The Tempest at the MET: All Over the Place

Billy Aklu and Richard Tirrell

Several talented actors and a venerable local theater go halfway to waste in this experimental grab-bag production of Shakespeare's magnum opus.  The set is a jumble of Prospero's books very good.  But why are they junk?  Why is Prospero reading Reader's Digest, encyclopedias, and two copies of the Trivial Pursuit game?  It's a bad sign. 

Carl W. Crudup and Summer Sinclair - James Gilbert(L.), Mueen Jahan and Anthony Q. Farrell

In the production's press release, director N.J. Smeets puts nontraditional casting at the center of her artistic vision.  Very good.  But the point of non-trad is to let the actors act, and to keep the audience inside the illusion of the story where the ethnicities of the professionals onstage don't matter.  We don't get that here.  We get a slapstick drunken Irishman with a brogue so thick we wonder what he's saying, and an Indian whose subcontinental accent and figure-eight head-bobbing have a similar effect: too broad and too cheap.   Carl Crudup is a good Prospero, with a gigantic, sonorous voice and a good grasp of blank verse.  But his staccato delivery comes to feel robotic because its tune just doesn't change.  Where we expect cuts in the pageantry of Miranda and Ferdinand's wedding, with its pagan Goddesses and allegorical rites we get what feels like a lengthy music video.  The Shakespeare songs are set well ('Full Fathom Five' gave me chills), but the canned tracks in both the wedding scene and the intermission yanked me into wondering what the point was. 

Adam Burch, Summer Sinclair, Kathryn Gilbert, Eric Hailey, Lucy Bansley

Three people share the role of Ariel, a very interesting arrangement that works well. Anthony Q. Farrell's Caliban is tender, with a West Indies accent that was geographically odd (blown off course from Milan to Jamaica?) but emotionally persuasive. Adam Green  plays a diminutive Sebastian in an understated comic performance that carries away the scenes his fellows spoil with their shouts and pratfalls.  But why do two and only two of the characters (Alonso, and 1/3 of Ariel) speak in English accents?  Surely that's an issue where all the players should be on the same team?  This production has talent but no center; its artistic freedom just doesn't lead anywhere, as if preoccupied with breaking conventions it can't replace.  A Tempest that does not really succeed reminds you of how great the play can be, and how difficult it is to get it right.

Photos by Angie Hill

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