Dec 08 2014

STC’s The Tempest

Published by at 10:45 am under reviews,shakespeare,sketchbook

Official poster for STC's The Tempest
Official poster for STC’s The Tempest

On Friday I went to see Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Tempest. This is a really GREAT production of one of my favorite plays, directed by Ethan McSweeny. It’s the best Shakespeare play I’ve seen so far in DC, and one of the most lavish Shakespeare productions I’ve seen, period. It’s up ’til mid January and I HIGHLY recommend it. More details and sketches below, though you might want to stop reading now to avoid spoilers.

Incidentally (and in the interest of full disclosure), I am doing a workshop with STC about adapting Shakespeare to comics  on Dec 21st at 4:30pm.

So, yeah. I don’t know when else I’ve seen “aerial” work (pun intended), giant puppets, operatic elements, a real sand beach and rotating set pieces used together in a Shakespeare play. Okay, I do know when: never. That these extravagances are set within a very spare vision of Prospero’s island – practically a cartoon desert island – seems only to heighten their impact. The invocation of the goddesses, which is usually a frippery to be glossed over and/or forgotten as quickly as possible, becomes probably the most magnificent and memorable part of McSweeny’s version.

There were a few things that worked a little less well for me, though I don’t think I would call them problems. (1) As in most productions I’ve seen, in the opening scene everyone is shouting over the gale such that their lines become somewhat incomprehensible — so read that scene before you go. (2) A few of the costumes reminded me slightly of Julie Taymor’s film version, and I don’t like to be reminded of that monstrosity. (3) Prospero’s magic is portrayed strongly in terms of bonds and restraints, and lead actor Geraint Wyn Davies has a very strong physical presence, all of which made Prospero feel less like a magician in the sense I’m used to thinking of him, and more like a sort of spirit tamer. It works, but makes me feel a bit less affection for the character. However, he did a really amazing job conveying complex mixed emotions about forgiving his enemies, giving away his daughter and (especially) freeing Ariel. And his rendition of the final epilogue was the most powerful I’ve seen. The whole cast is superb, as are the sets, costumes, and musical interpretation. Again, highly recommended.

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