THE TEMPEST by WS - at the A.R.T.
The Tempest is a marvelous play, without the clutter we sometimes get from you-know-whom. At The American Repertory Theatre, director Ron Daniels has directed a vigorous production - with a dicey interpretation. For Prospero, hes imported a Brit, Paul Freeman (he was the villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but his stage credits are impressive). Its a thoroughly commanding performance - Prospero in his prime, macho and robust. Daniels will make Shakespeare vital; hes giving us Prospero incarnate.
Nice idea, but were never allowed to see Shakespeares aging Prospero; Freeman looks more like Fortinbras. The technique is flawless, but the interpretation gives Prospero no motivation to wrap up his life (to get Miranda a husband; to reconcile with his brother), so the play lacks its distinctive sense of sadness and farewell. When he says Every third thought shall be my grave, we dont believe him; hes healthier than we are. Missing, as well, is Prosperos melancholy detachment. He dances at the wedding mask, although hes told Ariel - and he has no reason to lie - that hes only presenting it because its expected.
I applaud the courage of the non-traditional interpretation. Thats not the problem. The problem is that Freeman barks out even that famous, brilliant speech You elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes.... He bellows Ill drown my books, and the physical gesture is one of strength. Instead of a repudiation, its a vow, forward-looking. If only he would pause before the speech, and then reveal character by playing an opposite (as Michael Shurtleff, no less, advises). But A.R.T. actors are not allowed to pause; its the end-of-the-century reaction to the perceived excesses of Stanislavski and Lee Strasberg. And so, no contrasts.
As for the other actors, theres little room for correction. Miranda is the most insulated of ingenues in all of drama - she falls in love with the third man she sees. Jessalyn Gilsig, a marvelous actress, makes her smart, unpolished, and - like Prospero, visceral. Benjamin Evett makes a touching, haunting Ariel - naked and green, the very picture of longing (hes earning his freedom from Prospero). John Conklins set centers on a big arc, suggesting a piece of a huge, smashed globe, set on a floor of sand. Gorgeous. Unfortunately, it lapses into postmodernism toward the end - the large image of a framed, romantic painting on the backdrop. Boo.
=== CAST: Paul Freeman; Jessalyn Gilsig; Benjamin Evett; Jack Willis; Jeremy Geidt; Remo Airaldi