Magically, the queen who lent her name to an era renowned for its prosperity and support of the arts appeared from the pages of history to attend a recent performance of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest being given by Thespis, a young, new performance group in Brooklyn. Arriving late and taking the time for a photo op with the Brooklyn borough president, Elizabeth I (or at least the uncredited actress portraying her) dominated the proceedings to such a degree that it was impossible not to steal glances at her during the performance, for her total immersion in her part was astounding. Even after the show, when she answered questions from the audience with regal authority, she had more charm and held more sway than the production that she was there to attend.
Thespis is an offshoot of the venerable King’s County Shakespeare Company, meant to give the experience of working on a higher level to younger KCSC members. And it wasn’t that there was anything seriously wrong with KCSC Artistic Director Deborah Wright Houston’s production — in fact there was a clear, if darker than usual concept backing the production; there was no doubt that everyone had a thorough command of Shakespeare’s and Houston’s intentions; it was virtually impossible to make distinctions between the untried Thespians and their more seasoned cast members; the space was used well and the costumes (Houston also) were sumptuous. And yet for all that, there was little of the creative zest and energy that would have allowed this Tempest to sparkle with the coruscant blackness of its director’s conception. Everything was done very carefully, very respectfully, and very studiously. Only one performer (QEI not withstanding), Nayokah Marlyne Afflack in the gender-bent role of Queen Alonsa, gave a truly riveting performance, making the storms raging inside Alonsa’s guilt-stricken ravings commanding and heart-rending, a true tempest on an otherwise surprisingly tepid sea of good, but not earth-shattering, histrionics.
There was no set to speak of, although a few fishnet-draped pieces of furniture piled on stage left were meant to evoke Prospero’s cell (set accredited to Dan Nichols, the production manager). Douglas Filomena did his usually fine job with the lighting, but his work was compromised by open doors that allowed outside illumination to spill into the auditorium. Perhaps the doors were kept open because of fire laws, or more probably because Houston had her performers running up and down the aisles at key points in the action. It was a bit of staging that was particularly evocative in the opening storm scene, but in light of the (pun intended) lighting and sight-line problems, perhaps a slight miscalculation. The very visual and physical body movements performed by the cast as they struggled up and down the aisles, beautiful in their graceful, almost Fosse-esque choreography, would have had more impact if they were lighted better center stage, visible from head to toe to all.
(Also featuring: Benedetta Agnoli; Leo Bertelsen; Amy Schwartzman Brightbill; Jovinna Chan; Roger Dale Stude; Carrie Edel; Evan Franca; Ashlynne Holder-Mosely; Joseph Hamel; Miranda Knutson; Lou Kylis; Bev Lacy; Lara Silva; Glen Urieta; Achilles Vatrikas; Sabrina Yocono.)
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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita