Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Tempest, Austin Shakespeare at the Rollins Theatre, Long Center, September 9 - 26

The Tempest, Austin Shakespeare

Prospero's kingdom is an enchanted isle, suggested by the wide circle marked out on the floor of the Rollins Theatre. As did Shakespeare, Ann Ciccolella invites the audience to create that world by participating with their imaginations. The scenery is minimal -- little more than towering dark blue flats at the back of the playing area, an unassuming balcony or elevation at stage right, rear, and a couple of rickety bushes on platforms pushed onstage as needed.

Lindsley Howad, Steve Shearer (image: Kimberley Mead)One needs little more than that, augmented by the rich suggestiveness of Jason Amato's lighting. The dense artificial haze generated as the play begins is superfluous and somewhat distracting.

The waves of the opening tempest are evoked by the stage hands holding long, wide muslim bands across the playing area downstage and deepstage, raising and agitating them so that their billows suggest the increasing fury of the storm. The crew despairs of salvation, the members of the noble retinue returning to Naples from Carthage are aghast. Above them on the island's lookout, gentle Miranda and her father Prospero look on.

The Tempest was probably Shakespeare's last work, and it's easy to interpret it as his farewell to the stage. A studious magician in a magic isle is wrapping up loose ends -- preparing to renounce his magic and to drown his books, righting wrongs done against himself and his daughter, rebuking the guilty and preparing to leave and to reassume his dukedom. Prospero's a man of wisdom, a master of the isle and the spirits upon it, endowed with powers sufficient to command the elements. Many an actor plays him with sweep and rhetoric and high authority, like Charleston Heston doing Moses in the Ten Commandments.

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