Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tempest at BAM

More Shakespeare. Always more Shakespeare. Is he really that good? Don't we ever get tired of him? Can we really be expected to properly digest still another helping of the Bard?

My view is that Shakespeare is overdone and overrated. But only in the sense that after a while we lose sight of what part of his oeuvre is really worth savoring again and again and which part can more profitably be set aside. Honestly, I have probably seen all the productions of Two Gentlemen of Verona and Comedy of Errors and Love's Labor's Lost that I care to. Just because it's Shakespeare doesn't make it good. And even something like, say, Measure for Measure, which we saw recently, is so rough and flawed that I doubt it merits all the attention it sometimes gets.

Which sort of brings me to the current production of The Tempest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, part of the Bridge Project, which combines casts of English and American actors in classic plays by Chekhov, Shakespeare, and the like. We saw an earlier Bridge Production play about a month ago, Shakespeare's As You Like It (another non-masterpiece, by the way). The Tempest, on the other hand, has come to be regarded as one of Shakespeare's greatest, sort of the culmination of his art.

This production stars Stephen Dillane (so good in "The Hours" as Virginia Woolf's husband) as Propero, Juliet Rylance as Miranda, and a wonderful Ron Cephas Jones as the half-man, half-monster Caliban. Ariel, the sprite who does just about all of Propero's dirty work, is played by Rylance's real life new husband, Christian Camargo. Somehow, though, I couldn't really find much room to be moved by this play. Prospero is too forced, Miranda too weak, Caliban too one-sided, Ariel too worldly. But could it be that the play itself is overrated? That the scenes between Prospero and Miranda are inevitably moving and the relationship between Prospero and Ariel kind of interesting, but that much of the maneuvering for power in the middle of the play is, well, just pretty uninvolving, something we have to get beyond to get to the conclusion when Propero can unite his daughter with her suitor, Ferdinand, and the Duke can be forgiven for usurping Propero's rightful place. You know all the reassuring, tying the loose ends together that Shakespeare is so good at, and that leaves us walking out of the theater with a smile. By my smile this time was only partial, as I found myself wondering once again whether this is still another example of a Shakespeare play that is greater in reputation than in actuality.

1 comment:

  1. His lesser known works captured people better than his "famous" works. I think the allure is that he understood human nature, we still have stories today with the same common themes he had in his. I choose to believe this is why he is a "classic" I however prefer his lesser known works to the popular ones because I think this is where you see his sense of humor and the truer side of his writing. His sonnets are lovely. The Tempest is a bit dry I agree.