Phare Play Productions’ The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, is painful to sit through. Disastrous nearly throughout, it’s the worst production I saw in 2007. The best I can say about it is that, for the most part, the actors remembered their lines. Yet, they often spoke them rotely, as if struggling to recall them, or, as in the case of two drunken characters, Stephano and Trinculo, delivered them in such an over the top vaudevillian manner that the result resembled badly done Abbott and Costello. Joan Darling stars as Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan who, usurped by his brother, Antonio, with the support of Alonso, King of Naples, was cast out to sea with his young daughter, Miranda, some 12 years earlier. Fortunately, Gonzalo, Prospero’s counselor, had seen to it that their rickety boat was fortified and stocked with provisions and Prospero’s magic books. When Prospero, aided by Ariel (gratingly played by Kerry Shear), a spirit in his servitude, divines that Antonio and his other enemies are sailing in a ship near his island, he creates a storm to run them aground and mete out vengeance. The actors did an admirable job making the sparse set approximate a chaotically rocking vessel. Everything went downhill from there.
The program that was handed out consists mostly of actor bios and never explains what the director, Blake Bradford, had in mind when he devised this ill-fated all-female production. And I couldn’t tell, either. It could have been a provocative idea if it signified something. After all, The Tempest, a romance/comedy, is Shakespeare’s most male-focused play. The only female character among more than 20 of them, major or minor, is the 15-year old Miranda, who has lived with her sorcerer-father on the island for most of her life. Yet, the opportunity to comment on Shakespeare’s intentions, the period, or the casting by way of a feminist approach is wholly squandered; most of the characters play their lines straight and strive mightily to be men in both their appearance and actions.
When Ms. Darling first appeared, attempting majesty, silhouetted, in a cape and with her staff flung out in triumph, I was invaded by images of my local librarian under the influence of psychedelics. Darling, an Emmy-award winning sitcom director, cannot command the role of Prospero and comes across as someone who would much rather invite you in for milk and cookies. Nor can the many other actors command their roles, either, with the exceptions of Beth Adler, focused and stern as a conspiring Sebastian, Kim Carlson (Antonio), and Kymm Zuckert who plays a convincing if hammy Caliban, Prospero's grotesque island slave.
The actors’ costumes, shoddy suits from the turn of the century, would have worked in The Little Tramp but lent little grandeur, or even irony, to characters who are supposed to be heads of state. Though the sound system was good, sound effects could have been more generous. Thunder was used far too sparingly; it could have added a real sense of necessity to a scene where Trinculo is compelled by the elements to seek shelter under the not so appealing blanket of Caliban.
Granted, The Tempest is among the most difficult of Shakespeare’s plays to stage, but this effort resembled community theater at its laziest. Steer clear of this production. Even better, steer clear of Christopher Street on the evenings it’s presented, lest Prospero divine that you are nearby and suck you into the audience against your will.