Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Fairy Tail

July 05, 2011

Winslow Corbett and Miles Anderson. Photo: Henry DiRocco/Old Globe 2011

San Diego’s Old Globe Theater continued its winning summer Shakespeare Festival with The Tempest. After a very satisfying Much Ado About Nothing earlier in the week, Adrian Noble’s staging of The Tempest succeeded in most ways relying on old-fashioned stagecraft. Noble is the current Artistic Director of the Old Globe’s Shakespeare Festival and one of the preeminent authorities when it comes to Shakespeare on the stage, having led the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1990-2003. His experience pays off splendidly in this rather minimal Tempest with its relatively few props and empty stage. Right from the beginning he creates perhaps one of the most exciting shipwrecks I’ve seen in this play with nothing more than some light blue parachute material, basic percussion and his cast. His sinking sailors flap their own costumes in the wind of the make believe storm in a way that references period practices in a modern way. This instinct for theatricality remains throughout with the cast providing much of their own artifice in a play at its very heart about magic.

Ben Diskant as Ariel in San Diego Photo: Henry DiRocco/Old Globe 2011

At the center of the show is Miles Anderson’s Prospero, who remains at all times somewhat above the fray going on around him. In this production, Prospero often seems on an even footing with Ariel played here by Ben Diskant. I’ve seen a lot of Ariels in my time and Diskant is certainly the most ripped abs-wise I’ve come across. And when he appears winged with his blue mane standing on end there is no doubt about the fear he can manage to conjure up in the hearts of Prospero’s targets. The other standouts in the production were the comic pairing of Adrian Spark’s Stephano and John Cariani’s Trinculo whose drunken carousing provides the counterpoint to the play.

The play itself call for music, so employing a composer is always seen as a good idea. The Old Globe brought in Shaun Davey to write music for the songs in the text as well as a few additional pieces at other points in the show. It’s atmospheric and provides needed structure for scenes such as the masque in Act IV, which in Noble’s version is conducted by a trio of puppets maneuvered by the members of the cast acting as island spirits. As with Much Ado About Nothing, sometimes the vocal and musical abilities of the cast didn’t quite live up to the music they were given to perform, but the cast was invested in those aspects of the performance throughout as well. I also wanted at times a bit more edge to the proceedings. Prospero comes off as more as kindly grandfather than a usurped nobleman. Meanwhile the tortured Caliban is more of a comic inept conspirator than a vengeful enemy of Prospero. And the ending of the show is awash in a squishy, feel-good air sprinkled with perhaps a bit more fairy dust than is necessary, ending with a valedictory song and the cast entering the audience to shake hands before returning to the stage like it was a Unitarian service. But this is a play populated with plenty of magical creatures, so too much fairy dust is certainly preferable to too little, and Noble and the Old Globe have a highly successful Tempest on stage for the rest of the summer.

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