The Shakespeare Theater in Washington DC is renown for its productions. Arguably it is this country’s most renowned Shakespeare theater. My family and I have seen a number of their productions including Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard III and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They had all been home runs. So I had decent expectations that we’d also get a good show when we went to see their latest production, The Tempest.
Alas the show, which closed on Sunday, was a disappointment. My wife counts the Tempest as her favorite of the Shakespearean plays. I have to disagree with her. I considered it one of his lesser plays. I confess the cast in this production gave me ample reason not to change my mind. To begin with all the characters in the play are one-dimensional. It is hard to develop any empathy when all the characters are made out of cardboard. With a few exceptions they were all annoying.
Start with Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan. He spends most of his time doting over his very hot daughter Miranda, but only in a fatherly way of course. Played by Philip Goodwin he gets to be either doting, pretend to dislike Ferdinand (the son of Alonso, the King of Naples) or snivel at his ugly slave Caliban. Miranda (played by Samantha Soule) falls in love with Ferdinand (Duane Boutte) on first sight. This is not too surprising since she has never seen a man before other than her father and Caliban. But even so it would be hard to find a bigger airhead that Miranda. Samantha Soule though does a pretty convincing job of playing an airhead. Ferdinand may be the first guy her age she has ever seen but she is so in love with him you want to shake her by the shoulders and slap her across the face. It would be wholly sickening if she didn’t portray her love with such utterly sincerely.
The rest of the cast of characters were largely eminently forgettable. Of course all the people Prospero has issues with shipwrecked on his island by design. But don’t worry, nothing bad happens. Prospero has Ariel, a spirit, who causes his tempest but makes sure no one drowns, nothing actually is destroyed and everyone stays confused. In this staging Ariel (Daniel Breaker) gets to have the most fun, constantly suspended from piano wire and dancing over the stage, often hanging upside down. He also gets to sing a lot.
As usual you have to depend on comic relief to liven up the performance. Happily there was some excellent comic relief from Trinculo (Hugh Nees) and Stephano (Floyd King) as the bumbling, often inebriated sailors from the shipwreck. They give some modest life to what was otherwise a dreary performance.
Admittedly this particular play would be a challenge to even the most talented actors. It is hard to get people interested in cartoon characters. The staging was well done and dazzling at times. Yet it made little difference in a play where so many characters were miscast. Overall the play felt lifeless and uninspired. I was glad it turned out to be one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays so we could hustle on home when the curtain fell.