Since The Tempest opened in 1611, people have wondered where Shakespeare located its strange, enchanted isle. Prospero’s enemies are returning to Naples from a wedding at Tunis. A storm blasts them onto the rocks of an unnamed bit of land — somewhere in between?
Some claim Bermuda, where a shipwreck in 1609 may have inspired Shakespeare to write the play. Others propose Corfu or one of the Pontines between Tunis and Naples. Until September 25, the debate can take a breather. Prospero’s island’s at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. Director Adrian Noble has staged a musical mystery tour with magical results.
Noble may have taken his cue from Caliban. “The isle is full of noises,” says the monster, “sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.” Drums, cymbals, and gongs flank both sides of Ralph Funicello’s spare, two-level set. Spirits, wearing pale blue surgical scrubs and brimless caps, sing and accompany songs with percussive rhythms. As in a radio broadcast, and aided by Alan Burrett’s flashing snakes of lightning, they create a storm with booming sounds.
The cast doesn’t just swing into unmotivated production numbers. Shaun Davey’s enchanting, original music grows from the story, as if it’s been there all along. Act one, for example, concludes with a song of revolution; Act two, with a harmonic piece that includes the audience.
The sweet airs may “hurt not,” but the island’s also a treacherous place. Jonno Roberts’s chained, grimy Caliban rankles at enslavement and schemes to overthrow Prospero. And Prospero’s enemies are so power-mad they even conspire against each other.
A favorite professor of mine once saw me reading The Tempest, gritted his teeth, and said, “I can’t point to a place in the text and say ‘here it is,’ but there’s something wrong with Prospero!” In Miles Anderson’s terrific interpretation, there is indeed. Cast adrift and left to die, Prospero dreams of revenge. He’s developed a “rough magic” for 12 years. He doesn’t know how strong it is or how long it’ll last. But he’s got the makings of a perfect storm for his betrayers.
When they arrive, he can resist his gentle nature and turn The Tempest into a revenge tragedy. Instead, and performed brilliantly by Anderson, Prospero makes a sea change: “the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.” He comes home to himself. He forgives.
Noble has paired The Tempest with Amadeus. And Anderson plays Prospero and Antonio Salieri, the court composer. At first the pairing’s a puzzle. Then it makes sense. Both men play God. Prospero uses alchemy to rule the island like a colonial tyrant; Salieri, when his “God of Bargains” fails to deliver, assumes a Godlike wrath. He fights to “block” the genius Mozart. Though they have similar motivations, Prospero and Salieri become different sides of the same coin: Prospero renounces vindictiveness; Salieri embraces it.
Prospero doesn’t slam the brakes completely. When he confronts his brother Antonio, Anderson has Prospero set to strike. It’s a master move. Unlike so many Hallmark card versions of the play — the Bard’s farewell to his art, la-dah — this Prospero’s so human he can’t turn 180 degrees on a dime. There was something wrong (my professor was right) and Prospero will need time to complete his transformation.
Actors usually play Ariel, the spirit-servant, as an enlarged version of Tinkerbell. Not Ben Diskant. His hair a cross between a fright-wig and Queen Nefertiti’s flat-topped headdress, the tall, slender Diskant gives the spirit a graceful physicality, even on stilts. He also performs as an onstage conductor for much of the music, including an eerie rendition of “Full Fathom Five.”
There are no weak links in a terrific ensemble, but the production does have another star: a huge, aqua-colored sheet, at various times, is a mainsail in a storm, large waves, a shore-break trickle, a wall, a fence. Like the music, the giant sheet’s always in motion, always a dazzler.
A goal of advertising is “branding”: make a product not only memorable but desirable. Years ago, Texaco had a slogan: “We’re working to keep your trust.” Like a mantra, the commercial ran so often, one soon forgot the trick embedded in the words: the ad assumed you already trusted Texaco.
Michele Riml’s Poster Boys is about kinds of branding, in and out of advertising. Riml got the idea from an actual event: when an agency in Vancouver campaigned with gay and lesbian couples for Vancity, the Catholic Church severed its partnership with the credit union.
Caroline’s a hotshot creative director for Zenspiration Advertising (note the branding in that name). She wants a fresh approach for Clearwater Credit Union. Why not spotlight a gay male couple? Make them poster boys. The pair she chooses: Carson’s a devout Catholic, and Jack left her at the altar 13 years ago.
The Moxie Theatre/Diversionary Theatre co-production had opening-night jitters but should settle in. Matt Scott’s impressive, abstract set and Michelle Caron’s lighting enable flash cuts that director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg orchestrates with precision. John Anderson, as kind-hearted Jack, and Justin Lang as scheming Brad, add dimensions to sketchy characters. Some of the funniest scenes: Caroline (an arch Julie Anderson Sachs) has a “fear of flying” (another “branding”); her conscience (Charles Maze in drag and a red, Prince Valiant wig) visits her in flight with advice both sage and witty. ■
The Tempest, by William Shakespeare.
Old Globe Theatre, Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, Balboa Park.
Directed by Adrian Noble; cast: Miles Anderson, Donald Carrier, Winslow Corbett, Jonno Roberts, Ben Diskant, John Cariani, Charles Janasz, Michael Stewart Allen, Kevin Alan Daniels, Adrian Sparks; scenic design, Ralph Funicello, costumes, Deirdre Clancy, lighting, Alan Burrett, sound, Dan Moses Schreier, original music, Shaun Davey.
Playing through September 25: runs in repertory with Amadeus and Much Ado About Nothing. 619-234-5623.
The Poster Boys, by Michel Riml.
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights.
Directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg; cast: John Anderson, Justin Lang, Charles Maze, Julie Anderson Sachs; scenic design, Matt Scott, costumes, Jeannie Galioto, lighting, Michelle Caron, sound, Tom Jones.
Playing through July 31; Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-220-0097.