Bard is directed by Michael Mendelson (Artistic Director for PSP) and is playing at Artists Rep’s space at SW Alder & 16th through August 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandshakes.org or call 503-241-1278 for tickets.

This oft-copied story has been done in a modern guise in the film, Tempest by Cassavettes; a Sci-fi movie, called Forbidden Planet, with Walter Pidgeon; a 60’s Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation with Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowell and Richard Burton; a televised staged presentation with Christopher Plummer; a recent movie with Helen Mirren as the magic-maker; and a current production at OSF in Ashland (read my review).  All things said, a popular story.

This telling of the tale has Prospera (Linda Alper), having been disposed of her kingdom by her sister, Antonia (Adrienne Flagg) and her cohort, Sebastian (Gary Powell), the King, Alonso’s (Jim Butterfiled), brother.  She has been exiled to a remote island, with her daughter, Miranda (Susannah Jones), to live out her days.  Her only possessions are her magic books and cloak, smuggled to her by her only friend, Gonzalo (David Bodin).

But Prospera quickly discovers that that her refuge is not completely uninhabited.  There is a spirit, Ariel (Mike Dunay), who she charges to do her bidding and a rather uncivilized being, Caliban (Matthew Kerrigan), to do the baser chores.
With these enforcements she plots her revenge.  A storm (tempest) is conjured up and a ship, that the aforementioned characters are on, is forced onto her island.  With this dubious gathering is also the King’s son, Ferdinand (Joshua Weinstein), who Miranda immediately takes a shine to.  And a couple of rummy, drunken servants, Trinculo (Nathan Dunkin) and Stephano (Sam Dinkowitz), added for fun.


Needless to say, all these elements, coupled with three muses (Foss Curtis, Clara-Liis Hillier and Tiffany Groben) conspire to enact justice to all those treated unjustly.  To reveal further of the plot would be treating the audience…unjustly.  And before this vision disappears completely, you should book passage to this magical isle and discover for yourselves the secrets held within.

The changing of genders does add another dimension to the story, giving Propera a more maternal connection to her charges.  Also, it shows women in a position of power and in our “progressive” society, this is a good thing.  And it shows the power of one’s mind.  Are these misguided concoctions of her Island, really separate entities, or are they the Ego and Id of a woman (or man) spurned?  And if a mind can manifest revenge, can’t it also create forgiveness and an uneasy, perhaps, truce for all?

Questions to ponder, as well as imaginings of your own.  And part of the purpose of a well-done production, which this is.  I was intrigued by the set (Nathan Crone) & props (Bronwyn Maloney) & costumes (Sarah Gahagan).  It looked like something from an old W/B cartoon and was fitting for this fantasy, alternate universe that we visit.  The lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser) also set the moods and places for the scenes so that it was never confusing as to where they were.
And the discordant music at the intervals (sound, Sharath Patel) was very appropriate for this piece, giving the feeling that things are out-of-joint here.
With Mendelson at the helm of this vessel, you will never be steered wrong.  His ability to pick just the right cast for the parts is uncanny.  And the “conversational” style of presentation means that it is always going to be understandable for an audience, no matter one’s level of classical theatre background.  He is truly a master at this!

And the cast, from large to small roles, is a wonderful mix of newbies to ole pros.  Alper, from many seasons at OSF, is exceptional always.  You journey with her from a bitter woman, through the handling of her charges, to the acceptance of the fates and letting go, to finally forgiving those who have wronged her, is remarkable.

Dunkin & Dinkowitz are a great comedy team and play off each other very well.  Kerrigan presents us with a milder Caliban, showing more of a misunderstood soul than an inherently mean one.  And Dunay, as the Spirit, looks more like an angel, and his character seems to mirror Prospra in his attitudes, which probably gives her pause, as she see herself reflected in him.  The rest of the cast is super and even the Muses/Sailors/Ensemble (Curtis, Hillier & Groben) are very accomplished actors themselves.

It is a play produced and performed by professionals and it shows!  I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Also, this fine theatre company will be doing a staged reading of James M. Barrie’s play, The Admirable Crichton, directed by Jon Kretzu.  Barrie is the author of the classic, Peter Pan.  Most of the cast of this show are also in The Tempest and, as an added bonus, Vana O’Brien, an icon of Portland theatre.  It deals in a semi-comedic way with class issues.  The reading is presented Tuesdays, July 22nd & the 29th and Sunday, August 3rd at 7:30 pm.  Go to www.portlandshakes.org for more information.