“Tempest”: Reg E. Cathey as Prospero in this production of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Karin Coonrod and with music by Elizabeth Swados, at La MaMa in the East Village. Credit Vanessa Schonwald
The enchantment begins immediately, with a storm-tossed shipwreck made of shouted voices, a haze of fog and a speckled, celestial light cast by a giant metal orb. Pocked with holes, it’s lit from within, swaying like the wild sea.
Then we are on the island in Karin Coonrod’s “Tempest, “starring Reg E. Cathey as a commanding, warmly paternal but weather-beaten Prospero. With music by Elizabeth Swados, this sonically lush production ofShakespeare’s late play — presented by La MaMa at the Ellen Stewart Theater — takes its cue from Prospero’s slave, Caliban.
“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not,” he tells the drunken, deluded butler, Stephano. “Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices.”
So it is for the audience, arrayed around three sides of the stage. Soft noises come at us from behind and above and we don’t know quite where in a layered soundscape of whistles, echoes, coos, breaths. From time to time, the musicians, too, roam Riccardo Hernandez’s spare set, a space both gymnastic (a quartet of ladders, which the actors climb) and magical (geometric white lines traced on the black floor).
Athleticism and ensorcellment come together in Ariel, played with beguiling fluidity by the 15-year-oldJoseph Harrington (“Billy Elliot”). Deploying Prospero’s charms to choreography by Cara Kjellman, this Ariel is less airy spirit than balletic youth, but that works fine. He, like some other characters, occasionally sings a few of his lines, but this is not a musical.
The two-hour, intermissionless production takes a longish time to find a momentum it can sustain. It’s not until the appearance of Stephano that things get going. Played by Tony Torn as a joyously silly dim bulb, Stephano is as deliciously welcome to us as wine is to him when he licks it off Caliban’s scalp. Slate Holmgren’s Caliban, meanwhile, is pathetic and menacing: an adoring, eager, rabid dog of a man.
The shipwrecked elder royals (richly dressed by Oana Botez) seem, as they often do, nearly dispensable. As for the lovers, Miranda (Miriam A. Hyman) and Ferdinand (Christopher McLinden), they are satisfyingly romantic and wonder-struck — yet their big scene, when they declare their devotion, is staged so that much of the audience is looking at the face of one of them and the back of the other. That makes their moment of discovery not as much fun as it could be.
Yet this “Tempest” — the first of three versions of the play this fall at La MaMa — is a beautiful production. In the sometimes spooky lighting by Christopher Akerlind, the otherworldly music conjures the isolation Prospero must have felt on the island these many long years. “But release me from my bands with the help of your good hands,” he entreats us at the end, and it is an unusual pleasure to set him free.
See the full NY Time Article Here