Friday, March 19, 2010

Against frippery

Near the end of "The Tempest" my favorite characters, Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano are sidetracked from their mission to kill Prospero by a chest of fine clothes. This scene could very well stand as a warning to those attending BAM's Bridge Project production of the play, since its flashy theatrics overshadow the play's most interesting themes of exile and shipwreck. In Mendes' interpretation the magic has the upperhand instead, so Ariel appears with gigantic metal wings spanning half the stage like a creature right out of "Metropolis," fire and smoke overwhelm the theater, and Caliban (ok, this was great) emerges from below stage through a circle of sand. The actors are so busy pacing around that circle in much of the play, kicking up sand and taking far too much delight in showing us how clever the stage set is that their words disappear upstage off into the smoke. I couldn't hear half of the play.

Fortunately, having seen their coproduction of "As You Like It" the play was saved for me by thinking about how the one overlaid the other. Casting the same actors in similar roles in both plays (storytellers Prospero-Jacques; loyal servants Adam-Gonzalo; the usurpers Duke Frederick-Antonio) highlights Shakespeare's systemic structure as a scaffolding for his plays' real brilliance: language. (On that note, check out "Double Falsehood".)

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