Through June 10, Hartford Stage, 50 Church St. (860) 527-5151, hartfordstage.org
Darko Tresnjak digs magic. Or so it seems, based on his two first productions as the Artistic Director at Hartford Stage Company.
His production of Shakespeare's Tempest (which follows on the heels of his witchy '50s comedy Bell, Book and Candle), provides plenty of magic in a production steeped in visual elegance. A celestial deep blue set by Alexander Dodge suggests the inside of Prospero's head as well as the great globe itself, with hell below and heaven above. It's covered with text in a spidery hand — a look that is replicated in the costumes of all the magical characters, who dance on all the set's surfaces, as well as performing acrobatically in midair.
Famously, the isle on which this romance unfolds is full of noises. Nathan A. Robert's haunting original score is well sung by Ariel (Shirine Babb) and recorded pros. Convincing storm effects and other terrifying bits are the work of renowned sound designer David Budries.
Nor does this production stint on humor: the drunken louts who provide most of it (Michael Spencer-Davis and Bruce Turk) are fearless physical comedians and masters of timing. Typically comedy must be played fast to work; these gents succeed in slowing down some moments to maximize the laughs.
All the attention to the visual and aural has paid off with a vibrant production that will hold the attention even of children and those not fond of the Bard. At press opening, the actors were still developing their readings of the text, so while they were all solid, some moments of great import didn't land as fully as they might. This, I imagine, will develop over the course of the run.
Still, there are many performances of note. Daniel Davis as Prospero brings gravitas to this great part without being ponderous; his dilemmas — to exact revenge or to forgive, to acknowledge his own dark side, to relinquish power gracefully and accept retirement as he reorients toward his own death — are passionately felt. His attachment to Ariel is left tantalizingly open. She is aided by a trio of dancers, including the astonishing aerialist Joshua Dean.
Caliban is played here by Hartt student Ben Cole, who struggles some with the vocal demands of this crucial role, but brings courageous physicality to the part. The Hartford Stage interpretation blends baby with monster in a way I've not seen before — thanks to Cole's roly-poly shape, his drop-seat onesie of a costume, loping movement, and skilled direction. Sara Topham and William Patrick Riley, as the young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand, bring specificity and charm to roles that can be cloying or ditzy in less skilled hands.
Those of us who love Shakespeare find much to love about this play, the final one he wrote alone. It is often read as his farewell to the theater. It takes up complex questions of justice, revenge, and forgiveness. It details a father/daughter bond, as do so many of Shakespeare's late plays. It dissects the way we move toward insight as we strip away habit. It celebrates marriage and peaceable dynastic succession. It also is uncannily prescient about the complications of imperialism, right at the dawn of European colonialism. Shakespeare quotes Montaigne on utopian governance even as several characters greedily imagine exploiting Caliban back in Italy. True tales of a shipwreck in 1610 of British sailors on their way to 'Virginia' — and their salvation thanks to native peoples of the island we now call Bermuda — was tabloid reading in London as Shakespeare was dreaming up this play.
For any of those reasons — or simply to revel in a beautifully visualized dream — don't miss this chance to see a distinctive Tempest right here in Hartford.
Post Your Comment Below