note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Boatswain .. Christopher Finn
Alonso, King of Naples … Craig Owen
Antonio, brother of Prospero … Steven Feiven
Gonzalo, a councilor to Alonso … Jim Robinson
Sebastian, brother of Alonso … John Melczer
Miranda, daughter of Prospero … Amanda Meehan
Prospero, usurped Duke of Milan … Jim Butterfield
Ariel, a spirit … Amy Aldrich; Janelle Mills
Caliban, a beast … Dave Rich
Ferdinand, son of Alonso … Corey Smith
Trinculo, a jester … Marc Fillion
Stephano, a butler … Jeremy McKeen
Musicians … Salvatore Pangallo; William Shube
As funding for the arts continues to dwindle, there may be more bare-boned Shakespeare in the future which, of course, is to the Bard’s advantage --- he triumphed in the days where less in the theatre was more. I have often mentioned that Shakespeare was and always will be an actor’s playwright, but after seeing The Salem Theatre Company riding out THE TEMPEST on a shoestring I now must add that actors are not enough: an actor’s director is needed to pull not only the verse out of them but also characters, time and place, and yards of mise-en-scene --- everything rests on their backs; words, their only tools. Producer-director-designer Matteo Pangallo, a young man in theatre-years, has come up with a Shakespearean production --- a thrust stage; white muslin curtains through which his actors make their entrances and exits --- but he has not come up with a Shakespearean performance, having pulled very little out of his actors; rather than being set free by all that space they come off as being simply exposed, an impression reinforced by their scurrying about as if seeking shelter (many of them have not been trained in declamation; thus the Bard’s words fail to clothe them). Even the one acknowledged Shakespearean --- that fine fellow Jim Butterfield --- has not been ignited; his Prospero is a strolling chairman of the board (if his costume had pockets, his hands would be in them). He may be giving a reading but at least it is a well-spoken one.
Aside from his splitting Ariel in two --- the perky and the sullen --- Mr. Pangallo’s concept is gimmick-free, though his production shares similar drawbacks with three local TEMPESTs in the past few years: all four productions have drowned the storm sequence with chaos and sound effects --- if that will always be the case, I say go the extreme opposite and dispense with sound effects altogether and EVOKE the storm by having the actors performing distinct actions to keep their ship afloat (according to their stations) while speaking loudly but slowly as if trying to be heard over the wind. None of the productions’ costumes suggested social class and rank; the characters may be cast aboard the magical island with their identities intact but they must soften and blend into a temporary new society (there are two planned revolutions, after all, with murder in mind). Mr. Pangallo’s two-piece costumes are clearly influenced by Peter Brook’s famous production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM from the early 1970s; their uniformed look would have been better for the play’s finale of universal forgiveness and brotherhood. Finally, I have yet to encounter a satisfactory Miranda; instead of a maiden from Elizabethan Romance, I’ve seen nothing but banshees and hoydens and truly wonder if today’s actresses no longer care about lending charm, grace and pleasing declamation to their portrayals --- or if directors cannot or refuse to draw out those qualities. Revising Shakespeare’s heroines for today’s audiences may make them more “now” but the results are often that of a trombone filling in for a flute.
When I was a high school student --- Nixon was President, then --- one of my teachers told me, “The only way to find yourself is to lose yourself in something bigger”; a saying I carry with me to this day. As a Shakespearean director, Mr. Pangallo is to be commended for taking on the TEMPEST from page to stage --- and doing it in the Elizabethan manner --- but if he has found himself, it is in the whale’s belly. Only time will tell if he, like Alonso and his court, will make it to dry land in the future --- and may he have the willingness, patience and humility to seek it out.