Photo. Andrew Alexander. David Adams as Prospero, Claire Armstrong as Miranda.
The current production of “The Tempest” at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival is a perfect example of a strong directorial and design concept hi-jacking the play. This can happen with Shakespeare and sometimes an off-beat concept works. This one doesn’t. The conceit of a travelling side-show troupe sets a lively boisterous tone that’s completely at odds with the play’s atmosphere of mystery, revenge and magic. Director Craig Walker refers to the troupe’s leader, ultimately Prospero, as “part mystic and part con artist.” This cheapens the character and we’re left with a tawdry mountebank instead of a wise philosopher magician.
There’s an element of cruelty in “The Tempest,” mostly involving the deformed slave Caliban, that’s missing in this production. This role is a real departure for Warren Bain. He does a good and believable job, especially with his odd accent and “the isle is full of noises” speech. However the drunk scene with Trinculo, played by Kerry Ann Doherty and Nathan Carroll as Stephano, loses its edge and is played as slap-stick rather than the nasty bullying that it is. This leaves Caliban in the lurch with more unexplained anger. For some reason Mr. Carroll even picks up Caliban’s accent for the rest of the play.
As for Melissa Morris as Ariel this interpretation, whether the director’s or hers, belies the very name of “sprite.” This Ariel floats and drifts as if under water and her soprano speaking voice has little weight or authority. Even her long flowing gown drifts about. When she showed up in Act II wearing a black Wonder Woman outfit with wolf fur boots and a bird mask, my companion and I both whispered “What?!?”
I never thought I’d say this about a play at Prescott, but there’s too much music. The onstage organ fits with the side-show conceit, but the Negro spirituals, although well arranged and sung, seem out of place. The wedding songs of blessing in the text have been replaced by bawdy honky-tonk songs that turn the delicate scene into rowdy comedy. Ariel’s songs are somewhat atonal and sung in a very odd pop style with elements of yodeling. In other words the clashing musical styles fit neither with each other nor with the play.
Although the actors are hamstrung by the concept, there are some good performances. I’ve mentioned Warren Bain whose Caliban is surprisingly good. Nicholas Rice handles the language of the verbose Gonzalo with ease and Brent Buchanan is a good Sebastian, especially in the final scene. Claire Armstrong does well in making Miranda a three-dimensional character despite the concept and a very unflattering costume.
Speaking of costumes, designer Andrea Robertson Walker obviously contributed to the concept, but like the rest of the production nothing seems to fit with anything else. The sprites, costumed as monster kewpie dolls with paper mache heads, look like something out of Japanese Noh Drama, not to mention Ariel’s bird/wolf/super-hero outfit. The fish boy suit for Caliban is more successful.
It all comes down to Director Craig Walker. With such a pervasive concept he’s made it almost impossible for the actors to develop characters that live and the play is lost in the confusion. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. “The Tempest” is classified as a “Romance.” This production has all the romance of a grilled cheese sandwich.
“The Tempest” St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival through Aug. 16 tkts:613-925-5788
Director: Craig Walker
Set & Costumes: Andrea Robertson Walker
Composer & Music Director: Melissa Morris
Choreographer: Kerry Ann Doherty
Prospero: David Adams
Antonio: Quincy Armorer
Miranda: Claire Armstrong
Caliban: Warren Bain
Iris: Camille Beauchamp
Alonso: Pierre Brault
Sebastian: Brent Buchanan
Stephano: Nathan Carroll
Trinculo: Kerry Ann Doherty
Juno/Boatswain: Gabrielle Lazarovitz
Ariel/Ceres/Harpy: Melissa Morris
Gonzalo: Nicholas Rice
Ferdinand: Michael Wedgewood
Other Sprites: Members of the company