Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.– Caliban in THE TEMPEST, act 3 scene 2
Strangely, though I spent over seven years of my life studying English literature (including classes dedicated to the Bard alone), I was never required to read THE TEMPEST for my professional studies. Over time, I came to regard this play as something I was saving, sort of a Shakespeare bank-account for a future rainy day. I had the impression that this work was something special, based on the odd references and character descriptions I encountered during various other research projects, but never quite got a handle on the essential plot, beyond that it involved something to do with a storm, an island, and a notable character named Caliban.
Before visiting Curio for this final show of their 2011-2012 season, I considered reading the play, but opted to ‘go in cold’, uneducated and uninitiated. Having seen all four of the troupe’s offerings this year, it was a treat to find that the arrangement of the room and stage had been entirely revised for this piece; instead of using a traditional seat/stage layout area, the seating was split into two sections facing toward each other. As audience members filed in, two actors (Prospero [Brian McCann] and Miranda [Isa St. Clair]) are on the center floor (reading a text and talking silently to each other), clearly marking the center of the room as the main stage area. Even better, this unique staging stretched out to include the vast upper balcony of the (former) chapel at one end of the room (to become the deck of the storm-tossed ship), to the creatively-constructed lofts (Propsero’s hovel and and island summits) at the other end.
The play begins with Prospero hauling the audience into his witching ways; we were asked to pound out the sounds of the titular storm on our knees and the floorboards of the theater; I loved this idea . . the sound of snapping fingers and stomping feet was was incredibly evocative and a stellar point of engagement. However, the sonic features of the expanded stage area made the opening scenes challenging to hear; especially during the shipwreck (set on the upper balcony, and complete with a collapsing mast) I was straining to pick up on even snippets of dialog. Though more audible for the majority of the play, the mix of Shakespearean dialog and the echoes of the wide room caused occasional moments of difficulty.
This was Curio’s strongest offering of the season; though I loved Death of an Anarchist‘s comic sensibilities, I’d never deny that I’m a loyal fan of the Bard, and so the troupe would have had to really murder THE TEMPEST for me to have anything less than a positive review. I’m pleased to report that Curio exceeded my expectations for this show; having struggled to maintain my attention through Eurydice and Slaughterhouse 5, I was conversely on the edge of my seat, captivated by the plot and flow of Shakespeare, but also by the cast’s genuinely great renditions of Miranda, Ferdinand (Steve Carpenter), Prospero . . . and especially, the unforgettable beast-man Caliban (Robert DaPonte), who lumbers on all fours and raged in truly epic fashion. As always, the set design and special effects were wonderful, capitalizing on Curio’s demonstrated excellence in creative visual work and set design (for my money, there could have been a few more examples of Prospero’s wizardry, as the ones we witnessed were truly cool, humble moments of stage magic).
According to Curio’s own blog, they apparently had to invade the ceiling lofts of the theater to install some of Prospero’s magic.
The show veered from dramatic to comic with ease, and several cast members even made offstage role/costume changes with amazing dexterity (so much so that I barely noticed the double-bookings). Simply put, I was very pleased with Curio’s TEMPEST, which, though it ran for almost two hours with only a short intermission, felt completely entertaining throughout, managing to cram a heck of a lot of classic Shakespeare into a relatively small space of time. Not being familiar with the text, I’m not certain if any scenes were cut for brevity, but the show felt complete in the end, resolving in perfectly classic dramedy fashion, a perfect showcase for this tiny acting troupe’s growing theatrical prowess.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”