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Prospero, a potent magician, lives on a desolate isle with his virginal daughter, Miranda. He's in exile, banished from his duchy by his usurping brother and the King of Naples. Providence brings these enemies near; aided by his vassal the spirit Ariel, Prospero conjures a tempest to wreck the Italian ship. The king's son, thinking all others lost, becomes Prospero's prisoner, falling in love with Miranda and she with him. Prospero's brother and the king wander the island, as do a drunken cook and sailor, who conspire with Caliban, Prospero's beastly slave, to murder Prospero. Prospero wants reason to triumph, Ariel wants his freedom, Miranda a husband; the sailors want to dance. Written by
"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines."
Those are the directions that Hamlet gives the players on how to perform the Mousetrap. While the rhythms of Elizabethan English are difficult for Americans, they seems to come naturally for British actors, and those here perform it well enough.
The problems with this production arise, as they often do for THE TEMPEST, from the director's efforts to make it visually striking. Because of the magic that lies at the heart of Shakespeare's autumnal work, its gorgeous language has fallen prey to people who think the best way to stage it is to think what Quentin Crisp would sneer at as too camp and turn it up a couple of notches. One Shakespeare in the Park staging required a dozen people to play Ariel, including a Sumo wrestler; and Peter Greenaway's gloss on the play, PROSPERO'S BOOK, is so bad that when I saw it with some friends, I disrupted the occasion by guffawing at the over-the-top images. They show up here, too.
What all these geniuses fail to realize is that the play is a boy-meets-girl story, something Shakespeare wrote several dozen times. At its core is a coming-of-age story for Miranda, an adolescent girl who is old enough to leave her father. She is confronted by various male archetypes before settling on the only boy her own age. The Bard of Avon's message is so normal, that like should marry like, that youth calls to youth and that Show Business is the process of taking these ordinary and important stories and making us pay for them by wrapping them in mystery ... well, so normal that people miss the point.
The play's real magic is the story of Rapunzel and Snow White and all the other fairy tales which Bruno Bettelheim has shredded to show their symbolic content. That and the language. These should be enough for anyone like me, who cares for these things. It's too bad that the people who produced this version either don't care about Shakespeare or think that no normal person will.
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