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Paulanne Simmons

"The Tempest"

"The Tempest"
Directed by Blake Bradford
Wings Theatre
154 Christopher St. between Washington and Greenwich streets
Opened Dec. 28, 2007
Wed. thru Sat. 8 p.m., Sun 3 p.m.
$18 (646) 241-0823
Closes Jan. 12, 2008
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 28, 2007

Kymm Zuckert as Caliban, Alexandra Devin as Stephano, and Sarah Hankins as Trinculo in The Tempest, photo by Kimberly Zuckert.

In recent years we have seen directors stage numerous successful all-male versions of Shakespeare's plays, most notably Edward Hall's Propeller Company's all-male productions of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" and "Twelfth Night." So an all-female production of the Bard might be a long time coming.

Into this void boldly leaps Phare Play Productions' "The Tempest," directed by Blake Bradford and starring the two-time Emmy Award nominee, Joan Darling as Prospero, with a supporting cast of very capable female actors. The result is certainly a credible interpretation of the play. The only drawback is that Bradford, for the most part, fails to take advantage of the possibilities opened by a female cast or to make the case for why this production should have been limited to women in the first place.

"The Tempest" is Shakespeare's oldest, and some say, most mature play. It contains some of his most beautiful, well-known and wise sayings. Although some researchers believe it may have a source in Italian literature, there is no existing work on which it is believed to be based.

"The Tempest" begins with a long and somewhat contrived narrative of past events in which Prospero tells his daughter, Miranda (Kendall Rileigh) how years ago his brother Antonio (Kim Carlson), stole the dukedom of Milan from him, and cast him off to sea along with his baby, Miranda. On the lonely island where they now reside, Prospero found Caliban (the excellent Kymm Zuckert), the vulgar son of the witch Sycorax, and Ariel (Kerry Shear), a spirit whom Caliban had imprisoned. After releasing Ariel, Prospero made both Caliban and Ariel his servants through his expert use of magic.
The present action of the play begins twelve years later when Prospero creates the storm that shipwrecks Antonio; Alonso, the king of Naples (Dolores Kenan); his brother Sebastian (Beth Adler); his son Ferdinand (Marla Yost); a drunken butler named Stephano (Alexandra Devin); the jester Trinculo (Sarah Hankins); and several councilors on the island. Love (between Miranda and Ferdinand) and intrigue (Sebastian and Antonio try to murder King Alonso) flourish on the island until evil is thwarted and love triumphs.

Darling has all the refinement and learning so necessary for Prospero. But she has none of the sorcery and subtlety. For all his godlike qualities, there is something sinister about Prospero. Darling seems more like someone's kindly grandmother than a magician who can make the winds and rains obey.
It's easy to see how this Prospero can command the fey Ariel, who twitters meekly about the stage (if Shear would only keep her hands still, this might have been a fine performance) but as for the brutish Caliban…well, that takes a real leap of the imagination and a massive suspension of disbelief.
Ferdinand and Miranda are at best tepid lovers. What would have been so funny or significant with two males playing the roles becomes humdrum with two women. But the play really takes off when the inebriated Trinculo and Stephano walk, or rather stumble onstage.

In Hankins and Devin, the cross-dressing possibilities come to a most successful conclusion. Their mock swordfight using dueling pistols is inspired. Their braggadocio sits rakishly on female shoulders.

Phare Play's "Tempest" is certainly a respectable presentation of the play. But if the goal was to do something different with Shakespeare, this was a very timid step indeed.


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