at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
by William Shakespeare
Director Tony Taccone should be ashamed. This Tempest not only lacked insight and sharpness, my group of friends was struggling at intermission to recall a more juvenile, poorly executed production. Most of us went back to junior high school to match the feel of the opening night evening. What a disappointment.
The Tempest fails in the same way as last year's Lear. In Lear, the true goodness of Cordelia was not communicated to the audience so the father's spurning of his rebellious teenage daughter seemed reasonable and not the act of a deluded old man. Inept acting prevented the setting up of the major premise of the play.
In Taccone's Tempest there is no magic to drive the action. The lead character, Prospero, played by Denis Arndt, was mostly inaudible in his opening speeches and maintained mumbling-level projection throughout the evening. We were in Row A, Seats 2-6, and we could not physically hear much of what came out of Arndt's mouth. Unless you knew the story ahead of time, you couldn't guess at Prospero's magical power.
Really? The magic is central to this play?
A key component of Shakespeare's story is simply not communicated, and the evening fails.
The morning after the opening production I heard Taccone in an hour-long Q&A that's part of the festival. From that session I learned some of the rationale for things that seemed incomprehensible last night. But, I don't feel that the incomprehesive-abilty of the stage craft is on me. Taccone needs to address every audience to explain the symbolism and high art on stage. For example, I now know that the acres of red shag carpet represents Prospero's fever dream. Or, something like that. But why or how Taconne envisions the play as a fever dream needs more explanation. Ideally, in a private therapy session that I don't have a ticket for.
Taccone's artistic gems just don't work.
Here's an example: he populates the stage with four talcum power covered dancers who act as contortion art. They aren't in Shakespeare, but Taccone said they embody physical power and reach the audience in a way that mere actors couldn't. Taccone in his talk offered that they are his version of Butoh boys. He gave more explanation, but I got lost in it because in the theater I found the dancers a distraction, not an enhancement. On stage starting 30 minutes before curtain, they were sort of pretty boys in a "But, why?" way.
Taccone's most telling revelation was that he always considered The Tempest a difficult play to direct because the text is disjointed. He didn't need to confess his feelings in public. The current production lurches from one storyline to another with no sense of connectedness. I felt slapped with one distracted scene after another, and the fact that we often couldn't hear the protagonist was enhanced the chopped up texture.
Yes, the volume and rapid-pace delivery apparently are intentional. In response to complaints about not hearing Prospero, Taccone explained that Arndt hates Shakespeare when it's declaimed in a formal way. So, the actor deliberately mumbles and makes the words less clear. They've had discussions about keeping the speeches non-didactic, Taccone reported, and Arndt isn't going to change.
Why, yes. The inmates do run this asylum.
Poor choices in design run through all crafts. In particular, the costumes were distracting. The royalty were dressed in weirdly puffy outfits which made the actors look like they came directly from the Mad Hatter's tea party. I'd blame the costume designer, but they are no doubt just an extension of the director's flawed vision.
Some of the actors make their scenes work, in an isolated workshop way. Kate Hurster projects as much magic and majesty into Ariel as she's allowed (but I wish they hadn't made her into an Angels in America angel in one scene… and I wish a friend hadn't so quickly and cheerfully nailed that description of that scene's design.) Richard Elmore is a good drunken Stefano. The young lovers Miranda (Alejandra Escalante) and Ferdinand (Daniel Jose Molina) have matured since their stints as Juliet and Romeo, and they now can be on the same stage without seeming to repel each other. Armando Duran and Jeffrey King are solid, too, but they are all stuck in Taccone's bad dream.
Only Wayne T. Carr as Caliban breaks out and genuinely owns the stage. He is muscular, flexible and powerful both visually and in his movement and speech. He is enslaved in an artistic nightmare, but he keeps his focus. Finally Caliban, like the audience and Shakespeare's script, is freed by the fall of the curtain.
Of course, complaining about the odd clothes, off-the-mark set design, and wrong-play Angels moment just piles on. The Tempest is truly doomed this year because the audience isn't clued in to Prospero's magical powers. At least one great magical scene is cut, and the opening orientation is mumbled into oblivion.
If I had already bought Tempest tickets I wouldn't turn them back in. Caliban and other performances are enjoyable. On the other hand, I would not buy a ticket unless I'd seen everything else, and some alternatives a second or third time.