Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 8
 
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
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Music/Theater

“’TIS NEW TO THEE”: Prospero (Max Rosmarin) tells his daughter Miranda (Sarah Paton) the story of their exile from Milan and arrival on an enchanted island where they have lived for the past twelve years, in a Princeton Shakespeare Company — Theatre Intime production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” playing for one more weekend, through February 27, at the Murray Dodge Theater on the Princeton University campus.

Revenge and Reconciliation, Chaos and Creation Hold the Stage in Intime-Princeton Shakespeare Production of “The Tempest”

Donald Gilpin

“What have we here? A man or a fish? dead or alive?” wonders the jester Trinculo as he comes upon Caliban hiding on the ground under his cloak “A fish: he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fishlike smell. A strange fish!”

A sense of confusion, chaos, disorientation, and wonderment prevail throughout William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, from the fierce ship-wrecking storm in the opening moments to the final scene of recognitions and reconciliation before all return from the enchanted island to the real world. It is a play in which characters are lost, searching for themselves and each other. They learn and change accordingly.

Questions abound from start to finish — for the characters, for the audience, for actors and director, and for critics and scholars. Rich in poetry and symbolism, The Tempest is a play about power, its uses and abuses; about magic and the artistic imagination; about slavery and freedom; about parents and children; about vengeance and forgiveness; about ignorance and self-knowledge. It is a sort of fairy tale set in a visionary realm, an idealized world controlled by the artist, but the world of reality is never far removed from this magical isle nor from the thoughts of its powerful ruler Prospero.

As a romance, the most ill defined of genres, the play lacks the intensity of the great tragedies, the humor and happy resolution of the comedies, the dramatic tension and rich allusive power of the histories. The tone varies widely, from comical slapstick to near-tragic sorrow and despair.

The Princeton Shakespeare Company-Theatre Intime collaborative production, currently running at Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus, wisely relies on simplicity and a faith in the authority and beauty of the Bard’s poetry. Jenna Devine, the director, a Princeton University sophomore, has eschewed the temptation of extravagant special effects and musical and scenic adaptations, which the text — full of magic and music — might seem to encourage. She has also chosen not to adopt the popular twentieth century political focus on the character of the “savage and deformed slave” Caliban and his disturbing relationship with a colonial tyrant-like Prospero. Nor has she chosen to follow examples of past decades and update or relocate the play in any of such diverse times and places as an abandoned New York subway platform, colonial South America in the time of Cortez and Pizarro, contemporary Italy with the conspirators dressed as mafia dons arriving on the island by helicopter and having to contend with multiple Calibans and Ariels, or the science fiction movie world of Forbidden Planet (1956), a cult classic in space suits.

“The Tempest” will play for one more weekend, Thursday through Saturday, February 25-27, with performances at 8 p.m. and a 2 p.m. matinee on February 27. For tickets call (609) 258-1742 or visit www.princeton.edu/utickets. For more information visit www.theatreintime.org.

Ms. Devine and her 21-person undergraduate ensemble keep it simple and, as they do so, the extraordinary splendor of this play emerges powerfully. The actors are well rehearsed, confidently memorized and in character, and able to communicate Shakespeare’s challenging prose and poetry with understanding and clarity of expression. There are no weak links in this group. Diction and projection are strong throughout. The ensemble works effectively together, the action moves swiftly through the nine scenes of this second shortest (after Comedy of Errors) of all Shakespeare’s plays, and all concludes in just two hours, including intermission.

Max Rosmarin delivers a dynamic, poised, credible Prospero. Tall, with a scholarly air and an ability to render the poetic lines with beauty and resonant meaning, Mr. Rosmarin makes the stretch in age with apparent ease and confidence. He convincingly commands the stage and his fellow characters throughout the play.

With Sarah Paton as a charming, unaffected Miranda, the father-daughter, Prospero-Miranda relationship and her courtship with Ferdinand (Gregor Schubert) become the most moving parts of the play. There is little suspense in anticipating the outcome in this relationship, but Mr. Schubert and Ms. Paton are simply on target and appealing in their depictions of these naïve, enamored characters. The audience, along with the spying Prospero, derives much pleasure from watching the innocent romance develop.

The aptly named Ariel Sibert plays Ariel with unusual energy, along with considerable skill in dance and movement. Wearing a painted mask across her eyes, this athletic Ariel is in constant motion, creating shipwrecks, helping Prospero to foil two conspiracy plots and bringing all three groups of plotters and all three plot strands together happily by the end.

Brad Wilson makes a clean-cut Caliban, less menacing than child-like in his rebellious behavior. Paul Bangiola, as King Alonso of Naples, mourning for what he believes to be his drowned son Ferdinand, along with Prospero’s loutish, sneering brother Antonio (Josh Zeitlin) and his cohort Sebastian (Julia Keimach), here the sister rather than brother of Alonso, form a worthy cohort of villains. Elizabeth Swanson performs a major character stretch in both age and gender to play the wise and loyal Gonzalo, with Francesca Furchtgott, ably adapting from a lord in the original to a lady, also in the shipwrecked contingent.

Hannah Barudin as Trinculo the jester and James Mears as Stephano, the drunken butler, team up with Caliban to constitute another conspiracy, a broadly comical reflection of the royal intrigue taking place elsewhere on the island. A cohort of worthy mariners and the goddesses Iris, Juno and Ceres, appearing for a wedding masque, join a talented chorus of island spirits to complete the lively ensemble.

The set design by Martha Ferguson and Josh Budofsky ably and simply complements the proceedings. In a motif of grey stone, the unit set serves for multiple different scenes, with Prospero’s hut on stage right and a steep stone stairway on stage left ascending to a walkway and upper level, which provides another a potential playing area and a vantage point for watching the action below. Skillful lighting by Mike Hasling accentuates the scene changes, enhances the supernatural effects and, through shifting colors on the back cyclorama, helps to manifest the shifts in mood throughout the play. Caroline Hodge’s mostly earth-colored costumes in an unobtrusive traditional style support the characterizations and maintain the simplicity of the rest of the production.

The Tempest (1611) was the last of Shakespeare’s four great romances and probably the last complete play he wrote before his death in 1616. It is not difficult to see Shakespeare depicting himself through the protagonist Prospero, who, in the final act, after having orchestrated all the action of the play, renounces his magic art, in preparation for leaving the island and returning to the world of reality in Milan, as Shakespeare, near the end of his career bids farewell to the London theater world: “Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air …. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” Mr. Rosmarin and the Intime-Princeton Shakespeare Company bring the magic of Shakespeare and his Tempest to life in a beguiling theater experience on the Murray Dodge stage.

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