The danger of extraordinarily good design is that if the rest of the show doesn’t match it, then things are seriously out of whack. Sonnet Rep’s Artistic Director casually mentions “a crafty design team” in a program note, but that understates the case of this Tempest. Set designer Michael V. Moore, lighting designer Jim French, costume designer Hwi-Won Lee, and projection designer Ron Amato have put together a package of elements so good that it leaves the otherwise sober, somewhat grim production at loose ends.
The set is bedecked in black and white circles (bubbles?) and a most inventive use of cardboard tubes. During the opening storm (and several times thereafter) the scrim upstage has a hypnotic projection of waves; as Prospero takes care of the early exposition – how he and Miranda got to the island, all the political intrigue – there are wonderful and fascinating projections of facial close-ups, as if the characters (and the audience) are being watched very intently. But this gives the impression that there is more going on than there really is, for this island is a nasty place – everyone is cranky and unhappy and argumentative. This is certainly a legitimate interpretation, but it becomes overwhelmingly glum to watch. Ariel is a rather sullen sprite – understandably, yes, but there’s a bleak hopelessness to it all. Some of this may also be because of the lighting design which is very effective on the set in its reflections and judicious use of color, but it is less friendly to the actors, casting odd shadows and leaving unexpected dark areas.
All of the actors play more than one role, and the juxtaposition is often enlightening. Best is Melissa Miller’s Miranda – plain spoken, and at ease with the language. She is equally good as Gonzalo, the wise and patient voice of reason. William Connell has an appealing Orlando Bloom quality as Ferdinand, and because he was not initially recognizable as Caliban, it was fascinating to see him transform on stage later in the play. Jack Dillon and Patrick Toon are a good, matched pair as both the conniving Antonio and Sebastian and the comic Stephano and Trinculo. There’s finally some long-needed humor when Ariel’s (Carey Van Driest) trickery trips them up, but while this and some other scenes work very well – particularly Ariel berating Alonso (Frederic Heringes), Sebastian and Antonio – it doesn’t build. Prospero (Matthew Conlon) begins the play in a state of irritation, which isn’t assuaged much even when wrongs are righted and lovers are united.
If director Neal Freeman doesn’t pull it all together, there’s still plenty to look at and listen to (including John Winn’s melancholic score). But it’s not a comfortable alliance of staging and script, and while both are impressive, they are mostly at odds with each other.
Copyright 2007 David Mackler
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