The harsh gale ravaging a ship in the opening of “The Tempest” is not the cataclysmic torrent the play’s title implies. Rather, it is a harbinger for the storm to follow, once the vessel’s passengers wash ashore. The plotting of both a wily sorcerer and the nobles who betrayed him give way to the true maelstrom, that of human rage and jealousy. Such depth is not achieved through Shakespeare in the Dark’s adaptation of the tale, but there is still much to enjoy about the production.
By cutting the daunting romantic play to a manageable length, directors Stephen Dunford ’10 and Christopher Richardson ’13 present a mere outline of the original text, keeping necessary exposition and getting rid of the weighty verse which so often plagues performances of Shakespeare’s work. If the staging is any indication, this was a wise move. If more soliloquies remained in the revision, the actors would feel the need to stand more and move in two dimensions with even greater frequency.
Grace Mendenhall ’13, as the wizard, here witch, Prospero, is emblematic of the problems with the dramatic stretches of the play. Her performance is one of restraint. As Prospero speaks of her anger and wrath over her brother’s deception, Mendenhall paces and barely shows a scowl. When casting her spells, Mendenhall demonstrates no mysticism and gestures with all the power of reading the morning paper. Holding back on emotional outbursts is a valid decision by an actor portraying the spurned conjurer, but rather than show such self-control, Mendenhall shows little more than a passing interest in her own machinations.
As the lovers Ferdinand and Miranda, Nathan Sivak ’13 and Lauren Harrington ’13 give us little romance in this romantic play. The love between the characters appears not at all believable, which spoils the very foundation of the play. Sivak is earnest in his delivery of Ferdinand’s musings, and Harrington portrays youthful naivete with a charm that is enthralling, but the spark that should set fire to the emotional core of the play is nowhere to be found.
Although the dramatic stretches of the play are weak, the talents of the comedic and supporting actors are on display throughout the production. Dunford and Richardson split Prospero’s spirit helper Ariel into the able hands of three actresses: Kacey Canfield ’10, Zoe Speas ’12 and Chloe Lewis ’11. All three, representing an elemental power, shine through their interpretations of the key to Prospero’s magic. It’s to the directors’ credit that they made this choice, allowing for a breakup of the aforementioned stagnancy in the staging of the play.
Eric Nold ’10, as the slave Caliban, offers a clever and sympathetic portrayal of the monster in Prospero’s service. His comic foils, C.J. Bergin ’11 and Rebekah Rochte ’12, as a drunken butler and soused jester, provide great entertainment and bring out the humor in Shakespearean verse — in no way an easy task. Their sections offer a welcome respite from the less moving drama in the show. And Richardson as Prospero’s scheming brother Antonio, with Tim Hatton ’11 as a conspirator in his plot to usurp the throne, are hilariously inept and effective villains.
Dunford and Richardson have made the best of a space not optimized for theatrical performances in the Sadler Center Commonwealth Auditorium. A veil separates at the curtain, and provides symbolic entry into Prospero’s world of spirits. The actors frequently move to the floor of the auditorium, closing the wide berth between the players and the audience and connecting the play with those watching the action with marginal success. As a student group, Shakespeare in the Dark has done well with the resources it could find. Sound and music are used to drive home what the basic lighting scheme cannot, and even though it is not a perfect replacement for the moods complex lightening suggest, it makes the setting far more tangible.
Alhough what should be the most compelling portions of “The Tempest” are sorely lacking in power and clarity, Dunford and Richardson have given us a fine representation of what laughs can be had in the play. Without poignancy to match, however, the production is lost in the waters of possibility.
The show runs April 14, 15 and 18 at 8 p.m. in the Commonwealth