The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre is streaming William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” through Sunday, April 11, 2021. WMUK's Gordon Bolar has this review.
Director Tony Humrichouser’s production succeeds on several levels in bringing Shakespeare’s work to online audiences. This hour-long, abridged adaptation of “The Tempest” is a good fit for Zoom. The characters who inhabit or land in this magical island realm, ruled by the sorcerer Prospero, must “melt into thin air” or disappear from the stage, in this case the screen, by his command.
Under his command is Ariel, the mischievous “brave spirit” and servant of Prospero, played by Ishwari Bhatt, who bedevils an assortment of fools and political enemies. Bhatt is fun to watch as she casts spells on the shipwrecked crew and foils plots against Prospero. Intentional audio distortion of Bhatt’s voice adds to the confusion she visits on those she would mislead.
The Zoom gallery view makes Prospero’s rule of magic and Ariel’s bedeviling plausible by dropping in, removing, and positioning images of speaking characters above, beside or beneath one another, thus underscoring relationships and perspective.
Humrichouser takes full advantage of Zoom’s capabilities by setting scenes against background images like those found in graphic novels. In doing so, he moves the play’s action quickly around the island, from shipwreck, to jungle interior or to Prospero’s lair.
Also important to success here is each performer’s command of Shakespeare’s language. In this production of “The Tempest,” the intentions of each character are clearly defined, and Shakespeare’s rich imagery is vividly brought to life.
After a somewhat stiff expository exchange with daughter Miranda, Arnold Johnston takes charge of the character of Prospero and the play’s central action. He gets the production underway by ordering Ariel to torment and mislead his opponents, including his brother, Antonio, the usurper of his dukedom.
Johnson shows Prospero’s gentle side, as he switches gears to embrace a more benevolent role presiding over the love relationship between Miranda and Ferdinand, played by Jacob Miller. Miller is credible as the recently landed suitor for Miranda’s hand. As he begs his love to “hear my soul speak”, Miranda listens and so do we. Miller displays a willingness to earn Prospero’s trust before any bond with his daughter can move toward completion.
Welcome comic interest is provided by the animated antics of Kate Mikailova and Chrissy Westbury as drunken butler Stephano and shipmate Trinculo. After consuming most of a hogshead of wine, the tipsy twosome amuse us as they plot with Caliban, played by Cully Cooper, to overthrow Prospero’s island rule.
One curious choice that seems out of step with the script’s imagery is the relatively bland rendering of Caliban, the son of a witch. Here I reference the concept of the character rather than the actor who portrays Prospero’s bitter estranged slave.
Instead of the “howling monster” or “beast” indicated by Shakespeare’s script, Caliban’s soft, rounded, red hat and colorful shirt seem to suggest a dandy or a foppish harmless being. While this concept works for the scenes in which Caliban is ridiculed by Stefano and Trinculo, it disperses any serious threat Caliban might pose to Prospero’s rule.
Other than Caliban, Elaine Kauffman’s costumes and headgear represent appropriate choices for the shoulders and higher portrait view of characters in this production. This includes the sparkling crown that Prospero removes at the play’s conclusion, as well as the glowing scepter head he presents to Ariel as a token of her newly won freedom. Here, Johnson makes the transition from one who seeks revenge on his enemies to one who embraces reconciliation.
In Prospero’s farewell, he renounces the magic he has used against others. Although Johnson seems reluctant as he “drowns” his “book” of magic, he shows genuine remorse for his actions and seeks both forgiveness and the appreciation of his audience.
The audience members fortunate enough to behold the magical “brave new world” depicted in “The Tempest” will likely be appreciative of the Civic Theatre’s latest effort.