Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by David Herskovits
"We begin with Act I, Scene I, Line I," Steven Rattazzi, the actor about to play usurped Milanese duke Prospero, tells the audience. And then, assuming an actorly pose, "Boatswain!" Perhaps to a greater degree than any other Shakespeare comedy—and certainly moreso than the character-driven historical plays and tragedies—The Tempest
can't be performed without acknowledging its metatheatrical framing, the text's recurring allusions to its own status as staged entertainment, something Target Margin Theater
integrates superbly into their beautiful production
at HERE Arts Center
(through May 27).
Before the performance begins the actors mill about backstage, as we can plainly see because the small wooden set has no backdrop, just the theater's brick wall. Some are in costume while others, like Rattazzi, are in jeans and t-shirts. The opening storm—conjured by Prospero in order to strand his usurping brother Antonio (James Tigger! Ferguson) and his shipmates on the island where he's spent the last twelve years stranded with his daughter Miranda (Clare Barron)—literally whips the production into existence. Boldly colorful faux Elizabethan costumes, an unfolding trompe l'oeil
wood-paneled set and exquisite lighting (much of it from candles) create an incredibly rich and intimate atmosphere, like a stylized approximation of the playhouses of olde. But director David Herskovits' production eschews period decorum for postmodern playfulness. Gestures, postures and poses are deliberately over-the-top to the point that it makes more sense to think of the show's blocking as choreography. Ferguson carries an iconic Greek coffee cup through the first few scenes; Ariel's (Nana Mensah) Tinker-Bell-ish tutu glows with holiday lights; live accompaniment in the many musical numbers includes everything from a synthesizer to a hand-cranked music box.
The casting also combines traditional choices and convention-defying decisions with great success. As 15-year-old neophyte Miranda, Barron is spot-on, while Prospero's island slave Caliban—often portrayed by a black actor to heighten the play's postcolonial themes—is played by Mary Neufeld, a (very funny) middle-aged white woman. In another gender-bender Mia Katigbak, an Asian-American woman, plays Alonso the king of Naples whose son Ferdinand is portrayed by the young black actor Hubert Point-Du Jour. These might seem like foolhardy choices were the entire cast not so impeccable, their comfort with the iambic pentameter so imperturbable.
Last year's imported Tempest at BAM
, for instance, seemed to be constantly struggling to keep afloat amidst the unruly text. But Target Margin's outstanding little ensemble stays atop the play's mounting action until its accumulated subplots and symbolisms very literally shatter, beginning a process of stripping away extraneous layers of set and costume until we're back to actors on an unadorned, candle-lit stage against a glittering brick backdrop. Throughout its movement from sparseness to delirious plenitude and back, this staging remains faithful without being traditional, evinces deep reverence yet avoids preciousness, and surrounds its superb cast with beautiful details right down to the props. It's a rare thing when a show can conjure such magical energy between its actors and audience, and this retelling of the marooned magician's revenge does so masterfully.
(photo: Hunter Canning)
The Perfect Storm: Target Margin Theater's The Tempest
The Off-Off Broadway company's excellent production of Shakespeare's story of a stranded sorcerer is ridiculously pretty.
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