by Michele Markarian
“The Tempest”, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Allyn Burrows. Presented by Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Willet Hall at United Parish, 210 Harvard Street, Brookline, through January 8.
“The Tempest”, allegedly Shakespeare’s last play written solely by him, is a tale of redemption through revenge and ultimately, forgiveness. Prospero (the formidable Marya Lowry), the former Duchess of Milan, has had her dukedom usurped by her scheming brother Antonio (Thomas Grenon), who, twelve years ago, with the aid of Alonso’s army, tossed her and her child Miranda (the coltish Lydia Barnett-Mulligan) into a small boat that washed ashore on a remote island. The island is deserted but for two inhabitants – the magical Ariel (in a multi-faceted performance by Samantha Richert, who manages to be both elegant and impish) and Caliban (Jesse Hinson), the undesirable son of a witch. When Prospero sees that her former tormentors – Antonio, Alonso, Queen of Naples (the versatile Mara Sidmore), her brother Sebastian (Michael Forden Walker) and her son Ferdinand (the excellent Kai Tshikosi) are at sea, she conjures up a tempest to avenge wrongs done to her.
With eight cast members playing at least ten characters – some of the smaller roles have been cut from this production; some are voiced by Ariel – the show is alternately lively and moody. Burrows keeps the action flowing at a nice clip; one barely notices the costume and character changes, particularly in the case of Mara Sidmore, who doubles well as the Queen of Naples and the clownish Trinculo. Tyler Kinney’s set design is resourceful; two large sails flank the upstage area, with multiple ropes representing a ship, perfectly complementing Chris Bocchiaro’s dramatic lighting design, which utilizes both the ropes and canvasses beautifully. Amber Voner’s costumes are clever and creative. I missed some of the smaller characters – the absence of Juno, Iris and Ceres, for example, made the wedding ceremony, despite the magical lighting, appear rushed and lacking gravity.
Having women playing men’s roles – as women – changes the tenor and balance of the piece. There’s something robust and edgy about men being shipwrecked and plotting against one another that doesn’t really work as well when a woman is the one being plotted against. One can imagine men putting each other in danger for position – football! Hockey! – but when men and a woman put a woman and child in danger, well, that’s a whole new level of horror. A male Prospero concocting a storm to enact revenge is frightening; you think, where is he going with this? He’s out of his mind and capable of anything murderous! Perhaps this is my own prejudice as a woman, but somehow, when the female Prospero conjures the storm, I know in my gut that her “Bewitched” moment will pass before she does what any good mother would do: teach her children a stern but loving and magnanimous lesson about forgiveness.
This is not necessarily bad. A man two rows in front of me burst into tears during the curtain call right before he leapt to his feet, applauding. So there you have it. You’ll have to brave this imaginative tempest and see for yourself. For more info, go to: http://www.actorsshakespeareproject.org/plays-events/the-tempest/