Four hundred years and the final piece of a legacy, LOFT’s The Tempest celebrates the enduring humanity that Shakespeare has left us. The Tempest takes us to Prospero’s island, 12 years after he had been overthrown as the Duke of Milan and cast to sea with his daughter Miranda. With the help of his spritely slave, Ariel, Prospero arranges for his conspirators to be brought to his shores. The tale of Prospero’s revenge and the bystanders caught up in it is given a subtlety modern twist in LOFT’s latest production. I say subtle because the production does not appear to be trying to make a grand statement using the Bard’s words. Instead, by using modern inflections and dress, director PJ Escobio allows the essence of the play to shine and connect the past and the present. The only instance in which the modernity might be accused of trying too hard is with the multi-media gimmick. It has its moments –Ariel gleefully showing Prospero pictures of the wreck he had caused, as though showing vacation pictures, is funny and the masked fairies with their iPads of food porn suitably uncanny. However, it seems more a tool to give the actors, who play dual roles, a chance to change and the production could have stood on its own.
Ariel is the commanding force of the multi-media dimension of the play, toting around his magical tablet, following orders via headset, which might explain why he does not quite work for the production. He commits to the mechanical trope, his physicality almost painfully angular, like a robotic, prehistoric bird. A bold choice, yet this frenzied, spazzing Ariel loses the tense dynamic of love/hate with Prospero and the melancholy mixed with fey-like delight, reducing his impact as questioner of Prospero’s righteousness. This Ariel is most haunting in the moments he slows down, when he sings his songs of the island to the shipwrecked nobles.
Otherwise, the production hits a more consistent, light tone. Prospero (Paul Cowlan) is a delightful mix of Jon Lithgow and Michael Caine and brought a tongue in cheek, deadpan not always seen in the raging sorcerer. This dry wit is not only entertaining, but allowed me to question how unbiased his version of the story was. Enhanced by the embittered, power hungry Antonio, now a sister, and today’s political climate which questions the limits we place on women achieving power, this Tempest could be read as the story of a sister whose brother locked himself away with his books while she, with talent and drive, strove to power and yet is still denied legitimacy as a ruler.
Perhaps the highlight of the play and the moments in which the integration of modern physicality and song is most effective, is the dynamic duo Stefano and Trinculo. Great physical and vocal comedy bring the magical and fun loving elements to The Tempest, missing in moments like the goddess scene.
Having the play in the round sometimes puts unnecessary distance and coldness between actors and blocks the audience’s view, but ultimately, it works to create an intimate island space. The Tempest loses steam in its more dramatic moments, but is delightful in the comedic and fanciful interpretations of its characters and their modern relationships.