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Theater: Isle of Blight

2 minute read
T.E. Kalem

THE TEMPEST by William Shakespeare

This production by the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is silly, vulgar and achingly dull. It is a shameless assault on Shakespeare, couched in the parched emotional idiom of the cool urban disco jitters. If the playgoers had to pay anything for their seats, they would probably storm the box office demanding refunds from Producer Joseph Papp.

The first scene reveals Prospero (Raul Julia) twirling the propeller of a toy helicopter. By seeming Raul Julia design, a real helicopter circled the theater at the opening. The pilot soon flew away, leaving the toy plane, and the play, to crash. The idea apparently was to contrast the airborne with the earthbound in human nature. Here, as in the other main metaphors of the drama, like the playoff of illusion and reality, the power of art and the art of power, this Tempest is hopelessly at sea.

Prospero is a sage and a master of magic. Julia makes him a little bit of a world-weary sideshow carny barker.

What with the actor’s Hispanic inflections, the babel of voices around him and a hot samba, Prospero sometimes seems to be presiding over a banana republic.

Caliban (Barry Miller) is depicted as if he were a punk-rock psycho, which scarcely suggests the “power of darkness.”

In an access of idiosyncratic inspiration, Director Lee Breuer provides the play not with one Ariel but eleven, ranging in age and sex from adults to tiny tots barely out of diapers. It is eerily disconcerting that the chief aery sprite (Iwatora) is garbed as a sumo wrestler with matching gestures and grunts. The enamored young couple, Ferdinand (David Marshall Grant) and Miranda (Jessica Nelson), who should breathe the spirit of nascent romance into the play, are equally dismaying. He seems like a rough and randy high school jock and she like a simp of a gum-chewing prom queen.

While a very roughhewn justice is dealt the plot, Trinculo, the jester, has become a blowsy demimondaine (Lola Pashalinski), and her companion, the drunken butler Stephano (Louis Zorich), looks like a disheveled French chef with a torn toque blanche. The pair do a crude parody of Mae West and W.C.

Fields that would have turned Shakespeare’s stomach, as what, in this travesty, wouldn’t? —By T.E. Kalem

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