City Paper is not for tourists
Trinculo gets a wedgie, Ariel has an attitude problem, and director Timothy S. Shaw makes a broadly funny “scamels” joke, but none of these flourishes can rescue the Keegan Theatre’s Tempest: “Waterlogged” is too strong a word for this uneven take on Shakespeare’s tale of shipwreck and magic and calling to account, so let’s just say that Shaw’s largely youngish ensemble is decidedly out of its depth. There are bright spots: George Lucas’ ambitious set design allows Shaw to put his cast aboard ship for that opening sea-storm before spilling them onto the sandy beach of Prospero’s island when the storm’s impressive noise has subsided. (As Tempest tempests go, this budget storm is nearly as effective as the expensive typhoon that got itself overproduced at the Shakespeare Theatre a couple of seasons ago.) But there’s thunder and lightning in this play’s language, as well, and too much of that goes missing here. Robert Leembruggen shapes many of the exiled Duke Prospero’s speeches handsomely—the long opening narrative that explains their flight from Milan to his daughter Miranda is nicely done—but most of the players around him seem to find Shakespeare’s dramatic rhythms uncomfortable and his verse too much of a mouthful. And there’s something intriguingly beaten-down about the resentful body language Courtney Weber creates for her birdlike Ariel; there’s always something of the bully about Prospero, something exploitative and arrogant about the way he commands spirits and manipulates his friends and foes alike, and Weber helps make that plainer than usual. In fact, the most striking thing about this Tempest is the bitter tang that lingers through to its conclusion, when Prospero reveals himself to the men who plotted to deprive him of his dukedom, offering both remedy and forgiveness as he prepares to resign his magic and assume a simpler humanity: Shaw seems to be interested in where the limits of forgiveness lie, so his Ariel takes no joy in her freedom, and there’s no peace made between Prospero and his usurper brother. In a play whose emotional resonance usually depends on a graceful exit for everyone—it’s thought of as Shakespeare’s valedictory, a farewell to the theater and a laying-down of his own particular magic—the danger that broods over Prospero’s epilogue feels arrestingly different.