Take the psychologically lascivious Id, the strategically complex game of chess, the ever intriguing Freudian theory of displacement and wish-fulfillment, the semiotic implications of cross-gender casting, the conflation of two characters into one, a comedic pre-show by two cute sailors (one male, one female), a graphically summarized plot and director-explained concept meeting, the visually swirling injection of three video screens, and the stylistic crunching of Shakespearean text with postmodern popularisms—put them in a blender, and what you end up with is The Tempest: such stuff as dreams are made on, the new offering by the upstart Pallas Theatre Collective.
If you are expecting Shakespeare at this production, you’ll get him, but not in any way that you’ve ever had him before—which, in and of itself, is saying something about Artistic Director Tracey Elaine Chessum’s theatrical style. She is definitely not bashful or, to use another Freudian term, repressed. In fact, with this production, you could easily argue that her directorial Id runs wild without a Super-Ego in sight, as her Tempest swirls around the audience, frequently firing off lightning bolts in three directions at once. This pandemonium—believe or not—is not the result of a lack of directorial control. Rather, this pandemonium is, like Satan’s palace in Milton’s Paradise Lost, rationally constructed, as if the director wanted to create a stylistic tempest all her own. Perhaps, however, this pandemonium is simply the result of one too many directorial wishes being fulfilled after all.
this Tempest … a strange, elaborate dream, or perhaps nightmare, of psychoanalytic proportions.
Chessum takes Prospero’s role as protagonist, played by Julia Sears (or should I say Prospera’s) and gives it to his brother Antonio, played by John Stange. Then, Chessum has taken the part of Caliban, the enslaved islander (also played by Stange), and made him Antonio as well, or rather Antonio’s enraged Id. That’s right, Antonio, the usurper of Prospero and would-be killer of Alonso the King of Naples (played by Rachael Jacobs), becomes the play’s central character. In fact, he almost never leaves the stage, causing this Tempest to become a strange, elaborate dream, or perhaps nightmare, of psychoanalytic proportions.
What this Tempest does not become, however, is in any way illuminated or edified, remaining instead a confusing swirl of ideas and metaphors.
To be sure, following the story of this Tempest will not be easy: when the difficulties of Shakespeare’s language are added to the compressed 80-minute adaptation and its gender-bending iconography, one wishes one had those two cute sailors back on stage with more illustrations clarifying plot points and character names.
The ten-actor ensemble turns in an energetic performance of this difficult adaptation. Although a number of performances lacked the necessary nuances of diction and intent to clarify Shakespeare’s meaning, several performers stood out. Kelsey Meiklejohn does a superb job as the 15-year old Miranda. In her scenes with Ferdinand, played smartly by Brendan Kennedy, her wide-eyed defense of her love is a joy to behold. Equally charming is young Sean Silvia’s turn as the spirit Ariel. His clear articulation of Ariel’s words and actions gave him presence whenever he appeared on stage.
Several scenes also stood out. One of the most delightfully comic scenes in the play happens between Caliban (Stange) and the two ship-wrecked crew members, Trinculo played by Thony Mena (who also plays a cute sailor) and Stephano, played by Kathleen Mason (who plays the other cute sailor). Mena’s Trinculo had just the right amount of clownishness, while Mason’s Stephano (or perhaps Stephana) couldn’t have been a funnier drunk. Stange played Caliban with appropriate lechery (in Shakespeare’s Tempest Caliban is enslaved because he attempted to have sex with the young Miranda); although when Caliban carries off the drunken, giggling Stephana, I could not help but grimace a bit as an image of a frat boy carrying off a drunken sorority sister suddenly flashed in front of me.
Sears’ Prospero had the necessary royal command of the stage, as well as an uncanny fierceness, but she lacked enough subtlety to communicate the story’s plot points effectively.
Stange’s task in this production is indeed a challenging one—a Jeykll and Hyde Antonio. Although costume changes helped differentiate his two identities, Stange needed to do more, either physically or vocally. If nothing else, he could have used Shakespeare’s own physical description of the two characters as a guide, giving Caliban a misshapen body.
The scenographic elements of the show (unattributed) had a great deal of potential, from the 12’ by 12’ chessboard stage to the eight white and black lanterns/chess pieces that the actors hung in differing arrangements across the stage. Exactly what the different arrangements were supposed to signify still mystifies me, even if their role as psychological curtain was clear.
The videography (also unattributed) worked to great effect on several occasions. Particularly stunning were the videos of a roaring sea during the early ship scene as well as some of the forest visuals. Although the generalized shots of the actors in nondescript settings were less effective, one specific moment of bliss, as Miranda and Fernando gaze into their romantic future projected onto video screens, is absolutely priceless—and he didn’t even take her to Jared’s.
There’s no question that the Pallas Theatre Collective does not believe in Samuel Beckett’s dictum “less is more.” For these guys, more is more, and then some more again. There’s also, however, no question that this company has a fertile imagination with a theatrically hellish fire, and they are not afraid to give it their all. Although I must admit that this production faltered at several levels, it did not falter as a brash and bullish theatrical experiment that looks the Bard in his eyes and says: “This indeed is the stuff that dreams are made on.”
Running Time: 95 minutes without intermission.
The Tempest: such stuff as dreams are made on plays at the Warner Memorial Church, 10123 Connecticut Ave, Kensington, MD. through January 27th at 7:30. For information or tickets click here.